Wednesday 27 March 2019

Christmas cheer sets Connacht up nicely for next step

Bundee Aki on his way to scoring Connacht’s second try at the Sportsground despite the efforts of Ulster’s Peter Nelson. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki on his way to scoring Connacht’s second try at the Sportsground despite the efforts of Ulster’s Peter Nelson. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If Christmas came early in Connacht, then you suspect it was cancelled in Ulster.

Connacht's 44-16 routing of the Ulstermen was a record in every respect, leaving the two camps in polar opposite moods ahead of the New Year's Day fixtures.

Given Leinster's capacity to change virtually the whole starting team from the one that will start this afternoon's game in Thomond Park, without skipping a beat, it's debatable how much advantage Connacht can take from the extra few days' build-up to the game in the RDS next Monday.

What's certain, however, is that they will feel a whole lot letter about life tomorrow when they begin their preparation for that game.

Coach Kieran Keane, whose post-match comments at Guinness Pro14 games at the Sportsground have been fairly raw, looked a bit happier after this demolition of Ulster.

Having waited an age for a bus, it was like he suddenly had a fleet of them to choose from.

He said it was all about attitude and application, especially in the way his pack mauled Ulster off the park

"That was the plan and that paid massive dividends for us," he said.

"And we didn't deviate from our original plan. It was just wonderful.

"I keep going back to it: application and attitude all working together, all on the same page.

"It was a really great day for us. It hasn't always been, but today it was."

And the prospect of bringing some of that to the RDS?

"Good Lord, yeah, it would be wonderful. But a bit of rest and recuperation and we will go back to the drawing board.

"A totally different opposition, different venue. But it's onwards and upwards hopefully.

"Certainly it was a defining moment in my eyes, this win. It will do us some good. It's difficult to put into words - I would struggle to put it into words.

"I suspect that now we will be taken seriously as a club, perhaps as an organisation.

"That will help us in terms of recruitment, retention, a whole other side to the business.

"You could go down that track, which I don't want to do, but I think we have turned a little corner. I am pretty happy about it."

Tiernan O'Halloran was one of those who signed on for another tour of duty here and he was outstanding, as was wing Matt Healy. And man-for-man the Connacht forwards gave Ulster a torrid time, especially at the scrum, which was a source of penalties for them in the second half.

As for Ulster, it was another black night on the defence front. Was it the worst game Les Kiss has experienced in his time at the club?

"Yeah, that's the worst," he said.

"We've got to cop that on the chin. That's what it's about, and, as I say, this happens to a lot of footy teams.

"We've got a week-and-a-half to recalibrate for Munster and make sure we deliver something a little bit better. It's not a nice feeling first and foremost, but we've got to suck it up and get back together after Christmas and take a really hard look at ourselves and make sure we prepare well for what we have to deliver against Munster."

Connacht might have had the bonus point sorted by half-time, but at 20-6 ahead at the break, and with the wind to come, it was only a matter of time.

Yellow cards for Andrew Warwick and Louis Ludik speeded up the process. The locals were singing Christmas carols long before the finish. They hadn't bargained on it being so easy, and enjoyed every minute.

Irish Independent

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