Sunday 22 April 2018

Johnny O'Connor: Great chance to get off to flyer at home

A convincing win is real possibility against Dragons this evening

Pat Lam and Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomon at the Pro12 launch in London
Pat Lam and Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomon at the Pro12 launch in London

Johnny O'Connor

With all of talk about World Cup squads this week the start of the Pro12 could have sneaked up on some fans, but not the players.

Those who weren't involved internationally in recent weeks would have kept their heads down and are entirely focused on their pre-season preparations as they hope to be in the peak physical condition to let loose in the league.

This is a funny time of the year to be a professional rugby player - guys are in a bit of a limbo with regards to where they stand with management.

Pre-season games don't always count for much when it comes to the regular season and players won't know where their status until a few games into the campaign when starting 15s begin to take on a more predictable look.

But right now it is anyone's guess how they will shape up - the coaches have shown their first hand for the opening game of the season and these players will want to make an impression to ensure they are a permanent fixture in the side.

But they need to do that without over-stepping the mark; that's when a player begins to think about their own game too much and the team suffers as a result.

As a professional, one of the key things you learn is that the greater good of the team always takes precedence over any personal performances.

You don't need to perform heroics, just do the basics right and if everyone from No 1 to 15 does what is expected of them then the result will nearly always take care of itself.

With Connacht Rugby that is something that they really need to hone in on. Connacht don't have the star names all over the park, and instead they look to do damage collectively.

Connacht are the better team in this Round 1 fixture against Dragons; they tend to do well against this opposition and in last year's opener they beat the Welsh 16-11 at the Sportsground.

It was the ideal start to the season and they built on that afterwards, so it will be interesting to see what they can offer this time around.


But it is a new season, Dragons will have recruited, every team has improved during the summer; it's just a matter of how much better they are.

Connacht showed a healthy progression throughout the pre-season. They started slowly against Grenoble, but impressed against Castres and the win down in Munster was a nice way to round things off.

If they can build on those performances you would expect a win here, but they will need to have the set-piece locked down like they did last year.

Connacht have one of the better lineouts and scrums in the Pro12 at this stage and they run a tight ship. Teams expect Connacht to have a good pack, lineout and scrum.

Former assistant coach Dan McFarland is gone now, he is a world-class operator and is a major loss. But I do think they have the best man in instead of him.

Jimmy Duffy is a fantastic coach from a similar pedigree as Dan. Nothing has really been lost in that sense because Jim is home-grown and it was essential Connacht didn't look outside for a replacement.

First and foremost, they need to start well against Dragons and then play everything on a game-by-game basis. Who knows where it could take them with the big fixture schedule during the World Cup.

It will be a busy few weeks for Pat Lam and his side and they will have the bigger squad to pick from for once. The injury list isn't as long as it would be later on in the season either, so Connacht can make a big impact on the table.

There's so much sport on this weekend and it's certainly not confined to the rugby sphere although Ireland and England lock horns at Twickenham in their final World Cup warm-up as well.

Connacht's Mayo fans will either be in Dublin or glued to their TV screens for the football semi-final replay against Dublin, but on Sunday I'll be in Croke Park to see Galway take on Kilkenny in the All-Ireland senior hurling final.

They already lost to them in the Leinster final but it would make it all the sweeter and would end the long wait since 1988 for a senior All-Ireland win in that code.

Irish Independent

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