Friday 24 November 2017

Player Diary: Qualifying for the Champions Cup would be great way to end season

John Muldoon receives the ball Picture: Sportsfile
John Muldoon receives the ball Picture: Sportsfile

John Muldoon

While there are just two games to go in the regular Guinness Pro12 season, there is still a for this Connacht team to play for. We're not where we wanted to finish on the table but our ultimate goal of Champions Cup qualification is still on the line and that's exciting.

The team are focused going into these games and it's another huge end of the season for the province.

Obviously, we want to win these next two games and be heading into the play-offs on the back of some quality performances. We have the play-off secured so the bigger picture is making sure that the team is in a good place going in to those knockout games in May.

Not knowing what country we will be playing in or who we'll be facing is a bit of a strange scenario for ourselves and Cardiff Blues to be in, but at the end of the day, we have a chance to retain our Champions Cup status and we're going to give it everything.

Every team wants to be playing in the top tier against the top players and the top opposition. Momentum is going to be important.

You look at Cardiff, they are winning games and playing very well at this stage of the season.

Stacked When you get on that kind of run it does the whole squad the world of good. They want to be in Champions Cup just like us.

But it's all about Scarlets this weekend, and they obviously are a quality side coming to town stacked with some very good players. They have the Welsh front-row: Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee. And they have a very good back-row with James Davies and John Barclay in there.

They are two out-and-out sevens, even though Barclay plays eight. We can expect that the two of them will look to cause major issues at the breakdown. If we can win that battle, I believe it gives us a greater chance of winning the game.

Davies is always over the ball and trying to win it. And those guys will pose a very similar threat to the way Leinster played against us in the last round, particularly Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy.

But the big thing is Scarlets have such flair running throughout their squad.

From a British and Irish Lion in Jonathan Davies at centre, and Scott Williams, another Welsh star, who kept Jamie Roberts out of the Welsh team during the Six Nations beside him. They have got Gareth Davies at nine too, so there's no doubt they have lots of quality.

They will be coming over to Galway hoping to get a win and give themselves a chance of a home semi-final, and of course to secure their top four place first and foremost.

They have an awful lot to play for, and it will certainly make for a good game at the Sportsground with our home crowd behind us. The big frustration for us this year, is there is no doubt that we can score tries and put pressure on teams. It's just the execution hasn't been there a lot of the time. It's something we have spoken about quite a bit but it keeps rearing its head.

We are creating line breaks and creating chances but we are not taking them. We need to put teams under pressure and ensure that if we don't get over the line the first time we know how to go again in different situations.

This weekend, we have to be more patient, and work even harder in our systems. We need to make sure the pressure is on them and not us.

We need to prevent them from getting the opportunities that Leinster got. But we know what we are capable of, and we put Leinster under plenty of pressure - it's about getting the balance right.

Off the pitch, it's great to hear that we have a big lock on the way in and I'm sure Gavin Thornbury will make a big impact at the Sportsground.

Connacht is an attractive province for these young Irish players to get their chance of playing Pro12 and European rugby. You look at the way we play, you look at the opportunities you get here for game-time if you put the work in.

There are a lot of players that have come from elsewhere and they have all got game-time and been afforded the opportunity to perform at a high level.

Growing talent within the province is hugely important but there is always room for people coming from different parts of the country and the world. Hopefully there will be a few more lads making the journey out west as there are lots of opportunities for them which is the key thing. I have been a big advocate of it in the last few years. Players can make a name and a good career for themselves here.

One man who definitely carved out a great career for himself at Connacht is Conor McPhillips, and it's crazy to think that this weekend could be the last time that he, and Pat Lam, are in charge for a home game at the Sportsground. Hopefully we'll have one more game to look forward to at home in May depending on how the play-offs go.

Relationships are so important in sport and you can get very close to different people over the years. So of course I'll be sad to see both Conor and Pat moving on. But at the end of the day we are professionals and people coming and going is part and parcel of rugby now.

The players and management that are moving on at the end of the season have all played a huge part in the success of Connacht Rugby and the culture we have build here and they should be very proud of that.

Regarding our mindset, nothing will change this weekend. We all know and we all understand that we have a job to do tomorrow.

There are a few more games to come so there won't be any goodbyes just yet.

Irish Independent

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