Thursday 18 January 2018

Player Diary: Humbling defeat to Munster will drive us on for the play-offs

Munster’s Keith Earls is stopped short of the try line by Connacht duo Cian Kelleher, left, and Tiernan O’Halloran Picture: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Munster’s Keith Earls is stopped short of the try line by Connacht duo Cian Kelleher, left, and Tiernan O’Halloran Picture: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE

Denis Buckley

It's never nice losing a match, but losing to an inter-provincial rival is another thing, and shipping 50 points in the process is very poor. We have a big couple of weeks ahead and Connacht Rugby can still come out of this season with Champions Cup Rugby and plenty of positives.

Obviously it was a very bad result against Munster at Thomond Park. We started the game poorly, Keith Earls crossed early for a try, and their dominance continued throughout the whole game.

Some of the tries we conceded were too soft by our standards. And in fairness some of the others were well taken by Munster. You could tell from doing the review that they had really done their analysis and they really exploited our defence out wide.

Credit to them for that, but at the same time some of their other scores were just too poor from our point of view. It isn't great to be playing like that at any stage of the season, but coming towards the end of the campaign it makes it so much worse.

We have done a lot of work on our game, perfecting the game-plan and our defensive displays so to concede seven tries in the last game of the season proper simply isn't good enough.

outcome But at the end of the day it is what it is, and it's done now, we have to move on. That game had no impact on our goals, and even though it was an inter-provincial derby and we hate losing against the other three provinces, we would still have been in eighth place in the final standings win or lose.

It all comes down now to the Champions Cup play-off next week. We have been building towards those play-offs with a bit of squad rotation and you don't expect to be winning all your matches when it comes to that stage, but at least the players have got their chances now and some guys have put their hands up for inclusion next weekend in England.

Munster obviously rated our scrum and set-piece and they wanted to negate that at any chance they could get in Limerick. We negated them as well and it was a good battle in that facet of the game. We didn't gain any dominance from our scrums, and they didn't either, but we did launch some pretty good ball off our scrums.

In terms of mauls we had three or four of them in the match. One of those resulted in a try and we got a penalty off another one. That's pleasing because we have focused on that part of our game in the last few weeks and months.

It is always great to see that side of things going well, because Munster obviously pride themselves on their maul and how they can bully some teams around the field using it. But we did really well there, and barring one or two of the kick-off receptions, we defended that area pretty well.

We were in on Monday morning for a fairly lengthy review meeting followed by a few days off for most of the senior squad. After a humbling defeat like that you just want to get stuck back into it, and right a few wrongs from the previous performance. But the mini break was a good idea. While we weren't up in the Sportsground every day, we were all still working away doing our own thing in terms of fitness and skills. We are back in today to kick start things on our game-plan and preparation for Gloucester or Northampton Saints, whoever we end up facing next weekend.

We won't know who we will be facing in the Champions Cup play-off until after Gloucester's Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais at Murrayfield this evening.

We obviously have a game-plan prepared for both of them, so we don't have any preferences in that regard. They are two top English Premiership sides and we know we can expect a lot from either of them.

While we conceded far too many points against Munster, we are looking ahead to that semi-final with confidence because a lot of those simple defensive errors are ones that we don't usually make. They are not the standards we set for ourselves.

There was and will continue to be some hard truths and some honest feedback throughout this week before we play the semi-final and we can really learn from that disappointment.

It is the small things that we need to change, and we have done well in those areas in the past. The interesting thing was, three years ago when we beat Toulouse in the Champions Cup over in France, we had played Edinburgh the week beforehand in the Pro12 and we conceded a bucket load of points against them. Defensive mistakes cost us a lot that day as well. From that wake-up call, and some learnings the following week, we won at Stade Ernest-Wallon, in what was probably one of the biggest results in our history at the time.

We certainly believe that the things are there to be fixed and if we can go about it in the right way, we can get the job done in England next week.

We are determined to remain positive and refuse to throw the towel in. We still have lots to play for, and hopefully we can bounce back and put in a big shift in training before the game. We need to work really hard this week and next, and despite the odds being stacked against us, who knows we could have a final back at the Sportsground in a few weeks' time.

Irish Independent

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