Friday 20 July 2018

It's like a free hit in Thomond after a good run

Munster will be wounded and out to put on a show in Thomond Park

Bundee Aki of Connacht is tackled by Luke McGrath, left and Josh van der Flier of Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 12 match between Leinster and Connacht at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki of Connacht is tackled by Luke McGrath, left and Josh van der Flier of Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 12 match between Leinster and Connacht at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Connacht could so easily have left the RDS with a precious first ever victory there last Monday evening, but I'm sure Kieran Keane and his players won't be dwelling on a chance missed.

Instead, they will have learned so much from the past few weeks, and now the province look to be back to their best as they head for a very winnable game against Munster in Thomond Park.

When the two teams were announced last week, I looked at the Leinster pack and thought Connacht could manage them, but the Leinster back-line seemed to have the edge. 

It was a funny game dominated by the wind. Leinster looked set to cruise along and get the killer score but they couldn't put Connacht away. And Connacht kept nipping at their heels. 

It was a lacklustre first-half from Connacht when they had the breeze and didn't know whether to kick or run it. The half was over before they realised and Connacht were probably worried despite scoring before half-time. 

When you are playing against the breeze you have to focus the minds and work hard. And it was a vastly improved performance in the second-half. Connacht were very unlucky at the end. Had they played like that for the rest of the game like that they would have come away with much more than the losing bonus point. 

Leinster took their foot off the gas, they thought they had enough done and could have been caught. A little bit more patience from Connacht could have yielded another score. But it was a very solid performance. 

Connacht can take a lot from it, especially considering what went on before the break when they lost to Zebre. When you look at the performance against Ulster, Connacht were top class and it's a pity they couldn't capitalise again especially when they were in front of the posts at the death. 

Connacht have a history of not taking the drop-goal when it is there and it cost them previously. Even though it was a windy day and Leinster were really hitting the tackles hard, all it would have taken was three or four really clever phases to score a drop-goal in those conditions. 

Defence

Leinster used the ball well, even though the Connacht kick-chase and defence was very good. I'm sure Kieran Keane, from what has happened through the two Brive matches and the Ulster victory, is very happy with what has transpired since the defeat in Italy. 

You don't know what Munster are going to serve up now. They will pick their big hitters again because they have got very little to show from their Christmas inter-pros and they are desperate to win against Connacht, while Connacht were very happy with their return from Dublin. 

You wouldn't be worried for Connacht. The only thing is, there is likely to be a backlash from Munster. They had their game in Belfast wrapped up at 17-0 but allowed Ulster back into it and a few silly mistakes cost them with the cards for Fineen Wycherley and Sam Arnold. 

Munster will be kicking themselves for losing a game like that, they have to win this weekend and Connacht can have a real crack at this one. 

Munster and Connacht has been a relatively close fixture in recent years and I don't see it being any different this time around. But all of the pressure is on Munster and I'm sure the people in Connacht Rugby are delighted with the momentum they have built up. 

There are a few players coming back to their best form. Ultan Dillane didn't feature in the November internationals and he is really stepping up to the mark now. Kieran Marmion saw off John Cooney in the game down in Galway and he did well against Luke McGrath earlier this week too. 

Tiernan O'Halloran played well and Matt Healy is finding the form he showed in 2016. Bundee Aki has been awesome as always, Jack Carty has made a few mistakes that are probably wrecking his head at this stage and can be costly but he is getting going. 

Hopefully by the time Europe comes around again Connacht will be back to full strength and ready to hit the ground running.

Irish Independent

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