Thursday 21 February 2019

Johnny O'Connor: Now let's stay on top of it all and push on

Good results have opened gap but that needs to be built on to nail Euro spot

Connacht’s John Muldoon wins possession in a line-out at training in the Sportsground this week SPORTSFILE
Connacht’s John Muldoon wins possession in a line-out at training in the Sportsground this week SPORTSFILE
Kieran Marmion takes a moment to himself during training in Galway

Johnny O'Connor

It's a critical point of the season now - Connacht have re-opened the six-point lead over the chasing pack and they are where they want to be with a crucial game against Cardiff Blues this evening.

They did a job on Treviso last Sunday; it was particularly pleasing to see how clinical they were in the second half - 53 points was probably the maximum they could have got on the day.

Danie Poolman was a standout in the backline. He has played at outside-centre a couple of times in the past and he really has started to become accustomed to his role.

We have Robbie Henshaw to come back from the Six Nations squad and Bundee Aki to return from injury so the signs are good - for the first time in a long time Connacht have real depth in the centre.

On Sunday you had Craig Ronaldson, Dave McSharry and Poolman forming that axis across the middle and they looked at home there together.

Elsewhere, Aly Muldowney is becoming one of our most consistent performers; he was great against Treviso and he has been doing it week in and week out all season.

Let's not forget some of the other try-scorers, Tiernan O'Halloran and Matt Healy.

I was playing for Connacht when Tiernan was just starting out his career and you knew back then he would be a class player. Considering that was his first start back after a long lay-off he did really well.

Matt has gone from strength to strength this year; he was unlucky not to get a hat-trick of tries but that's two more to add to his collection.

Connacht were good early on and Tiernan got his try but they didn't close out the first half and it got a bit bumpy towards the end of it.

Still, you could see they always had a plan throughout the game - they knew that after half-time if they built up a bit of a lead the Italians might implode and that is what happened.

They were clinical when they got the chance and they made the most of their opportunities - to get seven tries is nothing to be sniffed.

VITAL

To add those extra points and tries could be vital by Round 22, so Connacht may well have landed a significant blow in the race for the Champions Cup place.

The way things stand Connacht are six points ahead of Scarlets with six rounds remaining; the Welsh have arguably the easier run but they are playing catch-up from here on out.

However, Connacht need to do a job against Cardiff and a win over there would certainly make up for that horrible draw at home to them last October when they should have closed the game out late on.

But this is a different game and definitely a different Cardiff team - head coach Mark Hammett is gone now and they are in a bit of disarray.

They had a bit of a surprise win at home to Edinburgh last week but the Scots were missing their international contingent and you can't ignore the result from the week before.

Treviso hammered Cardiff at Stadio Monigo and surely that has to count for something.

Don't get me wrong, it will be a tough game out there but I can see Pat Lam's men getting the win and it would put them in an even better position.

Before Connacht cut Treviso to shreds on Sunday, Ireland had an altogether different victory over England at the Aviva Stadium, but it was an epic result all the same for Joe Schmidt and his players.

They bossed England off the park from the first minute to the last and the visitors didn't seem to have an answer - everyone talked pre-game about their physicality but Ireland beat them at their own game.

Ireland started well and you could see the accuracy there right from the off - the scrum was brilliant, and that had been a worry. Also, Ireland definitely won the battle of the breakdown.

Robbie's try capped off a brilliant day and hopefully Ireland can go on to beat Wales and extend this remarkable run of ten wins on the bounce.

Back at base Connacht are coming to a defining few months - win tonight and the Sportsground will be hosting some huge games in the run-in.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport