Saturday 21 July 2018

Johnny O'Connor: Connacht tactics are risky but could yield a first Belfast win in 50 years

Streaky Ulster can be next name on long list of scalps for this team

Kieran Marmion scores the only try of the game in Connacht’s win over Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
Kieran Marmion scores the only try of the game in Connacht’s win over Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
John Muldoon is tackled by Ross Molony. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

Connacht have not won in Belfast in over 50 years, I don't see why they cannot upset the apple cart again this weekend, although it will be enormous task to do so.

At this stage, Connacht are nearly expecting to win these games that Connacht teams in the past could only have dreamed of winning. It would be amazing if they could win back-to-back inter-pros. There is a lot of possible outcomes at the moment of how the season could end but Connacht should be full of confidence.

Connacht will have the distraction of Europe next weekend, unlike any other Irish province, and that will be a welcome change. But these players must live in the here and now. They are in a great position to make more history this year and they need to keep their heads for the run-in.

It was another statement last weekend when they beat Leinster, two teams with the same goals, and Connacht were just too good. At the end a lot of other teams would have kicked the ball down-field when they recovered possession, but Connacht were confident enough to retain the ball, stick to their guns and then drive it out of play. Some call it tactical naivety, which to some extent is right, but it's Connacht's philosophy and although risky, it works.

It was some victory, one of the biggest in the history of the club. And the atmosphere at the game was exceptional. It had a real changing of the guard feel to it, and Connacht are most definitely here to stay.

Many people talked about the power and strength of the Leinster bench, and it was phenomenal. But it was the Connacht replacements who arguably made the better impact. It didn't look good when Nathan White went off injured early on, but when Finlay Bealham took to the field he was fantastic.

His fabulous season goes on and on, as does Bundee Aki's. There's no stopping him, he was the heartbeat of that Connacht performance. He wasn't far away when that ball was turned over at the end either, and I wouldn't have been surprised to hear it was him that turned it over.


But it's difficult to pick individuals out after a performance like that, because if ever teamwork was the key ingredient it has been this season with Connacht.

And it's all set up for them now, a few injuries might be a setback but players have been stepping up all season, and they are likely to uncover another gem to fill the void at out-half.

Jack Carty is on the mend, and the sooner they get him back the better but that is just one position and the jersey will be filled admirably, no doubt.

Connacht are coming up against an inconsistent Ulster side this evening and it's a crunch game for both sides. People might think Connacht can afford to lose this one with Europe a bigger priority next week. But when there's momentum there it's crucial the team continue to build on it. Winning becomes a habit, and with seven victories on the trot I'm sure Connacht will want to keep this one up.

Ulster will have other ideas, and they are the one province that always seem to have the Indian sign over Connacht.

But let's not forget the season of firsts that has gone before. Okay, Ulster beat Connacht at the Sportsground but other than that Connacht have won quite comprehensively down in Munster and beat a strong Leinster side in the Sportsground. They lost in the RDS, but that was in a difficult period for this side. They are out the other end now and with the improving conditions for rugby, Connacht will continue to thrive.

Saying all that, they are equipped for conditions like they got in the Sportsground last weekend too. Leinster's defence just doesn't leave many holes to run into.

Connacht are on course for a very interesting run-in. When you look at the fixture schedule it says Connacht have five games remaining between the Pro12 and Challenge Cup, but I really doubt that now.

They will get to the play-offs in the league, and on their day with the brand of rugby they are playing Connacht can beat anyone. It's extraordinary to think but there is strong chance Connacht can win silverware this year.

Irish Independent

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