Wednesday 17 January 2018

Massive test for the boys, but we're ready for it

Connacht's Caolin Blade in action during squad training.
Connacht's Caolin Blade in action during squad training.

Pat Lam

It's been a fantastic week weather-wise and the guys have really responded well on the field in training.

Everyone is looking forward to this game against Glasgow and, as always when the big teams come to the Sportsground, we here at Connacht Rugby relish the challenge that presents.

This is why we play rugby - there are three rounds to go in the Pro12, we're in round 20 and so much is riding on this game. We've got the No 1-ranked team coming here to play us and we are under no illusions about the extent of the challenge facing us at the moment.

Glasgow are the top-seeded team in the Pro12 for a reason. They are well coached, play a very clinical game and they will punish any errors you make. They are a well-resourced team with 37 internationals in their 60-man squad versus six in our squad of 40 players. But it's exactly like what Leinster faced against Toulon last weekend and we're excited by that.

When you play the top-ranked teams with the odds clearly against you, it just requires you to play even more as a team to get the outcome.

We saw that with Leinster last week. They did really well against the odds and I thought what that game showed was how top players, even under the most extreme pressure, are able to nail their jobs and they almost pulled it off.

You didn't have to look much further than how both teams worked the breakdown and there was such a battle at play there.

It was pretty ferocious and with the conditions it was always going to come down to who won that battle.

I think all the neutrals, like myself, would have been quite keen to see it go to a penalty shoot-out just for the novelty of it. Everyone likes to see how players handle pressure situations.

We know against Glasgow with the game they play we are going to find ourselves in our own pressurised situations tomorrow. They are the number one offloading team and they play with a lot of tempo. They have good ball-carriers right across the park and as I said they have so many international players. But the good thing about this season so far is that we've had a lot of those situations already and the hope is that the players will be able to use those experiences to help them deal with Glasgow.

We will have to be hungry and energetic in our defence, in the way we tackle, the way we carry. Whatever we have done before, it has to go up another level because we're playing the league leaders.

Edinburgh have Zebre at home and Scarlets have the Dragons at the Millennium Stadium. A win tomorrow would be a good launch pad going into the last two rounds and it will give us a psychological advantage as both those teams will certainly be expecting us to lose.

So it will give us a big morale boost if we can beat the top side in the league and it would put us in a strong position to get through to the Champions Cup for next season. Like I said it's going to go down to the wire but I think we will shock a lot of people if we can beat them.

The key is we need to start well. We know that in the last few games we haven't started well, we have given teams a head start on us and we've worked hard to try to peg it back but have just fallen short. Obviously we want to make that a lot easier for ourselves and get off to a good start tomorrow.

We have the smallest squad in the competition and with all the knocks we have taken we're certainly stretched but that's why we do everything as a group on and off the field. You will only get the best out of a player if he truly feels comfortable within the team environment. The boys have done a great job in building relationships, spending time together away from the training field and ensuring that every player is looked after. We are only as strong as the 40th member of the squad as injuries and form over a long season will take its toll.

Our culture is that if one guy goes down it's an opportunity for the next, so if you look at the second-row, we lost Michael Swift, Mick Kearney and Quinn Roux - three big physical locks. So then you're relying on the younger guys like Danny Qualter and Ultan Dillane from the academy to step alongside the experience of Aly Muldowney and Andrew Browne.

Despite the challenges and the odds we face tomorrow, we are relishing the opportunity to beat the league leaders in front of a packed-out Sportsground.

Irish Independent

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