Monday 20 November 2017

Player Diary: We're excited with our new coach, but we have plenty to focus on

Exciting times lie ahead at the Sportsground with Kieran Keane at the helm Picture: Getty
Exciting times lie ahead at the Sportsground with Kieran Keane at the helm Picture: Getty

John Muldoon

It's been a good week at the Sportsground after back-to-back Pro12 victories and then hearing that Kieran Keane will be our new head coach next season. We are excited to finish this campaign well and it continues in Treviso this weekend.

I would assume the expectation for last Saturday was that we were going to beat Dragons comprehensively and pick up a bonus point in the process. After 15 minutes we had scored two tries and so it was disappointing that we couldn't go on and score again.

But fair play to Dragons they dug in and kept going. I am sure they were disappointed to have lost, but pleased that they fought and kept in the game, and ended up leaving Galway with a losing bonus point.

The expectation this weekend is that we will come away from Stadio Monigo with a win, especially because the results have gone against Treviso in the last few weeks and months. There is probably an expectation on us to pick up five points once again. But it is a tricky place to go, and last year we lost over there when we had hit top form on our way to the Pro12 title.

It's a funny situation. You go over and win and everyone expects it, you lose and people question what the hell happened to you. We need to be mentally there when we step out on the pitch in Italy, and we want to prove a point after last season when we lost by a point.

Message

And that will be the key message this week. We can't take our eye off the job at hand. We need to go out and give them the respect they deserve on their home pitch, and hopefully we will come out with the result at the end of all of it.

With the announcement of Kieran Keane as our new head coach now done, we can now fully focus on a strong end to the season under Pat. While there is a lot of work to do beforehand, it's great to know who we'll be working with next term.

The calibre of coach that we are getting in is very high. You just have to look down through the teams he has worked with, and those that hold him in high regard. I had the good fortune to meet him last week when he was in Galway and he came across very well and is clearly a very knowledgeable coach.

He knew quite a bit about the players already, and the environment he was coming into. He has done his homework before getting here, and he is clearly looking forward to starting in his new role in Galway.

While none of our players have worked directly with him previously, Bundee Aki knows a lot of people who have worked with Kieran. He is a very positive appointment and someone who is going to bring Connacht forward and build on the great work that Pat Lam and the other coaches have done in the last few years.

Personally, I am really looking forward to working with him. It's always good to work with new coaches, and discover new ways of doing things. It's definitely something new and different to look forward to.

I also can't wait to see how our Connacht lads get on with Ireland this weekend, and how the Irish team in general do, when they clash with France in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium.

Having played Toulouse this year, we've experienced what it's like to face off against the French. I think Toulouse echo the way France play at the moment.

Going back a few years France and Toulouse had played with the same style of rugby in terms of throwing the ball around, and the flair that we all knew and grew up watching.

Then suddenly it turned towards the forward-dominated, big backs, and in-your-face rugby. And unfortunately Toulouse and France regressed slightly over the last few years. It became a slow game and fitness wasn't a big thing for them.

But now, with former Toulouse boss Guy Noves a fully-fledged head coach with France, his influence has brought it all back around to the old-fashioned flair side of things.

They are trying to go back towards the old way of doing it. It's good for the supporters that we see a bit more of that traditional style. But for the first two games the French fitness didn't seem to hold up for the 80 minutes and they struggled in the last quarter of the games.

With a break last week you would imagine they would have come on from that, and you would expect a more rounded display. It comes with a warning for Ireland. But Ireland at home are a very good side and on current form they don't lose a lot of games, especially at home.

It's important the back-rows and the big ball-carriers get over the gain-line and make space for the backs to break through the defensive cover out wide. That's when Ireland flourish when the likes of CJ Stander, Seán O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip creating front-foot ball.

The half-backs can then create the gaps that Ireland need to win the battle at the gain-line, but it's essential the defence stop France when they try to do the same thing. It's a fascinating prospect.

I believe, however, that this type of game has come a year too early for this French team, and Ireland will hope to continue their brilliant form following their annihilation of Italy. They certainly won't score 63 points against France, but if they can use their superior fitness levels, the holes will appear late on.

Irish Independent

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