Friday 23 March 2018

Lam won't let complacency creep in

Important not to underestimate Treviso - but we can get bonus

Connacht’s Eoghan Masterson is tackled by Dragons’ Nick Crosswell during last week’s win which was vital for their top-six hopes
Connacht’s Eoghan Masterson is tackled by Dragons’ Nick Crosswell during last week’s win which was vital for their top-six hopes
Robbie Henshaw faces another big test in the green of Ireland in Sunday’s Six Nations showdown against England

Johnny O'Connor

It's easy for people to say that Connacht should have got the bonus-point try last weekend, but you have to appreciate the weather they were playing in.

In conditions like that, the win comes first - it's never easy to start throwing the ball around and looking for those extra tries.

Even with the extra man there are a lot of variables that come into play and playing with a bar of soap slows you down.

Other than that, the sending-off was a bit disappointing. You shouldn't see the captain throwing a cheap shot like that, and Jack Carty was lucky he came off unscathed.

But in any event Connacht beat Dragons for the fifth time in a row and more importantly they are back to sixth in the Pro12 - that is the goal they set out to achieve at the start of the season and they are in pole position to get it.

Last weekend's fixtures went their way and they needed that to happen, but thankfully there should be some respite this weekend.

Treviso at home is a game where Connacht can target the bonus point, but only if the right conditions present themselves.

As we saw last weekend in rugby the context is very important - for instance if Connacht take the pitch this Sunday in atrocious conditions once more the win will be the only thing on their minds.

What a difference a week can make, though: this time last week it was advantage Scarlets, and they can't be happy with how their match turned out.

That said, they could have lost that game had a few of Ian Keatley's kicks gone over but that is just the nature of the game and in a way they might be happy with their two points.

Edinburgh lost to Ulster thankfully, so if Connacht can win again this weekend they could open up that bit of a gap once more.

It's a different Connacht side to the one I was involved in - these guys are really just pushing the standards and they can go a long way.

I can't speak for the other coaches but they have two great tacticians in Pat Lam and Dan McFarland and that adds to the professionalism of the team right now.


They have a different mindset before a game and approach matches with the right attitude - heading into Treviso they will be totally focused on the task at hand.

In the past there was a chance you could underestimate a team like Treviso, well definitely not now because they did put 40 points on Cardiff last weekend.

But Connacht will go into this game with a precise game-plan and I have no doubt they can execute that and if the right conditions come their way hopefully they can push on and get all five points.

Hopefully that would mark a perfect day for the Connacht fans because that's not the only big game on Sunday.

England and Ireland is arguably going to be a championship decider with two of the best coaches going head to head. If Ireland can match England's physicality they can win, but that is not an easy task.

England are big and powerful all over the field and the Irish are going to be tested, especially in midfield where Jonathan Joseph and Luther Burrell complement each other well.

It's going to be a big test again for Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, but we saw how well they did against the French so I would be quite confident there.

But even if Ireland are to win that battle you have to beat England in the breakdown, scrum and lineout.

It will be interesting to see how Mike Ross holds up against that England scrummaging unit because they have been mightily impressive so far this championship.

The bookies will have England down as favourites but looking at it from the outside in, Ireland have the trump card with Joe Schmidt.

He's one of the best coaches out there but then again England also have a quality head coach in Stuart Lancaster.

There's no doubt it's going to be a cracker but hopefully Ireland can pull it off and it would be a great boost in a World Cup year.

But it would also add to the gate figures in the Sportsground on Sunday too, so I hope it can be a successful weekend on both fronts.


Huge pity that Swifty never got Ireland call

It has been a week of retirements in rugby circles and it's sad to see the likes of Michael Swift and Shane Jennings calling time on their careers.

Swifty has consistently been one of the best players for Connacht over such a long period of time and he will definitely be missed around the Sportsground.

I played with him for many years, and he's not the guy you wanted to be lining out opposite in training. He used to be ruthless even against his own team-mates and I am sure he caused a couple of injuries for the Connacht guys over the years.

But it was just because he was a great competitor and it was a pleasure to be part of the same team as him.

It was a pity he never got noticed at international level, but he must be recognised as one of the great Connacht players.

Over in Leinster Jennings can't be far off that status either because when you think about it, he along with Leo Cullen changed their mindset completely.

When they came back from Leicester they transformed the psyche of the team and turned them into one of Europe's best.

Irish Independent

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