Tuesday 12 December 2017

Johnny O'Connor: This team can cause a major upset yet

Lam must sort out slow starts if Connacht are to conquer Kingsholm

Robbie Henshaw leaves the field after defeat to Ospreys
Robbie Henshaw leaves the field after defeat to Ospreys

Johnny O'Connor

It was a crazy game last weekend against Ospreys. The Welsh sprinted out of the traps in the first half and Connacht just weren't on it when they needed to be at the start of the game.

But when you look at the game overall, it was just basic errors that cost Connacht, something we're quite used to pointing out now. The Ospreys' tries weren't brilliant, but how they kept the ball and offloaded it at pace. . . that probably surprised Connacht a bit.

They would have been expecting a high level of intensity from Ospreys, but after a slow start they went in 24-0 down at half-time. Lesser teams would have crumbled at that stage.

I'm sure the fans would have been thinking 'Oh my God, not this again, how are we going to turn this around?', but fair play to Connacht, they were able to have a look at what needed to be fixed and they didn't panic.


Amazingly, they came back into it and could have even pinched a win had things gone their way towards the end of the game. But they still managed to get a bonus point against a very good side who were (vainly) chasing a five-point haul themselves.

Pat Lam's men utterly dominated that second 40 minutes and it's just about learning how to put it altogether for 80 minutes at this stage of the season.

However, sometimes management can over-focus on these things during the week and it still might not work out. You must have a good start but you need to back that up as well.

The reality is you're not always going to lead in the big games and have control of it at the start, but certainly when a team is under pressure they can't concede some of the tries that Connacht did last weekend.

The ones Connacht coughed up were relatively easy and they happened because of the pace Ospreys injected into the game - they opened up so quickly, while scrum-half Rhys Webb was fantastic.

Connacht showed a lot of pride in the second half. They were clearly trying to win the game regardless of what happened elsewhere. Ultimately the win wouldn't have mattered anyway because Scarlets went and did what they needed to do in Italy.

It's Gloucester next up on Sunday and Connacht will hope to finally destroy that hoodoo that the Cherry and Whites seem to have over them.

Connacht would have been disappointed with the way they played against Gloucester when they last met in the Challenge Cup quarter-final, so it's great for them to get a another crack at the English club particularly so soon, because they are in much better form going into this game.

In essence Connacht, once again, left themselves with a lot to do in the second half of that game. A poor first-half performance where they defended a lot and failed to clear their lines efficiently, left them looking pretty tired towards the end of the game.

If they had played more ball in the first half, Connacht would have done a lot better and would probably would even have won.

If they are able to do the unthinkable, upset the odds and get past Gloucester on Sunday, they'll have to play a French team to get into the Champions Cup proper next season.

It would be the seventh-place side in the Top 14 and there are a few really good teams hovering around there at the moment.


They all have good players and would be tough opponents for Connacht in any case, but at the Sportsground you would think Connacht would win with everything that's at stake.

Connacht are complete underdogs this weekend but you would hope they can come through and with that have a healthy squad of players left to prep for the next game.

It is knock-out rugby now and anything can happen. Connacht need to look after their basics and perform them incredibly well by just waiting to exploit the opportunities that will come.

Big games are like chess matches. You wait and wait and then 'boom' - time to exploit your opponent and pounce like a supple leopard.

Irish Independent

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