Tuesday 21 November 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Bright start essential to halt Russians

Connacht need to avoid ill-discipline as season enters important phase

Robbie Henshaw in training at the Sportsground. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw in training at the Sportsground. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Denis Buckley goes through his paces. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

It won't be easy for Connacht to bounce back from last weekend's horror ending in Brive, but I've no doubt those guys have it in them.

Luckily, it's Enisei-STM that will come to the Sportsground, and presumably leave with nothing. The only question is whether Connacht can eliminate their ill-discipline and take some of the basic errors out of their game

If they do all eyes are on Kingston Park, and whether Newcastle Falcons will place all of their interests back behind their Aviva Premiership relegation battle.

Their defeat to the Russians last weekend means they are effectively out of the Challenge Cup, and Brive could go there and win.

But all Connacht can do is look after their end of the bargain, and they certainly didn't do that at Stade Amedee-Domenech last weekend.

There were a few notable contributions from the likes of John Muldoon, who got across the line twice and led from the front throughout.

Matt Healy didn't score for once, but again he was fantastic in what is becoming a sensational season from him.

When you think Connacht have him for a couple more seasons at least, it's brilliant. He is one of the best wingers in the Pro12, and he's only getting better if he stays fit.

When you get three tries away from home like that, you are almost expecting that the team would push for the fourth, but instead Connacht had to rue missed chances from the tee.

AJ MacGinty looked good in open play, his break and pass to John Muldoon set up the first try, but his place-kicking was off. Connacht only had a 17 per cent kicking average on Saturday, and that's desperate from guys at this level of competition.

Jack Carty should have put Connacht in front at the end, but his conversion went wide too.

But I still think Jack is the No 10 to bring Connacht forward. Pat Lam must stick with him. You could look at that game, as if he was being rested, but that cost Connacht at the end of the day.

Saying all of that, you can't just blame the defeat on the out-halves. Overall, there was a distinct lack of urgency, something that we haven't seen from Connacht this season.


I remember sitting down and watching that Scarlets game a couple of weeks ago. I was so disappointed at the end when they lost, because at least Connacht had put in a good performance at Parc y Scarlets.

The match in Brive was littered with handling errors, and when the opposition kicker slots seven penalties, you know the ill-discipline has caught up with the side, big time.

Connacht gave away twice as many penalties, 14-7, and they didn't deserve to win on the back of that statistic. But, as I said, there were a few shining lights, and Denis Buckley's return was definitely one of those. He has been the best loosehead in Connacht for a number of years now, and he is another player that will be pushing for involvement with the national side very soon.

And the injury list is easing, ever so slightly. There will be more first-team regulars available again this week, and it will be interesting to see what sort of policy Pat Lam goes with.

I assume he will put out the strongest possible line-up, not only to push for the bonus point, but to get these guys ready for the game against Scarlets coming up.

Connacht badly need two wins now before the break, and it would hopefully keep them in contention on both fronts ahead of the Six Nations.

Against Enisei-STM it will be all about getting points on the board early, and cutting off any notions they might have of producing their third upset of the pool phase - they have since shown they are decent side.

But with the long journey to Galway, and potentially a difficult start to the game, they will become disinterested and Connacht must find that killer touch again, to put them to the sword.

A big win this weekend could do wonders for the confidence within the side, but with the way the standings are Connacht need one anyway.

Irish Independent

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