Sunday 17 December 2017

Heavier workload sees tries tot up for flying Springbok

In-form South African in the humour to impress for province and fend off rivals

Connacht star Danie Poolman has filled in at centre in the past but he is content to stay on the wing, with Rory Parata plugging the hole left by Robbie Henshaw’s World Cup commitments
Connacht star Danie Poolman has filled in at centre in the past but he is content to stay on the wing, with Rory Parata plugging the hole left by Robbie Henshaw’s World Cup commitments

Daragh Small

He made every session in pre-season, generated personal bests in the gym, packed on some extra pounds, scored two tries in two Pro12 games, and restarted his studies in NUI Galway.

But Connacht winger Danie Poolman never again wants to experience the hurt that emanated from losing to Gloucester in the Champions Cup qualification play-off last May.

The 26-year-old South African longs for Champions Cup rugby next term, and his team are 100 per cent focused on that goal.

Connacht were arguably the better side in Kingsholm on May 24, but it counted for nothing when Gloucester won 40-32, after extra-time.

Poolman was injured and couldn't affect the result - he said it was all the more difficult to watch on the TV screen.

"I hurt ligaments in my thumb against Zebre and I was out for about five or six weeks," says Poolman.

"I didn't go over to the game because we had training the whole week. The lads were going to come back at night or early in the morning, so I was in Dublin. I watched it in a pub with my girlfriend. It was very, very difficult to take.

"We didn't start well - they scored a try in the first couple of minutes, and I thought, 'Jesus lads, please not today'.

"It was an unbelievable match to watch. I was really gutted especially going into extra-time, conceding the way we did. Then just letting it slip at the end, it was heart-breaking, I felt sick and I don't even know how bad the lads must have felt," Poolman adds.

It was another hard-luck story for Connacht Rugby, in a season that had promised so much, but by the end had dragged them back to square one.

Pat Lam's men had beaten both Leinster and Munster, won twice in France, and held a fearsome home record, but the first signs of creaking came against Cardiff in Round 5 of the Pro12.

Connacht looked on course for their fourth win of the season when they led 24-10, with just over ten minutes left on the clock. But Cardiff hit back, and stung Connacht again in Round 17 at Cardiff Arms Park when a controversial Joaquin Tuculet try in the 85th minute dished out another harsh lesson.


Poolman played all 160 minutes against the Blues last season, and wants to ensure his side gain revenge when they face off again, at the Sportsground tomorrow week.

"Last season, we drew with them at home and we were just unlucky when we lost away.

"They have been going very well since they changed up their coach. You can look at their defence - that's been a lot better. Their attack has improved as well, they put 61 points on Zebre so obviously they can score tries.

"They have a dangerous team and are not missing too many players to the World Cup. But we definitely want to get one back on them.

"We haven't beaten them in a long time and after the way it went last season this is one we want to win."

The Pretoria native has notched 17 tries in 58 Connacht appearances since he joined from Super Rugby franchise the Stormers three seasons ago.

He is now fully Irish-qualified and is one of the most experienced players in the Connacht back-line.

He struck twice in two games so far this season and that comes as no surprise, after the hard work he put in pre-season.

"I didn't miss a session and was injury-free. I picked up a good bit of weight over the last few months. They wanted me to put on a bit, so I added that.

"Last season I was playing at about 96-98kg but I have upped that to 103kg in pre-season. I feel pretty good now in myself and made a personal best with my chin-ups.

"The gains I made in fitness and strength were good and I have carried that through."

But Poolman says his tries are down to the hard work of his team-mates and is delighted with the progress of young centre, Rory Parata.

"It's always good to get on the scoresheet, but against Dragons and Glasgow, I just ran it in because the lads on the inside did really well.

"I didn't even call the kick against Glasgow, Rory saw the full-back out of position and then put through a nice grubber-kick. That was beauty, I was just finishing it though. But it was nice to see Rory playing with that confidence to pull that off.

"He is very good. He has a great skill-set, and has got good vision and has been stepping up in defence. I have been really impressed with him.

"With Robbie away I thought they might ask me to move into the centre again, but they gave Rory his chance, and he did really well."

When Henshaw wasn't available in 2014-15, Poolman was given the No 13 jersey.

He also filled in alongside the Irish international against Gloucester, in the Challenge Cup quarter-final, but he now wants to focus on the wing.

"I prefer playing wing but if the team needs it I will move in. I am just happy to see Rory going well, and I can focus a bit more on my own game then.

"It's difficult to switch between the wing and centre. So it is good to be playing week in, week out, in the one position and not having to worry about any upheaval."

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