Friday 20 April 2018

Johnny O'Connor: Keane reveal will lift squad for the run-in

Treviso is a real five-pointer, but silly mistakes must be cut out

Pat Lam speaking to the media this week Picture: Sportsfile
Pat Lam speaking to the media this week Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

I'm expecting two more wins for Connacht and Ireland this weekend, but they're both facing two sticky opponents for very different reasons.

In terms of Connacht, it has been a huge week for the province and the news that Kieran Keane will be taking over as head coach from the start of next season is a massive shot in the arm at this stage of the season.

I'm sure it was a difficult few months in the wake of Pat Lam's announcement of his imminent departure to Bristol. But now the players have won back-to-back games against Cardiff Blues and Dragons, and they finally know who they will be working under next season.

It couldn't have come at a better time in the season, and hopefully this announcement will help the players to launch an assault on the top six places in the Pro12 before the season is over.

However, last weekend was an opportunity missed to gain another point along the way. It was great to get the victory but the way Connacht took off, and the 14-0 lead they had after just 14 minutes, you were thinking they would open these guys up and maybe even get a bonus point before half-time.

To be fair to Dragons, though, they defended really well and frustrated Connacht around the breakdown. Connacht made a lot of line-breaks and created a lot of chances but tried that 50-50 pass too often. The risk was far too much to be making those passes, and there were a lot of knock-ons that spoiled good attacking opportunities.

It cost Connacht because they could have got all four tries if they had held their heads a bit. You have to take some risks at this stage of the season. But sometimes when you make that big line-break, you can just tell it's probably time to hold onto the ball. And if they had just slowed it down, they would have scored anyway.

But saying all that, it is part of the philosophy and the passes just weren't good enough. Connacht will continue to try those offloads and hopefully they work out next time.

But you have to give Dragons a lot credit with the way they acquitted themselves for the latter part of the first half, and then the second half. They put Connacht under pressure, and you could even say that Connacht did well to grind out the victory in the end.


Connacht are going to Treviso again, with the same mindset, they want and need five points from this game. Connacht will be looking to make a statement and to keep on climbing up the Pro12 table.

They need to get seventh and then start aiming for sixth. That's the goal and they cannot afford any slip-ups right now. Connacht lost over there last season, and there's always a risk in rugby, physically or mentally if you don't show up, no matter how much better you are than the opposition you can lose a game.

But Connacht should have enough, as should Ireland when they face France at Aviva Stadium in the Six Nations. Guy Noves has got France playing in a certain positive way, but technically as a coach he is probably one of the weaker ones in the competition in terms of getting structures and plans together.

He certainly has got the players to be cohesive as a group. But as long as France don't run away with it in the early stages, there should only be one result in this game.

Read More: Tiernan's the perfect fit for captain's role

You always need to stick with France until half-time. They are going to come out with big power-plays and if you let them get up a head of steam it can be difficult to get back into the game.

They are exciting to play because you don't know what's going to happen, and they thrive off momentum, but Joe Schmidt is too smart and the Irish players can frustrate the French. The one thing with France is they rarely seem to find their shape after line-breaks, and that's when they run out of ideas very quickly in their phase play.

Ireland are a more well-oiled unit, and with Schmidt being a stickler for detail, the players always seem to have a plan, no matter what stage in the game.

That may not have come to fruition against Scotland, but they made up for it in Rome, and in Dublin this weekend, Ireland will continue that form.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport