Saturday 26 May 2018

Last week was one to remember, but all our eyes are on Ulster now

Denis Buckley is tackled by Jamie Heaslip at the Sportsground last week (SPORTSFILE)
Denis Buckley is tackled by Jamie Heaslip at the Sportsground last week (SPORTSFILE)

Denis Buckley

It being a derby game at home, and with us defending a one-point lead for 20 minutes, when the final whistle blew, big celebrations were inevitable. Relief that we had held on for the win was certainly the prevailing feeling after last weekend's victory over Leinster.

It was a great win and everyone was delighted, but in the dressing room afterwards the coaches and a lot of the players were quick to emphasise that it was just one game and four points earned. It was job done for the day but it was all about looking ahead to tonight's game against Ulster.

That was probably our biggest defensive effort of the year. We do a defensive score after each game: we earn points for things like tackles and turnovers, and lose points when you miss a tackle or concede a penalty. Going off those scores it was probably our best defensive performance of the year.

On top of that to only concede six points and no try meant a lot against a very strong Leinster team, with a lot of internationals and really good players in there. To hold them to that was a great effort from one to 23, but the fact that they were pretty much full strength after the Six Nations adds a bit more weight to the win.

It possibly wasn't as evident in the immediate aftermath of the game, but looking at it during our analysis; we left a lot of opportunities behind us. Earlier in the week we looked at Leinster's defence and felt that there might be chances there. Statistically, they have the league's best defence, but we wondered if the right questions had been asked of them.


We had targeted tries and we certainly created opportunities. In the second half we had an overlap once or twice and we didn't get it wide; on a couple of occasions we got good set-piece territory, but we didn't execute at the lineout and our maul never got going as a result.

That inaccuracy came up a lot in our review. Our pack as a whole played pretty well: the scrum was quite dominant and around the pitch we were effective, but our lineout execution wasn't where it should have been. In a way we were lucky that we got away with messing up those couple of lineouts and still won the game. Another day we would have needed points in the second half to get the victory, but it's something to work towards.

The breakdown is an area of the game that we pride ourselves on and rely on. You can't attempt to hold onto the ball though double-digit phases if you don't have trust in your breakdown. We relied on it a lot at the weekend and it was quite the battle.

To be fair, Leinster are very skilled on the ground. Once or twice they caused us a bit of trouble. It was a good, tactical battle, and one that I enjoyed playing in and against lads who know what they are doing.

To be fair, it always is a key zone, and this evening the breakdown will be a great battle again. Guys like Rory Best go hard at the ball as well as Chris Henry in the back-row, so we will be tested severely again if we are to gain quick ball and upset theirs.

The six-day turnaround is not ideal for preparation against a very dangerous team like Ulster. They hadn't a great result against Glasgow so it's a must-win game for them, which is going to make it tough. Last weekend as a unit we were very happy with how we scrummaged. The strength Leinster had starting and coming off the bench in the front-row was impressive - they scrummage well as a pack too though. They'd have looked at our recent games and tried to target us there to negate one of our strengths.

In the first scrum the ball got stuck at the back, they were patient and managed to turn us over. It wasn't a tactic from us to leave the ball in there and try and push over the top of them, sometimes the ball gets stuck, and with the pressure being exerted no one was able to lift a foot to kick it back again.

But I thought we wore them down as the half wore on and from there we dominated in my eyes. We won the ball on a couple of their put-ins and got a scrum penalty there too. We gave them the respect their scrum deserves, but as a whole we were the dominant side.

A theme of our season so far has been if one person is out, the next person comes in and does a good job. Even at the weekend, Jake Heenan was ruled out late in the week, but Eoin McKeon came in, and won man of the match in one of his best games ever for Connacht.

After the team is announced each week, Pat asks everyone to be ready for a late call-up; it has happened a good few times this season and it's the nature of rugby.

This week more lads get their chance to impress against Ulster, but we have no worries because everyone in the squad knows their individual jobs.

I've never won in Ulster, and Connacht have never won up there in the professional era. We don't want that record hanging over us, so a win up there is next on our list to achieve.

We know how tough it is going to be, but we want to win this and park the Pro12 for a week with a degree of satisfaction ahead of our Challenge Cup game next weekend. Another league win would set us up nicely.

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