Saturday 24 February 2018

Johnny O'Connor: Niyi Adeolokun has big chance to state Irish case and end Connacht's dreadful Ulster record

Improving flier can catch Schmidt's eye in derby clash

Niyi Adeolokun has a chance to step up. Picture: Sportsfile
Niyi Adeolokun has a chance to step up. Picture: Sportsfile

With coaching, sometimes it's the simple messages that come across best - Pat Lam wanted players to get back into their defensive and attacking position quicker against Edinburgh last weekend.

It was a clear message, it was simple and it gave Connacht the chance to attack. Connacht went through a lot of phases in the first few minutes. Although they didn't make much ground, when you go through 17 phases it's going to hurt the opposition.

That is why Connacht did so well last season. It's so hard to defend for so long, and at some stage there will be a lapse, and that's when the simple skills come in handy and Connacht can pounce.


Edinburgh tired and the opportunities opened up. It was great to see the fluency back.

The guys attacked and they were comfortable on the ball, and although there are still improvements to be made, all in all it looks a lot better.

The defensive performance was better against Scarlets the week before, but the attack was a bit off before this.

But sometimes the remedy is a bit simpler than you think. And all Connacht needed was to be back in position when the ball was recycled - they did that against Edinburgh.

There was a lot more urgency in the performance and players were offering themselves. It made the individual displays that bit better as a result. 

It's positive: the players will still want more out of themselves but it's better than the last few weeks.

Flanker Jake Heenan and centre Peter Robb really stood out. 

Jake offered himself a lot and carried good ball. He had great hands and it's good to see an openside adding those attributes to his game.

Peter did very well too. He is so strong and big. And as he gets more comfortable with himself and his body, he could become impossible to tackle.

It will be interesting to see the way Connacht line out when they have everyone available, especially in the big European games, but the options are definitely there.

And well as centre, things look very bright out on the wing, where Niyi Adeolokun is having another breakthrough season, if that's possible.

We know he is quick but most of all he has a willingness to learn and keep on getting better. He was definitely worth that Ireland call-up.

This evening he will face-off against some other guys who have ideas about playing for Ireland this season, and it really is a star-studded backline that Ulster have, not to mention All Black Charles Piutau.

Ulster have been brilliant this season, and Connacht have a dreadful record against them. But maybe this is the match where they finally get their win, and Pat Lam finally succeeds against them.

Ulster look so accomplished at the moment; they have really hit the ground running under Les Kiss this season. He didn't have a lot of time to get to know the structures up there last term but he is fully settled in now. 

And with the players he has at his disposal he could take that team a long way this season.

But if Connacht can win the collisions and keep the ball through the phases like they did last week, they could be on to a winner in the Sportsground tonight.

Ulster have a really strong, physical and experienced pack. But it's crucial that Connacht cut off the supply out wide and force their scrum-half into mistakes.

High tempo

If Connacht can get up in Paddy Jackson's face it will put Ulster on the back foot and will mean Piutau et al won't have the high-tempo attacking game they thrive on. 

Two wins in a row against Edinburgh and Ulster would make things look a whole lot different coming into the Champions Cup - Connacht's first home game against Toulouse was always going to be season-defining. 

But if they beat Ulster this weekend, the confidence will be flowing and the season could have turned drastically after a couple of good weeks in the Sportsground. 

Irish Independent

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