Monday 18 February 2019

Let's go for glory with Connacht now

Irish success sets example for all to follow in big finish to the campaign

Robbie Henshaw was a revelation for Ireland during the Six Nations Championship
Robbie Henshaw was a revelation for Ireland during the Six Nations Championship

Johnny O'Connor

After watching Ireland win the Six Nations in such stylish fashion last weekend, you can't help but be optimistic about the state of rugby in the northern hemisphere.

In terms of Connacht, this is the biggest end to the season ever and it comes together with some difficult games.

You have Munster, Gloucester, Ulster, Glasgow, Zebre and then Ospreys so that's certainly what you would be calling a tough run-in. They will be looking at that game away to Zebre as the big one to pick up points in but going down to Munster will be another massive one.

You wonder how many internationals will play for Munster but at the end of the day it will be a tough game either way. At this stage of the year there are never an easy games and there won't be a lot of points on offer.

Connacht must get a few wins under their belt if they want to be thinking about claiming that final Champions Cup qualification spot and it will be tough with Scarlets and Edinburgh only three and four points behind respectively.

Maybe people got carried away with where we were at Christmas but it only matters where you are at the business end of the season and it is getting to that stage now.

There is no point being on top of the standings in September if you are nowhere to be seen around Grand Final time.

You would hope Connacht haven't burned themselves out too early and they can put in some more big displays towards the end of the season. Robbie Henshaw will come back in with such experience and it can't be understated the difference he will make. It was great to see him lifting the Six Nations three years after winning a Connacht senior schools cup and on a wider scale it was massive for Irish rugby to win back-to-back championships.

People say it was a Barbarian style and Ireland were going out to chase points but they were going out to win the game first. When anybody chases points they generally end up losing the game and I couldn't see a coach like Joe Schmidt telling his players to play on the edge like that.

But saying all that at some stage you do have to throw off the shackles and Ireland did play with a lot more freedom than other games in this year's competition.

Confident

It wasn't all plain sailing for them however and Scotland did play okay at the beginning of the first half after Ireland had gone ahead initially. But Ireland were always in control without having to chase a scoreline - it was a supremely confident display all round.

Ireland didn't capitalise on penalties some of the time but it didn't cost them in the end and they deserved that bit of luck. It was tough luck on England really but they didn't deserve to win it - Ireland were the better team throughout the Championship and of course they did beat them quite comprehensively at the Aviva.

I don't feel sorry for them either because sport is cruel and you have to move on; results like this will make or break a player and they will be the better for it. With England they have done well and they are a good side but they are missing a few leaders in their ranks.

After the Welsh game they were saying we fear nothing from Ireland and you are just thinking, 'Why don't you just play the game and stop talking about it' - there is no place in rugby for talking like that pre-game, especially from players.

When you think about it now, there are three legitimate World Cup contenders from the northern hemisphere with Ireland, England and Wales well able to threaten New Zealand and South Africa.

In the past if the All Blacks didn't have a good day they would still have enough to find their way past the opposition but you have to think that the Irish especially will be able to expose these sides now.

It is probably a slight advantage for them with the Super Rugby finishing so late on in the season and Ireland have such a gap before they get into the World Cup proper but I am sure Joe Schmidt will have a plan and his players will be prepped accordingly.

But that's for a different day - Connacht and the Pro12 take precedence once more and there's no better way than an inter-pro against Munster to get it going again.

Irish Independent

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