Tuesday 16 July 2019

Battle for top six will go down to the wire

Getting Robbie Henshaw back in Connacht colours against Gloucester was a major boost
Getting Robbie Henshaw back in Connacht colours against Gloucester was a major boost

Pat Lam

Against Gloucester last weekend we made it hard for ourselves in the first half and it was always going to be an uphill challenge when you go in 14-0 down at the break away from home in a European quarter-final.

We only had 22 per cent territory and that was reflected with the way we didn't exit well. In terms of execution, our kicking was inaccurate and that placed a lot of the pressure on our defence in our own half. In fairness, the defence throughout the whole game was good - we ended up with 91pc tackling and normally that would be enough to win any game.

But they had two opportunities to score and took them both and that was the difference. For the first one, we missed touch, they countered and Charlie Sharples got the try. And their other try from Bill Meakes came off a lucky bounce of the ball.

That made it difficult at 14-0 and in attack we had five lineouts that we didn't execute either. We didn't fire a shot in the first half in general and we spoke about that when we got in at half-time.

We talked about the need to fulfil our roles and play more as a team. Then we came out in the second half and had more possession which put them under lots of pressure.

Unfortunately, as we saw in the review on Monday, despite having more possession and creating opportunities, we just didn't capitalise. We were getting ourselves into great positions in the second half but didn't choose the right options.

So we were creating overlaps and space in the wider channels but we passed the ball when we should have ran; ran when we should have passed; we ran when we should have kicked; and we went left when we should have gone right.

One of the things we would like to avoid is one-off runners and we got into that pattern at times. We got sucked into playing directly into the heart of Gloucester when the space was on to play wider but we didn't recognise that in time.

All in all, we came away from that game with a lot of frustration but we can put that in the experience bank now and the younger guys are certainly going to learn a lot from it. There was an amazing atmosphere and it was great to see those younger guys putting their hands up in the second half.

Another positive to take from that game was the return of our international Robbie Henshaw - in the next few weeks we will be getting more players back with the likes of Bundee Aki coming good so it was a big boost to have an Ireland international in our backline.

He did a great job at inside-centre because and once again he showed the physicality and class he possesses and followed on his good form from the Six Nations.

We need to park Europe now for this year, it is disappointing to be out of it but we certainly won't be dwelling on things with a big inter-pro derby against Ulster tomorrow.

We have four games left now and three of them are at the Sportsground. Our record has been brilliant at home all season and we have only lost one Pro12 game here.

We have had some unbelievable support so far this year especially against Leinster and Munster and I can't wait to see that again tomorrow for the final inter-pro of the season. If we could beat the third province at home, it would be a great achievement by the players.

But it will be tough - Ulster have a squad full of internationals who are certainly on form at the moment. We haven't beaten them for a while now but I think we can use some of the experience of last week to take us forward.

More importantly, we are back on our home ground and we know that we need to be first out of the gate. We got off to a poor start against Gloucester and it was like we were a sitting duck waiting for something to happen. That can't happen at the Sportsground.

With Scarlets and Edinburgh right behind us, it is an exciting finish and that is the beauty of having meritocracy but on the other side of that we cannot afford any slip-ups. It is going to go right down to the wire and it's vital that we win this week.

After the captain's run today the whole team are heading to the King's Head in Galway for lunch and we're really thankful for their hospitality. They've done this before for us and we really appreciate it - the food is great.

After that it will be all systems go towards Ulster and we're determined to do the business in front of a packed Sportsground.

Irish Independent

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