Saturday 17 August 2019

Let's pick up where we left off

Keane's men can make it five in a row if they return from break in right mindset

Connacht will benefit from Tiernan O’Halloran’s absence from the Ireland set-up this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht will benefit from Tiernan O’Halloran’s absence from the Ireland set-up this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Noel Mannion

After a couple of entertaining international weekends it will be great to have the Guinness PRO14 back, but Connacht face a tough test tonight at the Arms Park.

Cardiff has always been a funny game for Connacht. Over the last few years there have been occasions that either team should have won, but shock results were delivered. There is a bit of history there between them, and with both teams experiencing some difficulties this season, it will be an interesting clash.

From Connacht's point of view it is a pity the break came when it did after four wins on the bounce, and the win over Munster particularly stands out. I'm sure the players welcomed the rest and enjoyed their down-time, but when you are on that sort of run, you want to keep it going too.

Slick

How the coaches managed the break and prepared the squad this week is key. Can they hit the ground running again? I think we'll see another slick display for Kieran Keane's side.

When the teams met earlier in the season at the Sportsground it was a bit of a shocker for Connacht. The first few weeks we saw some poor results, but that loss and their late defensive collapse was particularly galling.

Maybe it served as a bit of a lightbulb moment for the team. Kieran Keane was angry after it; the players knew they didn't perform and after that the improvements were regular.

Tonight it all depends who reacts to the lay-off better and who can start the game well. If Connacht can repeat the intensity they showed in recent games there might be a good result there for them.

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With Zebre to come next week there is every chance they could be going back into Europe on a six-game winning run.

The next few weeks will be busy - there is only one week off from here until after New Year. It's going to be a long hard battle, but it could well be a key 80 minutes in Connacht's season.

Many Connacht supporters will be keen to see how Pita Ahki goes in the coming weeks and I'm sure he is feeling a bit of pressure.

He is coming in to fill big boots, and he also has a similar name to Bundee, which ramps up that pressure. He will want to play his own game, not go in a try and replicate what Bundee does.

He'll know his role in the system at this stage, so if he can get up and running he could be a good signing.

But it always takes foreign players a little bit of time to get familiar with their surroundings. Give him a chance and we'll see how he goes.

I don't have any idea why Tiernan O'Halloran is not involved with Ireland - there are plenty of players in that squad on their way back from injury - but from Connacht's point of view it is a real boost having him available this weekend.

It is the same with Finlay Bealham, his presence will be huge. After big displays before the break they'll be delighted to have another chance to impress the Irish management.

Due to their Ireland responsibilities Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane won't be available, and while Bundee impressed against South Africa, the other two lads had varying degrees of success in recent weeks.

I'm sure he'd be the first to admit it, but I don't think Kieran had his best game for Ireland against Fiji. He struggled a bit with the presentation of the ball and Fiji's breakdown strength caught Ireland out.

Erratic

It took Kieran a while to tidy things up as a result. His box-kicking was a bit erratic, but when you are following Conor Murray - probably the best in the world at what he does - it is very difficult. It wasn't Kieran's best day and he really needed to shine.

Ultan had a strong game; among the big hitters in that pack he looked the same as everybody else. Even when CJ Stander got on the pitch he didn't make the ground you'd expect, such was Fiji's physicality in the defence.

Hopefully all the lads come back to Connacht in good shape and we'll see the best of them in the weeks to come.

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