Wednesday 22 November 2017

Confidence is building on back of victory

Defensive improvement key to our good run of wins

Bundee Aki celebrates a job well done against Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Bundee Aki celebrates a job well done against Munster. Photo: Sportsfile

Noel Mannion

Oyonnax, Worcester Warriors and Munster have all been put to the sword. Hopefully Connacht can round off this block of games with a win over Cheetahs and things won't seem that bad at all in the Sportsground. 

When you look back at the start of the season and the beginning of the new PRO14, it looked worrying for Connacht heading into the two European weeks. But they took a break from the league, and got stuck into Europe, won the two matches, and now it shows how success breeds confidence. 

After those two Challenge Cup wins, you were wondering could they carry that form into a tough game against Munster.

Munster had named a good side too. Rassie Erasmus knew he wasn't going to have these lads again with the upcoming internationals so they were making a statement to go out and win.

When Simon Zebo scored that try Munster were humming. But Connacht responded with their own score from another man with a point to prove.

Tiernan O'Halloran would also have thought he should have been in the Ireland squad. It did look like he was trying too hard, but he got his try and after that it was tit for tat. 

It was a poor game overall in terms of skill level, and I wouldn't mind but they were great conditions for rugby. There was a big crowd and it was a great atmosphere but the rugby wasn't up to standard. 

Some of the handling was poor from both teams. When you think back to two years ago the skill levels were so high on that Connacht team and I'm sure it's a worry for Kieran Keane, Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy, that the skill levels have dropped. Their basic skills and passing let them down the last day and it has done all season. 

However, the defence has been a huge positive. Munster picked a big, physical pack and especially CJ Stander to get them over the gain-line and then do damage. 

It was about two minutes in when CJ ran at Bundee Aki and Aki stripped him. From then on Stander was working hard around the pitch but he wasn't doing that carrying job. Peter O'Mahony and Tommy O'Donnell were off the boil too. 

Outshone

The Connacht back-row outshone them. The defence was epic and they tackled everything. They probably gave away too many penalties but when you are under pressure that can happen. 

It was a tough game against good opposition who tested them in every part of the pitch, particularly with the cross-field kicks.

If Munster could not bash it up the middle they immediately went for the cross-field kick but the Connacht back-three coped admirably. 

This is a good Connacht squad. I couldn't understand their slow start to the season. The changeover in management would have accounted for some of it, but these guys are smart players. 

The European break gave them belief and the pressure was off. Now they have got the big scalp of Munster and it's up to them to ensure this is not a one-off. 

The errors can be adjusted, the lineout can be sorted out, the passing too. The innate skills are there, they just need to get them back to where they were at. 

If you went back to two years ago, the Connacht handling was so crisp and that has changed dramatically. But that can be all taken care of, and if they can improve on their scrummaging, which is already top notch, they will be a tough team to beat. 

The one place where they still got caught against Munster is their exit strategy. When Jack Carty got the kick to bring it to 13-13 they started messing around in their own 22. They spent about seven minutes trying to get out.

They did get out eventually but they might not be so lucky next time.

This weekend Cheetahs will be a formidable opponent after their brilliant start to the season. I don't think anyone would have envisaged them being so far ahead of Connacht. 

But Connacht are more than capable of beating them and it would be a huge step in the wrong direction if they were to beat Munster one week and then lose to the Cheetahs eight days later.

Irish Independent

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