Wednesday 18 September 2019

A win in Perpignan would set things up perfectly for festive inter-pro clashes

Colby Fainga'a of Connacht is tackled by Paul Marty of Perpignan. Picture: Sportfile
Colby Fainga'a of Connacht is tackled by Paul Marty of Perpignan. Picture: Sportfile

Noel Mannion

It's going to be a completely different game at Stade Aimé Giral this evening but it would be another massive win for Connacht if they can beat Perpignan.

Things are going well of late and although they missed out on the bonus point last weekend Connacht did a lot of things right in a brilliant team performance.

The weather conditions were dreadful, they were like the good old days when I was playing and we loved those games.

But it didn't suit anyone at the Sportsground.

Still, Connacht held their heads and it was their fourth win in a row which is a good position to be in. It was 7-0, 14-0, 17-0, and it was really looking good at that point.

You would have thought Connacht were on course for a bonus-point win at that point.

However, you have to factor in the conditions. They let Perpignan back into the game. Perpignan are having a poor season domestically and traditionally they don't travel well, in France or Europe.

And it's hard to know what they were thinking coming into the game but they did come back and show grit and determination after Connacht went out all guns blazing early doors.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

Disappointed

I am sure at the end of the day Connacht are disappointed to have missed out on the bonus point, and that might be needed further down the tracks, but they won in terrible conditions and you can't really ask for more.

A slip here and a slip there, and anything can happen in those games.

While Perpignan got back into the game they were never going to maintain that momentum and push on to actually cause the upset. So thankfully it never got to that point either.

But Andy Friend blooded one or two new players and when you have an inexperienced squad out there in a big European game you have to be happy with that result.

It was a good, solid performance and probably what Friend was looking for.

They still have lots to improve on. It wasn't the day for his expansive side-to-side rugby, although Connacht did try it.

Pragmatism set in and they did really well to hold on to the ball because it was so slippy.

It puts them in good stead in Europe and if Connacht can go to Perpignan and do well over there they will be in a really good place for Christmas with the inter-pros coming up. It would be nice going into the derbies with a five-from-five record.

Fair play to Kieran Joyce, he kind of came out of nowhere and now he's shown what he can do on the big stage.

That was so important because Bundee Aki will probably get two or three more games for Connacht before the Six Nations rolls around.

Then you have the World Cup coming up after that so Connacht's exposure to Aki will probably be limited enough over the next four or five months.

Friend has got to start putting players in and blooding them in the big games. It was a brave call on his part to try Joyce against Perpignan but it worked and the young lad did well.

All you can do is hope there are one or two more gems hiding out at the Sportsground. The more exposure they get the better.

It would have been like playing a game of chess all week as regards to selection. But you definitely get the impression that the PRO14 is Friend's target and Champions Cup then for next year.

If that's his plan fair play to him. We as pundits and fans need to sit back and say there is a bit of a logic to all of this. He needs to be supported.

Friend probably won't make the changes for the derby games at Christmas so maybe he is better off to give guys a chance against the likes of Perpignan.

At some point in their season Perpignan will look to turn things around and regardless of when they thought that might happen it wasn't going to be in Galway.

Perpignan made 14 changes for their trip to Galway and they're much stronger for the game this evening.

They are not having a good season even when they play with their first-choice 15 but if ever a coach wanted to get their season up and running it could be against the likes of Connacht at home in Europe.

Pressure

There isn't the same pressure as in the Top 14 either. It gives Perpignan the opportunity to throw off the shackles and maybe go out and express themselves.

When you factor in the two South African weeks and then this trip to France it could be tiring and catching up on Connacht guys' legs.

They have had four tough weeks and even though the South African tour was good and they won both games, it was still a lot of travel, a lot of flying.

They flew to France this week and then they are back for a busy Christmas inter-pro period. It's going to be hard for the lads to keep their heads right going over there.

But it would be nice to win in France again and get themselves into a nice standing in Europe before they get ready to face Leinster, Ulster and then Munster.

It all depends on what Perpignan are going to do, how seriously they will take this game. But the Connacht players are on a roll, hopefully they can make it five in a row.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport