Tuesday 21 November 2017

If we disrespect Zebre or let them smell blood, we will be in trouble

Last Saturday’s Ospreys clash gave Naulia Dawai some badly-needed game time which should stand to him tomorrow. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Last Saturday’s Ospreys clash gave Naulia Dawai some badly-needed game time which should stand to him tomorrow. Photo: SPORTSFILE

John Muldoon - Player Diary

The outcome was difficult to take last weekend, but we saw positives with our spirit shining through at Liberty Stadium, and despite some injuries, better news filtered through during the week.

I had a bit of groin and hamstring strain on the same leg so it is frustrating for me to miss out. With all of the injuries, to pick up a silly niggle when the team is at their lowest in terms of numbers was disappointing.

Being the team captain, this is when I am needed most. But the good thing about it is we do have a lot of players in my position. We have cover in the back-row - it is one of the areas where we are quite strong.

It was a good opportunity to give Naulia Dawai some game-time and help bed him in that bit more. There are a few other places where we wouldn't have as much cover. So in that sense it was probably one of the better positions to lose someone.

But I would like to be another voice out there and help where I can.

It was a disappointing result against Ospreys but being 14-0 behind early on, the attitude and culture of Connacht Rugby really shone through.

In the past the wheels might have fallen off, but to go in at half-time 14-0 down and then fight our way back to have a few scoring opportunities, it was really good to see.

DETRIMENTAL

But again turnovers cost us, and for about the third or fourth game in a row we had over 20 turnovers. That has been so detrimental to our chances, and it was one of our focuses recently. Then to come out with 24 in Swansea was disappointing.

The positive is that we dug in really well in the first half and gave ourselves some sort of a chance, even though a few facets of our game didn't fire. To be still in the game at half-time was brilliant.

But the injuries mounted: we lost a few crucial guys in the first half. We are playing a physical game and you understand that you are going to have injuries - that is the nature of the sport.

You are going to be tested and will come up against different challenges like that. You will be taken out of your comfort zone.

The biggest awareness for us as a team, is that you have got to be ready at all times. Over the last few years guys have come in and did very well when they got their chance. There are a few lads there who, this time last year, wouldn't have thought they would be in the senior team.

Unfortunately, losing so many players to injury has been a drain on our resources. Rugby is unique because there are so many specialised positions. In GAA or soccer, guys can be pushed into a position and they can adapt, but it's difficult to do that in rugby.

When you have no-one left in a specific position, you have to go with the next best option. It gives an opportunity to someone but they must take that.

We are all on the same page in that we know we need to get back to winning ways.

The majority of times that Zebre and Treviso overturn teams is because of a lack of preparation. If the mentality is a bit off, the Italians can come out at their best then.

We know in the past, when the shoe was on the other foot, maybe a team would have been coming to us with an eye on something bigger. And the minute you disrespect a team like that is the moment you fall.

We need to focus on ourselves. Ultimately we were disappointed with the results over the last couple of weeks, and a few facets of our game, such as the lineout and the defence, especially with the first up tackles.

Our overall structure in defence is good but first-up tackles has been an issue at times. Turnovers have been huge for us as well and we need to put those things right.

In that sense it is a good time to play Zebre but in another, it doesn't matter who is coming. I made a comment to the lads earlier in the week: it is not about what the 15 players do as individuals. It's about going out, playing our game and doing what we do well in our systems.

We are back at home in front of our fantastic support and we will go out there to try and win the game. We have class players but I don't think Zebre lack class in their side.

So what is more important is going back to basics and what we have done for the last year or two, and if we do that we will be a better position to raise our confidence.

That is the key thing for us. We won't focus on the result or how individuals perform. We need to get our game-plan right, play to our strengths and let the result take care of itself.

If we do all of those things right we will be on a much better footing heading into a huge game against Toulouse. But if we go out as individuals then there could be an issue with the game. That is when Zebre do best, when they smell blood in the water.

I have been at the Champions Cup launch in the last couple of years and their biggest goals has always been to win one game in the Champions Cup.

They have yet to do it and every time we have been involved against them they see it as a big opportunity. We beat them the first time, but now they get another chance against us in our own backyard.

Irish Independent

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