Thursday 18 January 2018

Lessons to be learned from Zebre game after slack last 30 minutes

Matt Healy, Connacht, contests the ball
Matt Healy, Connacht, contests the ball

Denis Buckley

After another bonus-point win we are definitely going in the right direction, but I think it's fair to say that we'll have to be more consistent this weekend on a tricky away trip to Swansea.

Last week against Zebre was a very physical game. They always bring that to the table, so for the most part we matched them there. We were able to execute our game-plan quite well in the first half - but things didn't go as well for us in the last half-hour and we were pretty disappointed with that.

Having scored four tries in the first half and one straight after half-time everything looks rosy, but there was a bit of a switch-off then. It didn't look great in Monday's review, especially the last 20 minutes when our game-plan went out the window a bit. By then the result was almost secured, but we only performed for 50 minutes, which is unacceptable. If we do that this weekend we'll be in deep trouble against Ospreys.

I'm not sure why that happened. Maybe because the bonus point was already in the bag, but thankfully it didn't cost us the win.

In recent years against Ospreys we felt we've matched them and maybe were the better team on occasion, but we didn't get the result. It came down to small errors and concentration lapses. If you make the smallest error, they'll punish you.

That's a learning we've taken from playing them in recent seasons: it really has to be an 80-minute performance.


Hopefully that lax display against Zebre will be a blessing in disguise because we'll put massive emphasis into getting our defence and game-plan right for 80 minutes. When things don't go our way we cannot deviate from the plan, we cannot play off-the-cuff, unstructured rugby, which puts us under more pressure.

I was pretty happy to get my name on the scoresheet, and although I'm still waiting for my first 60-metre run-in, it's great to get over off the back of a strong maul. Nepia has been the expert so far this season and he was at the back with the ball but I spotted one of their lads grab him, so I took the responsibility off his hands. It would have been four tries in four for him, so he wasn't too happy with me afterwards.

Despite the disappointing last half-hour against Zebre, it's great to be going to Ospreys with consecutive bonus-point wins and to be just one point off the leaders. The Liberty Stadium is one of the best grounds to play in in the league, but it is one of the toughest places to get a result too.

They have had a few disappointing results of late, so they are a bit of a wounded animal this weekend. But if we can put our systems in place and put in an 80-minute performance we'll be confident we can come away with the result.

From an Irish point of view, the World Cup was really disappointing. I was tempted to jump the gun and book flights to go over for the semi, but I held off until after the game. Thankfully, I didn't splash out.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong for them, especially in the first 20 minutes. It's always tough to get back into it with that points deficit and in fairness Argentina were excellent: they deserved their win. Even if we had everyone fit, if they had gotten off to that start, it's almost impossible to turn that deficit around - especially in a World Cup quarter-final.

Their expansive style of rugby, putting the ball wide with physicality up the middle is probably the way teams are going to go forward. It's similar to how the All Blacks approach the game and maybe we'll see more teams going down that route now.

You'd have to feel sorry for Scotland too, especially in the manner of their defeat with the last kick.

People said the decision should have gone to the TMO, but rules dictate that they couldn't, but it is still a tough call to lose to. Putting myself in their shoes, I cannot imagine what they feel like. I'm sure they feel wronged.

In the middle of all the World Cup mayhem last weekend, I went along to another Mazda Rugby Roadshow up in Carton House as one of the ambassadors for Connacht. Myself, John Cooney, Ben Marshall, Dave McSharry and Kieran Marmion all went along and we had a great laugh again. A lot of mini clubs from around the area came in for the day and we ran though some drills with them, they played a few games and I hope they all had a good day. We had a blast anyway.

Our numbers have been boosted this week with the signing of AJ MacGinty and for one, I'm delighted to see him with us. I actually went to school with AJ and we played on the same senior cup team in Blackrock.

He was a year ahead of me and after playing AIL for a while he went over to America and after three years there, got selected for the World Cup. He did well there too, and he has gotten a contract here with us on the back of it.

I'm delighted for him, and I'm sure with a few us here from school we'll all help him settle in. Dave Heffernan, Jason Harris-Wright and Dave McSharry are all ex-Blackrock lads so it's always good to have familiar faces around when you face into a new environment.

Irish Independent

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