Sunday 20 May 2018

Now's the perfect time to kick on to a few wins and climb the table

Bundee Aki has been on form in the green of Ireland as well as Connacht. Photo: Sportsfile
Bundee Aki has been on form in the green of Ireland as well as Connacht. Photo: Sportsfile

Tiernan O’Halloran

It was a big win over a Conference A rival last weekend, and it won't be easy but we need to push on now and start to the build the momentum with another win over Zebre.

We knew it was tight in the table between ourselves, Cardiff and Ospreys. There is a bit of ground to make up on Cheetahs. But it was really important for us to come away with four points last weekend.

We were just a small bit off the pace especially in attack. We had about 33 per cent of the ball which was probably our lowest in a good few years.

Generally in Connacht we like to have a lot of possession and run with the ball. But we were going eight, nine or even ten minutes of just defending attack after attack. Generally, you lose those games.

Given the fact we had to work so hard in defence we still had a moment of magic from Tom Farrell and it was important to get that win. We also stopped them from getting a losing bonus point which was great.

After the two-week break there was a few cobwebs there. It is always good to get back into the competitiveness of the Guinness PRO14. And we will take a lot of confidence from beating a team like Ospreys.

We had a tough enough review on Monday, looking at what we want to do better. This is an important time of the year for us during the Six Nations. A lot of teams could be missing large numbers of internationals so it's crucial we pick up points.

It's important we stay focused on Zebre and not look past them. We had a really good look at their defeat to Munster. They were well in that game for long periods and have plenty of threats.

There are areas we can get at and it would be a great time in the season to pick up maximum points in a game knowing that we are going into a block with two away games after this. We are looking forward to it. Hopefully we can get a good crowd and a buzz around the Sportsground again.

We have two more big away games coming up over the next two weeks when we play Treviso and Cheetahs.

But there is no point thinking about big games a few weeks down the line, we can't look beyond the challenge of Zebre. Sometimes these Italian teams can catch you out and we only know that too well.

I remember from the year that we won the PRO12 we went away to Treviso with a couple of weeks left. We were in unbelievable form and beating everybody and we slipped up at Stadio Monigo. Thankfully, it didn't cost us but it just shows how important mentality is in those games. Right now, it's about focusing on what lies ahead. Performance-wise we are not where we want to be at the moment. We know we have a quarter-final against Gloucester coming up but we are all about getting things right and improving now.

You want to go into a European quarter-final off a few wins. The big thing about that Gloucester game is that it's a home game. We get a huge lift from playing in front of our home fans and there has been a big demand for tickets already.

After these next few games we have got a home game against Edinburgh before that Challenge Cup game. There's plenty of opportunities for us to get the ball rolling and momentum building towards that game. Every game until then is so important to us.

We have a lot of ground to make up if we want to get into those play-off spots in the PRO14 and that focuses the mind. Cheetahs are third but they are not out of reach. We still have a target set on them and there is a plenty of work to do from that perspective.

We can take inspiration from watching Ireland perform so well on the international stage too. When Sexton got that drop-goal against France that gives every rugby fan and player in the country a bit of a lift.

When you see the confidence he and all of his team-mates had. To execute it like that it just showed where Irish rugby is as a whole.

Then we have Bundee Aki, Quinn Roux and Kieran Marmion performing so well last weekend too. They come back into the province with smiles on their faces and everyone congratulating them.

It is a big factor and lifts things around the place. We weren't massively satisfied with our performance last weekend so we just want to keep the confidence high and look to build this weekend again, and helps to see those guys again.

Hopefully they'll be involved in a Grand Slam decider at Twickenham at the end of the Six Nations again. And I don't see why Ireland can't get there.

It's huge for Ireland to be home for the next two games. After Wales you have a Scotland side who seemed to have got over that defeat in the first round. They had a good win against France.

That will be a revenge game for Ireland. But Ireland won't be looking too far ahead at the potential Grand Slam game against England. That is when you might slip up and it's happened to plenty of teams in the past.

But they have a down week going into Wales and then another down week before Scotland. You would hope that will stand to them.

Joe Schmidt will have a fit squad to pick from and hopefully it will make for a massive outing in Twickenham.

Irish Independent

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