Monday 11 December 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Dragons will feel force of a backlash

RDS loss shows Lam's boys must learn how to mix up game-plan

A general view of the action during the Guinness PRO12 Round 7 match between Leinster and Connacht at the RDS Arena, Ballsbridge, in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
A general view of the action during the Guinness PRO12 Round 7 match between Leinster and Connacht at the RDS Arena, Ballsbridge, in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

Connacht have a great record at Rodney Parade and should have plenty of confidence tonight, even if their winning streak came to an end against Leinster.

For the first quarter last week, you felt like Connacht could really open Leinster up. But to be fair to Leinster, after that - even when Sean O'Brien got sin-binned - they forced Connacht to lose shape.

The Leinster defence was excellent and just closed Connacht down. They didn't allow the backline space to create something and put a halt to any continuity. They blitzed off the line well and forced Connacht into errors.

Basically Leinster were just too accurate in their defence, and that stunted Connacht's expansive play at the source. 


They didn't commit numbers, but when they got their tackles in they hit the player low, and Dan Leavy, Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien were instrumental at the breakdown. They were getting clean turnovers and Connacht's forwards weren't close enough to affect the breakdown area.

Leinster shut Connacht down and didn't allow them to play. Connacht like to throw the ball around, and they don't really favour crashing the ball up or pick-and-goes for extended phases around the edges of the ruck, which allows the opposition to fill the field.

Overall it was a superb defensive display from Leinster, and from the rugby side of things you couldn't help but enjoy watching the effort and endeavour they put in. They were hungry and clinical, and it paid dividends.

But Connacht have been through this before. No-one just keeps on winning.

And there's certainly not a lot wrong; the tools are there for Connacht to alter their game-plan slightly for when they do come up against a defence like that again.

Once more, a lot of it has to do with getting the mix right. To be fair Jack Carty played the kicking game well in the first half, which worked out well because they forced Leinster back into their own 22 at times.

But they needed to be wiser and they will learn throughout the campaign, especially when they play more big games in Europe.

Players need to be able to think - if the opposition are not committing numbers, how do we manufacture openings?

And the way to get around that is a few picks-and-goes. Connacht are not the finished product in that regard but they possess the right type of player to work that into their game.

A team's philosophy should be continually evolving; if you have a game-plan that worked last year, that doesn't mean that you should use that same one forever.

Connacht need to make tweaks, like every team does.

After the RDS defeat, they will have learned about inaccuracies in their display and places where they can improve on.

It wasn't a case of people getting ahead of themselves either. I think Connacht will respond well from the loss last weekend and they will go to Dragons and win there this evening.

The Dragons are a totally different side to Leinster and Connacht will be able to exploit them in a number of areas.

Connacht have a stronger pack than Dragons, a better back-line . Even last weekend when you were looking at the two teams in the RDS, there were not a lot of Leinster players that would have made the starting 15 in a combined team.


Connacht need to worry about themselves in this game tonight and rectify their system errors.

They can't be thinking too much about the Dragons. If they do that and get their basics right they will be fine.

But if they don't they will put themselves at risk, but I do think there will be an almighty backlash from Connacht in this game and the Dragons will be on the receiving end of it.

Connacht will play well again this weekend. They have been playing well this season, it was just a minor blip against Leinster and they had the life squeezed out of them by a top quality outfit.

It's time to learn from it and move on.

Irish Independent

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