Tuesday 17 July 2018

Four wins on the spin would be perfect way to go into the break

Player Diary

‘We’ll miss Jarrad Butler for the next few weeks, he’s had a great start to the season.’ Photo: Sportsfile
‘We’ll miss Jarrad Butler for the next few weeks, he’s had a great start to the season.’ Photo: Sportsfile

Tiernan O’Halloran

After a stop-start couple of weeks through injury, it really felt good to get 80 minutes in last weekend, and to top it off with a win over Munster meant it was a night to savour at the Sportsground.

In the last few years the inter-pro games have been a big deal for Connacht and two wins in Europe had given us a small boost of confidence as well.

We had a tough start to the season, but thankfully our form and results have improved.

In the lead-up to the game we saw Munster selected a pretty strong side, similar to the one that had played in the Champions Cup. Knowing we were facing that team at a packed Sportsground gave us a massive lift.

You always look forward to those inter-pro games and there was good competition in training all week, and in the end up it was one of the more experienced 15s that we could field. Thankfully, it worked and it was a really good win. It boosted the spirits and three wins on the bounce will definitely help us going forward.

But there is still a lot of things to work on despite the win. We are playing a bit of catch-up in the standings already, but we feel we still have plenty of improving to make.

Lads are fit and raring to go and keen to push their case for inclusion. Coming up to a break and off the back of a big derby win, you never want your standards to drop off, which might have happened in the past.

Percentages Defence is probably where we have seen the biggest improvement in recent weeks. Looking at stats from games like Dragons away, our front-up tackling and our tackle percentages were so low. In comparison, look at the weekend when everyone stays in system: we looked really good and solid. Munster struggled to break us down and started kicking the ball away. That gave us confidence - they didn't want to go through us. Pete, our defence coach, is a lot happier with how we've gone in the last few weeks.

My try came off an attack shape we had worked on during the week, using forwards coming off the shoulder of backs. It worked perfectly with Bundee and Jarrad. We knew they'd come hard at Bundee so we drew them out. All season teams have been getting up into his face to close him down early, so we played on that and in the end it was easy for me to go on the outside and catch up with Jarrad. It was great to finish off a move straight from the drawing board.

It's pleasing too to see that we have that confidence now to bring those training moves to the pitch. Maybe we were playing within ourselves early in the season and were afraid to try things, but there was some great passing and link-ups once we backed ourselves and were confident. It's unfortunate that we'll miss Jarrad for the next few weeks, he's had a great start to the season.

He's a good leader on the pitch as well, he talks a lot and leads by his actions - he's first up in the line and doesn't slip off tackles. He'll be a big loss. But it's a chance for someone else now - Eoghan Masterson was on the bench against Munster and has started the season really well, so it opens things up for other guys.

Playing the full 80 minutes was a big thing for me at the weekend because I've really been struggling with my hip since Round 3. The injury has eaten into my training time and for a good few weeks I could only train once or twice a week and had to strap myself up to play. That kind of injury can take a while to fully clear up, so with a bit of a break it's a chance for me get back 100 per cent. Against Munster was the best it's felt since it happened, so that's a good sign.

In fairness to Joe Schmidt, he gave me a call the night before the Ireland squad was announced to let me know I didn't make the cut. It was really a lack of playing time that cost me - as he said, I've had inconsistency in my season. I haven't really got a run of games, so it was hard to impress. I knew that myself; I didn't need the call to tell me that. As much as it is massively disappointing, it means I have a chance to get myself right and get back to what got me back into the Ireland squad with consistent performances.

The key for me now is to back up the Munster game with another good run against Cheetahs. During our backs review you can really see the incredible athletes they have. Their back three are lightning fast with great feet, their centres are big, strong runners and their pack are big lads too. They can move the ball round the park and it's a really attractive brand of rugby with lots of tries. In recent weeks we've faced teams who have kicked a lot, but these guys will run a lot more. That will be a big test of our defence.

They have taken some massive scalps at home, but they're a danger on the road now too. We hosted Kings at the start of the season, but the Cheetahs look to be a lot stronger so far. The game before a break is a tricky one, concentration is vital. We're on the back of three wins in a row, but four would give us real confidence.

The crowd certainly helped us against Munster and we'd love to see the same again. We face a side that's third in the table and we're playing catch-up with them. If we want to make the semi-finals of the PRO14, it's vital that we pick up wins against our conference rivals and make it into that third position.

Irish Independent

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