Tuesday 23 January 2018

Player Diary: Knowing who the new coach is gives everyone an extra sense of purpose

John Muldoon keeps his eye on the ball during Connacht training MATT BROWNE/SPORTSFILE
John Muldoon keeps his eye on the ball during Connacht training MATT BROWNE/SPORTSFILE

Denis Buckley

There is a great buzz about the place now. It has been coming for a while. If you look at the run of games before this block of four, there were some pretty big performances that we felt didn't get the deserved results.

But you could feel we were building back up to what we know we are capable of.

Every year this is an important period for us because we don't have the same contingent away during the Six Nations. These are always big games for us and we continue to capitalise. Going into this block, we knew we had to deliver in terms of performances and results or we were ruling ourselves out of the goals we had set.

We have three wins in a row now. Ideally we would have had 15 points but we have 13 and hopefully this weekend we can get to 18, which is our aim. Then it will be a reasonable return from the four games. It's been a good period and thankfully we are coming back to form.

With guys coming back from injury, even in terms of the training side of it for our forwards training sessions, there is more competition, with more players in the opposing team.

Overall there are more guys trying to get into the starting XV. It drives competition; guys who are in the starting line-up are looking over their shoulders and guys who aren't there are pushing their standards to try and get there.

Standards

If we are running a defence system, the lads in attack are really pushing the standards and the attack has got better, and vice versa, the defence has got better too.

There are lads there putting their hands up and in the coming weeks they will get opportunities. And with Bundee Aki and a few other players coming back in it's a great boost across the board.

With the five-day turnaround there are a few changes for this game against Zebre and this is an opportunity to have a look at some of those lads who haven't had their chance recently. It's all good for the squad going forward because competition drives standards and performance.

Off the field we have known for a while that Pat Lam was leaving, but it does change things a little bit when you find out who's going to be coaching you next season.

For ages we didn't know who the coach was. But now we know it's Kieran Keane, and he is probably watching us.

We aren't thinking about next season yet but at the same time we all know that we need to make an impression for the new guy coming in too. And we have a little bit more of a purpose going into the new season which is great.

Against Treviso five points were on offer and we knew we had to go after it. The big thing was showing Treviso the respect they deserved. They haven't had the best run of results but they always take a few scalps in a season and it's all about making sure you're not one of those.

Two of the last three times we travelled over there we lost. We talked about a professional performance. We went there to do a job and be ruthless if and when the opportunity presented itself.

We had a reasonable start, and got into our shape, had a good bit of territory and possession and got some early scores, which is always a huge step. For 60 minutes it was a very consistent performance.

Towards the end we slacked off a little bit and probably didn't hit our absolute best overall. There is certainly room for improvement, but it was a positive performance, and our mindset going over there was spot on.

Looking ahead to Zebre, it's more or less the same thing. They always have one or two big results every season. We have been consistent against them recently but you still have to go out there and do a job. You can't force things, you have systems and jobs and you need to execute under pressure and try and close them down early. That will allow us to ease into our game-plan.

It's nice to have the two Italian teams back to back. Your mindset is similar going into it, and it's a blessing because it's a five-day turnaround and we would have been under more time pressure to prepare a completely new game-plan.

Meanwhile, Ireland had a good result last weekend in the Six Nations. They played some quality rugby at times, and they were clever with how they took France, who are a dangerous team, out of the game.

After our win over Treviso, we caught the England v Italy game at our hotel and it was fascinating.

It was very innovative by the Italians and Conor O'Shea. He realised that he was going to be up against a much stronger team in England at Twickenham, so he found a way within the rules to frustrate England and cause them trouble.

There was a lot of bad press about it, mainly from the England side. But England could have handled that a lot better. If the All Blacks were playing Italy, and the Italians did that, then the All Blacks would have figured it out early on in the game. They would have had 40 or 50 points on them by half-time.

But saying that it didn't really look like a game of rugby from what the Italians were doing. Maybe it's time for a rule change in that sense. But it could affect how you poach the ball and everything.

Teams might have to learn to adapt to that style as well but it's hard to know. It will be interesting to see what happens from it.

Irish Independent

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