Thursday 22 February 2018

Chance to kick-start run in the league

Keane's boys need to recreate their European form in PRO14

Bundee Aki shows his delight with hero Johnny Sexton after another successful outing in the
green of Ireland. Picture: Sportsfile
Bundee Aki shows his delight with hero Johnny Sexton after another successful outing in the green of Ireland. Picture: Sportsfile

Noel Mannion

Connacht start back into the Guinness PRO14 this evening, knowing they have a home Challenge Cup quarter-final against Gloucester to look forward to. Now it's time to sort out their league form.

It has been a very jittery journey in the PRO14 so far this season. I don't know why that is, but I do know that the Ospreys provide the perfect opportunity to make a statement in the league.

Ospreys haven't played well this season, they are below Connacht in the standings, and don't have a number of their top-quality Welsh internationals to call on.

The Welsh side have been stuck in a rut in the league. No more than Connacht, their European form was actually relatively good. But Connacht are well-loaded for this game and aren't hit badly in terms of their internationals. They need to target this one and start to build the momentum with tougher tests in the future.

I'm sure Connacht head coach Kieran Keane and the rest of his management team sat down during the break and assessed their league campaign to see where they can get things back on track.

Connacht had some tough games over the Christmas period but there are plenty of points still left out there, and they should have been victorious against the likes of the Cardiff Blues.

It will be interesting to see can Connacht start to bring their Challenge Cup form back into the league.

It will be great when both click, but I'm sure it's a bit of a conundrum for Keane right now: how you can go from one week to another and play so differently?

There are changes in personnel but surely the patterns remain the same. And Connacht can make this game a positive defining moment in their season if they start this block with a victory over a Conference A rival.

Last weekend's victory for Ireland could be a defining moment in their Six Nations campaign already. Prior to the last five minutes, the Irish game was riddled with errors and they have lots to work on. But they still secured the win despite that, which was massive.

Stride

When you look at the match as a whole it was very hard to rate any of the Irish players. They never got into their stride at all and France caused them real problems in the breakdown.

The French were very physical and bullied Ireland at times. Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw never got the chance to show what they could do in midfield, while CJ Stander didn't break the gain-line regularly like he usually does with his dominant performances. The one shining light was James Ryan who played really well, especially in the first half.

It was a funny game to try and get a handle on. The result came down to two big moments, firstly Teddy Thomas' try and then, of course, Johnny Sexton's drop-goal. Those two moments of brilliance redeemed what was a poor game overall.

Winning is what it's all about but the performance was poor from Ireland, and I'm sure the video analysis wasn't too pretty for a lot of them. But it augurs well that they still got the win and there is plenty of improvement around the corner, Italy could feel the brunt of that this weekend and Ireland couldn't have a better fixture to recover.

Ireland have three home games in a row. The only thing is I worry about Scotland. They were very poor at the weekend but they are not as bad as that and they will be much better by the time they rock up at the Aviva Stadium.

Wales will look forward to their fixture in Dublin too. They have players to come back from injury and if they perform like they did last weekend again, it won't be an easy for Ireland by any means.

I certainly don't see it as a Grand Slam decider in Twickenham on St Patrick's Day just yet. I assumed Ireland would have a comfortable win in Paris last weekend, against a very weak French side.

France had a new coach, they are ninth in the world while Ireland are third, and they had two new caps in pivotal positions and more new caps on the replacements' bench.

If ever France were there for the taking it was last weekend. But Ireland got the first win out of the way and now they can build on it.

Irish Independent

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