Thursday 18 January 2018

Johnny O'Connor: Plenty to play for in the run-in

Vital to put Zebre defeat to one side and beat Edinburgh

Connacht players look dejected after the Guinness PRO12 match against Zebre Picture: Sportsfile
Connacht players look dejected after the Guinness PRO12 match against Zebre Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

It's been a tough few weeks for Connacht Rugby, but hopefully they are out the other end of it now, and they can kick on positively towards the end of the season after the disaster in Zebre last weekend.

As a former player, it's very hard to criticise when you have been part of losses to teams like Prato in the past. When we played them the second time around we beat them by about 80 points. 

It shows that these things can happen, but it is never a case of disrespecting the side because sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and say you got beat. 

If both teams match up physically and one team wants it that bit more than the other, then you can be in trouble.

And Connacht were in a position to win that game, they just left their comeback too late. They also had a 12-3 lead in the first half and it was unfortunate that they couldn't hold their heads at that point.

You just have to figure out how to win a game like that. Against the lesser teams you need to earn the right to do things, and then you can look at expressing yourself. But maybe Connacht did that a bit too early in Parma. 

If you start playing outside of your shape, and your general game-plan, you can get punished because things won't work out for you. You need to earn the right to go wide with the ball. Sometimes when you are heavy favourites complacency kicks in subconsciously and it can mess with your psychology no matter who you are.

When you look at the Glasgow Warriors game, Connacht played pretty well at times. But when Glasgow were down to 14 men they still managed to score tries. 

Connacht's game is all about attack, but you have to wonder how much time do they actually spend on defence, and when they are not on their game, they really can get opened up as has been shown in recent weeks.

Connacht cannot afford to make any more of these mistakes and they need to get their 'A' game going. They should get the play-off spot for the Champions Cup, no problem, but they need to get a bit of form back, going into those knockout games. 

STANDARDS It would be fantastic to be back in the Champions Cup next season, because you invariably drag your own standards up by playing against the big boys. However, that's a long way away now, and Connacht could have to play English and French opposition before they can qualify. Pat Lam's tenure isn't petering out just yet either. It hasn't been a disappointing end because there is still a lot of rugby to play, and a lot to play for looking towards next season.

If Connacht do end up getting into the Champions Cup for 2017-'18, it's another fairly successful year, and another step in the right direction for a province that would never have operated at these high levels in the past. 

And anyway you can't win trophies every year. It's a big task in the next couple of weeks, and it's disappointing when you see Connacht having to rest Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O'Halloran against Zebre. 

They might have played a good bit of rugby, whether it was for their province or country this year, but Connacht need these players to be on top form for the play-offs if they want to get back into the Champions Cup. 

The problem is, despite the return of the international players, things could get that bit worse for Connacht before it actually gets any better.

The week after losing to Italian minnows like that, you want a favourable home game to get the confidence and momentum flowing once again. 

Connacht are travelling to Myreside to take on a really physical Edinburgh side who will be baying for blood after their Challenge Cup exit at the hands of La Rochelle last weekend.

Not only that, but the away factor means there is another distraction for the Connacht players. After a short turnaround from the Zebre game, and the long journey to and from Parma, this is great challenge for the squad

Edinburgh aren't any great shakes at the moment, and hopefully Connacht will have enough to get a valuable win.

Irish Independent

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