Friday 18 January 2019

Our tour of Italy and South Africa could be the perfect bonding trip

Connacht’s Cian Kelleher is tackled by Zebre’s Giulio Bisegni during last week’s defeat by Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht’s Cian Kelleher is tackled by Zebre’s Giulio Bisegni during last week’s defeat by Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile

Denis Buckley

It's been a tough week in the Sportsground but there's always light at the end of the tunnel and we want to put things right on the field against Benetton Rugby tomorrow.

It wasn't nice to lose at home to Zebre in the Guinness PRO14 but I'm back on the field in Stadio Monigo, and it's a great feeling knowing that you can directly influence a change in the levels of performance.

I've been out for a long time, it was seven weeks from surgery last Wednesday, but it's pretty good timing to get back fit now. It was actually a quick rehab process and the last two weeks have been all about my running volume and high-speed drills.

I have worked through a lot of footwork drills and things like changing direction at high speeds. I looked at a lot of mechanics around that and then I had my introduction to contact training and finally got back into the set-piece this week.

One of the hardest things was having to try and get the volume and fitness levels back. I will probably be blowing this weekend. But the RTP group was good and the S&C group has been great. You can have a lot of confidence that the work you have done will be enough. It's been a tough slog but, fingers crossed, it's the last time for a long time that I am in the injury bay.

But Monday was a tough day. There was a lot of time spent in front of the projector and in our individual units. Everyone had their learnings even the lads who didn't play. That's fair enough when you look at the performance against Zebre.

Guys were frustrated and it was good to have conversations and clear the air. But it's important to understand why things went wrong. You can put it down to a number of things like individual preparation. Some lads made mistakes where they normally don't.

We had a game-plan to beat Zebre. The coaches did their job in analysing the opposition and presenting it to us. They came up with a game-plan to negate the opposition's strengths. But for one reason or another things didn't go right.

But players and coaches all shoulder that blame. It's a bit of cliché but one of the positive things was when we analysed it there was a lot of good and the bad is easily fixed.

It's not to do with the lads not having the talent, it's about the work-rate or energy and knowing your role. When things go wrong and you lose confidence, that's when knowing your role becomes crucial. You compound errors. That's what happened against Zebre.

We have a plan to fix things against Benetton. They are going to target us and will be confident. It's up to us to ensure we nail the basics. Our lineout didn't settle, we need to sort that, the maul too, and we need dominance at scrum-time.

The scrum was always a big weapon for us. When you go away to an Italian side it can do wonders. That will be a big way for us to get a foothold. Patterns and basic skill execution are a big focus.

Once we nail those, all of the other stuff will flow. It's a tough week but I am confident we can respond.

The best thing about going to Italy and South Africa is that we are going to be on top of each other for a couple of weeks. It's a tight group and we are all close. When stuff doesn't go right you are not afraid to challenge each other.

But we will be doing stuff as a group in South Africa, it will just bring the group a bit tighter. After a bad loss like we had last week against Zebre we can solidify the group. Hopefully we start with a good performance this week and carry it through to South Africa.

We want ten points from these games. That has to be the target and we can do it. But it's about collectively nailing our roles.

The time we went to Russia in our championship-winning year, the transport broke down on the way home, and we were stuck there for ages.

We were in the airport for 24 hours at a time because we weren't allowed to leave without visas. It was chaotic but how you deal with adversity can bring you closer. You deal with it together and help each other out.

On the international scene, Wales make the journey to the Aviva Stadium this weekend and losing Robbie Henshaw is absolutely massive. Ireland have some really good players but Robbie has turned into their big player.

He and Bundee Aki were forming a really good relationship. To break that up now is a challenge.

But Ireland have a top-class player coming in alongside Bundee. And Bundee is having a great tournament. We are delighted for him. He is turning out to be a bit of a leader and it's great to see a Connacht team-mate doing that.

But Wales shouldn't be underestimated this weekend. You see what they did to England. They know how to stay in the game and they are capable of scoring from anywhere.

You would like to think playing in Dublin should edge Ireland over the line but you never know when it comes to Warren Gatland.

I'm sure Wales will be smarting after coming so close to beating England last time out only to be denied by an incorrect video referee decision.

Hopefully that won't see them come into this game with an extra pep in their step, but I'm sure the boys will have what it takes anyway. The level they are operating at is impressive and we saw against France that they just didn't accept defeat.

Irish Independent

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