Wednesday 25 April 2018

Brains will rule against brute force

Connacht’s focus on technique and skills can see off physical Falcons

Connacht head coach Pat Lam
Connacht head coach Pat Lam

Johnny O'Connor

Connacht were always going to lose again this season. While it’s great being top of the pile, but they are just one point behind Scarlets in the Pro12 with Christmas just around the corner.

The attention turns to Europe this weekend, and a crucial Challenge Cup fixture at home to Newcastle. I can see it being a tight game, but one Connacht are capable of winning. And they know the Falcons will come with a typical Premiership approach.

They will use their grunt and hope to run over the top of Connacht, but it won’t work out like that. Connacht will have parity with them in the physical stakes, and their technical and tactical abilities will help conquer another good side.

But first off, it was poor week on the injury front – players have been dropping like flies at Connacht.


They have had rotten luck in recent weeks, but as usual anyone who has come into the side has done the job asked of them.

The superb structure of the team allows for things to be communicated seamlessly up and down the chain of command.

That means players know their mission, no matter whether you are in the academy or you are John Muldoon, you are playing with the same standards and the same mindset.

It was terrible to see Ian Porter and Kieran Marmion go off one after another at the Arms Park last weekend. You cannot account for a freak occurrence like that.

But it was amazing to see Connacht camped on the Cardiff line at the end, and very nearly come away with a win.

You need continuity in your half-back pairing, though. England messed up in the World Cup when they didn’t have that, and Marmion has that spark that can change a game too. He is a vital cog for Connacht if they want to continue their impressive form this season.

Connacht weren’t clinical enough in Cardiff last weekend; maybe it was a game that they would have won, only for the injuries especially to the two scrum-halves.

They won’t be happy to have lost, but I’m sure Pat Lam was proud of the effort his players put in.

The only concern is the injury-list, but you can’t wrap players up in cotton wool either.

With a break in the Pro12 and Ulster next up in the league, after Newcastle, Connacht are faced with an interesting dynamic. They could put guys on ice to make sure they are fit for the Christmas schedule, or they might decide to give them that continuity of game-time.

In my opinion they should go 50-50 like they did with the Enisei-STM and Brive games a few weeks ago. They won’t have the numbers to field their first-choice 15 both times anyway. But this is a chance for the younger guys to come in and do themselves justice again.

But no matter who goes out on the field, they play for the jersey. They don’t get overawed by the occasion and even a packed Sportsground this evening won’t get to these guys.

It’s all part of their growth as rugby players, and if Newcastle are coming here expecting to bully Connacht, it just won’t happen.

Most teams these days have gone down the route of physicality, physicality, physicality. The skill side of things is nowhere near as important, and hours in the gym are preferred to time on the training pitch.

That’s where Connacht differ, with their Kiwi-orientated backroom team and Nigel Carolan’s valuable input seeing these guys through the academy – it’s a product that works.


That doesn’t mean Connacht are behind the other teams in the size department either. It just suggests that they focus on the more simple aspects of the game.

You can’t get away with that in the modern game. Especially when you come up against a side like Connacht at the moment.

In science they refer to it as motor potential – how much energy the body produces and how physically strong you are. But the technical mastery, your ability to play the game, is the thing that earns results.

Newcastle will think they can win simply through brawn, but Connacht have the brains too.

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