Tuesday 17 September 2019

Five wins on the spin has confidence soaring ahead of interprovincial clashes

A rested Jarrad Butler is set to return to action. Picture: Sportsfile
A rested Jarrad Butler is set to return to action. Picture: Sportsfile

Andrew Browne

It's safe to say Connacht will be pretty happy with where they are at the moment. Five wins on the trot have them sitting in a good position in the PRO14 and the Challenge Cup.

The momentum they created in South Africa was continued in European competition over the last two weeks and they will have a lot of confidence facing into a tough but exciting Christmas period.

The two wins over Perpignan should be extremely pleasing for everyone involved. Those games proved to be a good opportunity to use the whole squad with many lads getting some badly-needed game time.

It showcases the strength in depth of the current squad with Andy Friend not afraid to rotate the team and expose some younger lads to Challenge Cup rugby.

This is important with a busy few weeks coming up, where Connacht will need all hands on deck heading into the interprovincial derbies, and the final pool games in Europe.

Perpignan in the Sportsground won't be remembered for the rugby but it will be for the weather. The sideways rain and gusting wind meant it was never going to be anything other than a slog.

Fronted

The pack that welcomed back Finlay Bealham and Quinn Roux from international duty and Dave Heffernan and Eoghan Masterson from injury fronted up against what was a big Perpignan unit.

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On days like that it's easier being a forward as you're always moving and working in the tight exchanges.

Looking at the two wingers, you couldn't help but feel sorry for them. The conditions reminded me of a game against Zebre a couple of years ago in the Sportsground where Naulia Dawai took a hot shower in his kit at half-time before heading back onto the pitch.

Connacht shuffled their team again for the away fixture last weekend, giving lads a rest while trying out some new combinations.

It was another very encouraging performance by all involved.

The competition in the squad at the moment is transferring onto the pitch with lads knowing they have to perform when they get a chance.

The most encouraging aspect of the two wins is that Connacht did not get anything easy. Perpignan, unlike some other French teams of the past coming to Galway, did not throw in the towel at any stage in that first game.

Likewise, in the south of France last week, Connacht had to work extremely hard for the victory.

Perpignan are having a difficult season and a win of any kind would have been huge for them, and that's exactly what they were going for.

Considering this and Connacht resting a number of their key players, the last two weekends can be looked at as a big success.

On top of that, there's the added bonus of Sale losing to Bordeaux last weekend.

Connacht now lie second in their group on 13 points, three points behind Sale. It sets things up nicely for the last two games of the pool stage in January.

First though is the little matter of the interpros over the Christmas period, starting with Leinster tomorrow in the RDS.

Connacht will be full of confidence after the last few weeks and will no doubt be looking forward to testing out exactly where they are against the other three Irish provinces.

From a Connacht point of view, we can expect to see a good few changes from the team that started against Perpignan. Tiernan O'Halloran, Quinn Roux and Jarrad Butler, along with a few other lads, were rested last weekend with this fixture in mind so I think it's safe to say we'll see them tomorrow.

For Connacht, to have the luxury of resting key players is massive in their quest for a play-off spot come the end of the season.

If they can stay relatively injury-free, then they will be in a great spot going forward.

The next few weeks are sure to test that though, with the interpros always some of the most physically demanding games of the season.

Leinster have had a big couple of weeks in the Champions Cup and I'm sure we'll see a much-changed team from the one that lined out against Bath last weekend.

However, as we know with Leinster, no matter what team they field, they are going to have quality players all over the pitch.

Younger

Like Connacht, they've given game time to a number of their younger players recently. They obviously went very strong with their team selection in their Champions Cup games, but in their two PRO14 games prior to Europe they had a very youthful team.

In both games they ended up scoring more than 50 points, which will tell you all you need to know about the quality of their squad and the great young players they seem to constantly produce.

No matter what team Leinster put out this weekend, Connacht will go up to the RDS with no fear and bags of confidence.

All aspects of Connacht's game seem to be working well and you can't ask for much more going into this time of the season.

The attack is looking sharper week on week with some of the backs showing great form and the forwards supplying quality ball.

The defence is one of the best in the league this season and it will need to be firing tomorrow night against the most dangerous attacking team in the PRO14.

It's a big few weeks to come in the course of Connacht's season. I, for one, can't wait.

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