Friday 23 March 2018

Now is the time to show real hunger

Lads can't afford to dwell on lost opportunity in Gloucester

Connacht’s John Cooney in action during squad training at The Sportsground this week ahead of tomorrow’s game against Ulster
Connacht’s John Cooney in action during squad training at The Sportsground this week ahead of tomorrow’s game against Ulster
Francis Saili’s move to Munster will be a major boost for the Pro12

Johnny O'Connor

It was a disappointing way for Connacht to drop out of the Challenge Cup last weekend because they just didn't give themselves a chance after the first-half display against Gloucester.

The forwards had little opportunity to carry the ball and allow the backs to get into the game which made it difficult for Jack Carty to play because most of the time he was kicking from slow ball. He was trying to play down the line as well when they were in the middle of the pitch which made the exit strategies difficult.

I think they should have used their forwards a bit more in the first half and that in turn would have created more space for the backs to attack and make more ground.

In the latter end of the first half and the second half of that game Connacht were the better side and had possession and territory but just weren't accurate enough in the way they used it, to claw themselves over the line for a second time.

But the backs linked well as a whole and Jack did move the ball around nicely when Connacht did eventually get going - saying all that, you would look at it as an opportunity lost.

Connacht weren't in Gloucester's half at all in the opening 40 minutes and a few kicks went astray that were punished. Gloucester are no great shakes but, in fairness to them, they did take their tries well and that was the difference at the end of the day.

Connacht's defence was just exhausted at those times in the game when they conceded the two tries and then there was a mountain to climb after that. But Connacht did come back into it and had a chance to tie the game at the end.

They can certainly take a lot from the game and it's very encouraging going into a massive one against Ulster. The backs linked together with good movement and the ball was spread nicely out wide at times, but as I said the forwards should have been more involved to create the space.

Connacht were just a bit too static in the first half but it was encouraging towards the end of the game that they were able to get outside Gloucester and link up.

Gloucester knew what they were doing as well and they were smart in the way they took down the powerful Connacht ball-carriers.


At one stage Denis Buckley got the ball in a stationary position and was chopped down and that was a feature of their play with Matt Kvesic so central to everything they did right on the day.

But back to Connacht, it's disappointing to be knocked of a European quarter-final but still when you think of the performance they put together in the second half. If they can reproduce that against Ulster you would hopeful they could pull off a result.

I'm sure Connacht won't be thinking that it was good to miss out on a home semi-final which would have been massive for the province and the Sportsground.

Everybody is a competitive beast and when you step onto the field on the day everybody wants to win. I'm sure Connacht would still have loved to secure the win there and gone on to get some silverware.

I know Ulster are coming down this weekend and they didn't play last weekend and the Pro12s will be their bread and butter for the rest of the season, but now Connacht are in the same situation.

It's always going to be a very tough game against Ulster even at home, but I suppose Connacht will be taking their chances and they always have a 50/50 chance of winning the home ones.

You would hope the lads can pull it together now because there are still some very, very good players there even taking into account all of the injuries and with the possibility of a retuning Bundee Aki getting some game time, it's exciting times ahead.

So if Connacht can start to execute their game plan like they were doing at the start of the season - let's not forget it is a very good game plan that they have - then they will start winning these big games again.

I certainly see it being a close one tomorrow and it will be some match but hopefully Connacht can do the necessary, regardless what happens with the teams that are below them.

As I see it, Connacht are still in the driving seat to get into the Champions Cup.

Major signings add a lot to Pro12's status

It's great to see the Pro12 attracting some big-name players recently and especially the Irish provinces.

It's a big statement for Ulster to bring in a guy like Charles Piutau and then Munster this week signed Francis Saili, two All Blacks from the Blues with big reputations in Super Rugby.

Munster have obviously been in the market for a player like him for a long time - Saili seems to have it all from what I've heard.

He will add a real bit of class to that Munster midfield and has the skill set to be a real asset for them in Europe next year.

Piutau caused a real stir when it was announced last week that he would be joining Ulster. Many people have pointed out how Ulster already have a depth of talent in the backline but when you compare it to the likes of the French teams you can't strengthen up enough these days if you want to bid for success.

With the World Cup on this year it makes the market twice as competitive for players from the Southern Hemisphere. But they are two great pieces of business.

Hopefully, from a Connacht perspective, they can do a bit of business as well to add some more big names.

Irish Independent

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