Monday 20 November 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Forget the permutations and go for it

Eighth place is better than seventh for play-off draw - but it's more important to maintain the momentum

Finlay Bealham, in action against Glasgow, will be expected to lead the team by example in the season’s final games Picture: Sportsfile
Finlay Bealham, in action against Glasgow, will be expected to lead the team by example in the season’s final games Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

There is a lot of ambiguity about the permutations surrounding the Guinness Pro12 teams in the Champions Cup play-offs.

However, everyone knows that beneath it all both Connacht and Cardiff Blues want to finish eighth - it's more beneficial than seventh place. It's an unusual situation.

It's not a great scenario when you are at a disadvantage for finishing higher up in the table.

Finishing eighth will see Connacht travel to play an English team but, crucially, the winner of that tie will have home advantage in the play-off final.

So eighth place is the spot to be in, but you can never manipulate a game and say you want to lose it.

You don't know how a loss here might affect the confidence and momentum of the team prior to the play-offs.

Physical

Rugby is a very hard game to try and not be physical in: it's all about the will to win and putting your body on the line.

If you go out without those things in mind you will get hurt and it will be very embarrassing for the team. I can't see the Connacht players going out and trying to lose a game. But if they do end up behind Cardiff in the shake-up, it's not the end of the world.

So they should still go and beat the Scarlets at the weekend. It might be to the detriment of the team, but you have to keep winning.

You don't want to be a few weeks off match fitness when it comes down to the crunch games at the end of the season.

At this time of the year, if the staff have done their job right, you should be pretty fresh.

Injuries always happen in every game, so it just comes down to luck at the end of the day and you cannot go out and try and avoid them. It could be something you have done 100 times before and then something happens to you when you try it again.

But it is strange, Scarlets are trying to stay in the top four. They are playing great rugby. This year was unusual for them because they usually fly out of the blocks. But they started slower. Now they are back and they are a great team to watch. And Scarlets will blitz Connacht if they are given the chance.

I don't think Scarlets will be as physical as Leinster were. They will struggle to do damage in that sense. But you don't want any dark days at the office, you want to build confidence. It seems suicidal to get seventh, but there are not going to be any easy games.

You have to face up to it. You want momentum but you can't create momentum and confidence unless you are winning matches. You earn the right to get those things. When teams are successful they put a lot of focus and thought into it.

They are at it day to day, then you get your performance and get on the crest of a wave and win a tournament. At the weekend you might get lucky but nothing is guaranteed.

In my mind Connacht should be playing as well as they can, beat the Scarlets and then do the same against Munster. The mind-frame for losing games isn't an intelligent one.

Attack-wise Connacht have been good. But they haven't put on a clinical performance this year. Nothing has shown that they are back.

You can see they are a good side but they haven't shown the accuracy they need to succeed .

Disruption

The disruption from players getting injured, and players and coaches leaving, can add to it as well. Connacht have to get a performance right this weekend, in the final game of the regular season, and then in the play-offs.

The big names need to stand up now. That's what you are there for. Bundee Aki is your marquee player and he will want to lead the team with his performance. He needs to be world class, and he is a really good player.

John Muldoon will do as he always does. He is a steady, consistent player. You want the go-to guys stepping up. They need to play with aggression, and when Bundee is on it and he leads the back-line, Connacht can be fantastic.

Irish Independent

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