Friday 20 July 2018

European win can lift mood

But switching off at key moments has to stop

Jack Carty slots a penalty against Ulster
Jack Carty slots a penalty against Ulster

Ronan Loughney

It was frustrating watching Connacht lose in Belfast last weekend. But at the risk of repeating myself Connacht didn't do a whole lot wrong and the signs are promising ahead of their visit to Switzerland.

A lot of people talked about the pressure that was on Connacht heading to Kingspan Stadium. But I don't know that there was. I was excited at the prospect of the game as I think the expectation was firmly on Ulster to win and I felt that Connacht could have gone up there and surprised everyone.

I have gone up to Ulster plenty of times as a player, and never had fond memories of playing there. I've never won a game in Belfast, not even at underage. I came close a few times but was also on the receiving end of some beatings.

I think had Connacht won a game in the past month there would have been a different level of confidence there, and winning that game or at least securing a losing bonus point would have been a firm reality.

Going in at half-time I'm sure there were a lot of people surprised by the scoreline.

Again, we saw some excellent passages of attacking play from Connacht and some solid defence under a lot of pressure early in the game, but it seems it's the same things that are catching Connacht out. 

One area that needs improvement is the integrity of the Connacht defensive line off kick chase and transition following a turnover.

Teams have taken advantage of this on a number of occasions. When a ball is cleared from an exit or chipped ahead in attack and possession is turned over the reaction time to transition into defence and forming a solid defensive line has been too slow.

There were a few times when the play became loose at the weekend, and possession changed hands a few times. Ulster's ability to exploit the space in the defensive line with their counter-attack was the difference in the teams. Jacob Stockdale and Charles Piutau combined brilliantly to take advantage of one such lapse in concentration. 

Positives

When we talk about the positives of attack, and the change in attacking structure, there is no doubt there has been positive additions to the attack structure.

A defensive structure is something you need to stick to very closely for it to work. In defence, you cannot detract from the system and each person is a cog in the wheel. 

In attack there is a little bit more room to stray from the system and be creative, but in defence if someone doesn't do their job it creates a hole. 

The Connacht defensive structure is still not firing perfectly, for large parts of Connacht's games we are seeing the efficacy of the new system, but when play breaks down and they come out of the system that is when we look liable to concede scores.

There is a new attack coach in there with Kieran Keane taking over, but Pete Wilkins has also come in as the new man in defence. It looks like the system he has introduced will work well over time but the sooner the players perfect the system the better.  

It's interesting to go into Europe now, it is always hard to know what the French teams will come with and particularly a team like Oyonnax with where they are sitting in the Top 14 at the moment.

Looking at their record they have drawn one game and lost six since the start of the league. Having just come back up from ProD2 you would imagine their focus will still be on moving up the league table. 

They are obviously not in a particularly good place, but could also be looking at this as an opportunity to get back to winning ways. 

For Connacht, this is an excellent chance to win a game and get that feel-good factor and self-confidence back.

The pack, who have been doing very well at the set-piece, will be relishing the challenge of coming up against the big Oyonnax forwards.

It can be very intimidating playing away against a physically-imposing French team, but these are the games that really stood out in my career and there's nothing like winning away from home in Europe.

Irish Independent

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