Thursday 22 February 2018

Like Ireland, our squad will be put to the test

Rhys Ruddock has been part of the Irish set-up so his transition into the World Cup squad should be an easy one
Rhys Ruddock has been part of the Irish set-up so his transition into the World Cup squad should be an easy one

Pat Lam

Travelling back from Newcastle on Sunday, I didn't get a chance to watch the Ireland-France game, apart from the first five minutes. But when we landed in Ireland, and everyone switched on their phones, I knew it was a good result from the shouts and cheers.

It wasn't until after training on Monday that I had a chance to sit down and watch the game. We all knew that it would take a massive effort from Ireland to beat the French, but I think that in terms of intensity that was up there with the best win of the tournament.

The French are bigger players and once again it shows that a smart game-plan executed well through good team work can always overcome size.

Ireland carried the ball and didn't kick as much as France probably expected. They simply weren't allowed to play the game they wanted to play, and that took them by surprise.

It took a monumental effort from Ireland to keep that intensity up for 80 minutes and it was devastating to see Paul O'Connell, Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony helped off the field with injury.

But I think the fact that Iain Henderson, Ian Madigan and Chris Henry all came on and knew the game-plan and their roles inside out and were able to deliver just highlights the structures and culture in place with the Ireland team now.


It's tough for O'Connell and O'Mahony that their World Cup is over but there is a really good group of leaders there that will step up. Players who are now brought in are not just thrown in to the deep end either.

Rhys Ruddock has been in the Ireland set-up, he has trained with the squad, he knows the systems and he has built good relationships, so the transition should be an easy one.

That's what we want at Connacht. We know that during this 16-week run of games and later in the season, we are going to be hit with injuries.

We will need players from our whole squad to step up but we want players that know the systems, and who know their team-mates so that they can make that step up easily and focus solely on their role within the team.

This not only creates depth but competition throughout the squad which should drive the standard of our performances up.

It's a very exciting time in the World Cup now as we're down to eight teams and the way it's worked out, it's four northern hemisphere teams - Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France - versus four southern hemisphere sides - Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Every team has been affected by injuries and it will come down to who has the better structures and game-plan and who can execute it under pressure.

It's set up to be a great weekend but we have our own Pro12 clash with Zebre to look forward to first. We have a good record against Zebre who we've met a good few times between the league and Europe over the past three seasons.

But each time we've played them, we've found a much improved side who are pushing us close. We have a lot of respect for Zebre.

From watching their previous games, they seem to have regrouped after a big loss in the opening week and Scarlets and Dragons just got home against them.

We know how important this game is for us in the context of our season. It's another game at the Sportsground and we want to maintain that home record. A win tonight is vital.

And the game tonight kickstarts our 16 weeks of consecutive games.

For four months now, we'll see more of each other than we will our families so there has been a lot of preparation and planning around the squad, rotation of players, strength and conditioning, rest time, nutrition.

There is a lot to factor in but we all do what we do to play games so the squad of management and players are really excited to get stuck in to this part of the season.

We have four Pro12 games until we switch our focus to Europe. There is also the Eagles side competing in interpro fixtures and the British & Irish Cup so there is plenty of opportunity for players to get game-time and put their hard work on the training pitch in to practice.

Irish Independent

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