Monday 23 July 2018

'Everyone wanted to impress ahead of this game' - Griffin

Injury-hit former Premiership centre gives lowdown on Gloucester's all-round threat

Eoin Griffin hopes to return to action for Connacht. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Eoin Griffin hopes to return to action for Connacht. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Daragh Small

Ireland's Six Nations and Triple Crown trophies will be at the Sportsground this Saturday afternoon, and so will Gloucester. It's a big day on College Road; it's time for pay-back.

Connacht have suffered some desperate defeats at the hands of Gloucester in recent years. Their last two visits to Kingsholm finished cruelly.

In April 2015 Connacht travelled to England for their Challenge Cup quarter-final and returned with a narrow 14-7 defeat, even though they dominated most of the second half.

Pat Lam's side returned to the West Country just over a month later and it finished in another heart-breaking defeat for the visitors. On this occasion Connacht forced extra-time but after tries from John Cooney, Jack Carty and Matt Healy (two) they slipped to a 40-32 loss.

Connacht centre Eoin Griffin didn't play a part in either of those games but he featured for Connacht against Gloucester prior to his stint with London Irish, while he also played against them in the Premiership.

"It's hard to know what to expect with Gloucester. Traditionally they have always had quite a good backline.

"They always had a very quick back three with Charlie Sharples and Jonny May, and they have Henry Trinder in there. But May has moved on," says Griffin, who will miss this game because of a hamstring injury.

"You have Johan Ackermann in now as a coach. He will probably try to bring in a bit more of a forward-orientated game.

"He has the South African game, but having said that he came from the Lions, who are the most open of the South African Super Rugby franchises.

"There are threats from all over, which is difficult.

"Sometimes teams have one area of strength and that's what they play to. But if you are able to force them into some of their weaknesses you can exploit them.

"But Gloucester are strong all round with the way they have gone in the Premiership this season. They are in and around the top four positions for the last four or five months.

"That's a big change for them - they have been mid-table in the last two or three years. If we want to get a result we will need to be on the mettle with everything."

Griffin left Connacht in the summer of 2014, looking for a new experience in the English capital, but injury deprived him of his chance to make a real statement over there.

The 27-year-old Galway native has played 20 times in Europe - he returned to Galway at the start of the last season when Robbie Henshaw departed for Leinster.

Scored

Griffin has been brilliant in recent weeks for the province and scored twice in two games when they won at Benetton, and lost in Bloemfontein against Cheetahs.

"I don't know how much I really did for the try against Cheetahs, apart from follow Jack (Carty) through a gap," says Griffin.

"South Africa was good barring the last few minutes of the game. The trip was different for most of us. Not many of the squad had been there before.

"It is rare enough that we are in each other's company for ten days, because were in Italy beforehand. Everyone got to know each other a little bit better. It worked out well.

"That was my first time on the Highveld. We went on safari one of the days, which was really cool, but we kept quiet other than that."

Griffin has performed admirably at a crucial time in the season and now the big one is around the corner. With Connacht's PRO14 campaign slightly off track, they could be about to focus all of their efforts on Europe.

"I wouldn't say I targeted this part of the season in particular," says Griffin.

"Bundee Aki has gone really well this year - you can see how well he did with Ireland.

"Tom Farrell has gone really well too, hit the ground running at the start of the year. Pita Ahki has come in and done well at times. Craig Ronaldson and Peter Robb are there as well.

"There has been a lot of competition. It has been a bit frustrating that you don't get to play as much as you want. But the way I look at it, when I get an opportunity I have to make the most of it.

"There are five other quality lads there that can take over quickly if I slip up. It's not as if I was waiting all season for this block. It's more that I knew I had to make a bit of a difference if I got the opportunity.

"Everyone wanted to make an impression ahead of this Gloucester game. We play for the big games. We want to be in the hunt for silverware at the end of the season.

"Whatever way we can get it we just need to keep pushing through. The longer we can keep playing this season the better."

Connacht will need leaders at the Sportsground tomorrow, but now that he's temporarily sidelined Griffin's role will end at the dressing-room door.

The added expereince that Ireland's Grand Slam heroes bring back to the Sportsground comes at the perfect time, but Griffin has learned plenty from his Management and Leadership Development Masters at NUI Galway too.

"Some part of it are applicable to rugby in how you deal with your day to day stuff and even bigger picture stuff with Connacht and what direction you are going," says Griffin.

"I find it interesting. We will see where it takes me. I might go in a completely different direction but it's nice to do something different rather than rugby 24-7."

Irish Independent

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