Wednesday 13 December 2017

Player Diary: Zebre loss not among lowest points of my career - we should have won

Bundee Aki makes a break during last week’s match against Zebre Photo by Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki makes a break during last week’s match against Zebre Photo by Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

John Muldoon

Losing in Zebre for the first time was tough to take, but there's no time to feel sorry for ourselves as we have another big game against Edinburgh tonight and Champions Cup qualification is still on the line.

We are naturally very disappointed with the result at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi last Saturday. It was a lot like the Glasgow Warriors game the previous week where we had long periods of attack - and our attack, at times, was very good.

You have to give credit to the Zebre players, with the club potentially moving to Milan and the threats to the squad's jobs. And we knew they wanted to make a big statement against the Guinness Pro12 champions.

We had a lot of possession but, ultimately, for the second week running we just weren't ruthless enough in the scoring zone. We didn't accumulate enough points when the game was in the melting pot and we were in the ascendancy.

Even after they fell 12-3 behind early on, Zebre stuck in there. As the game wore on their supporters really got into it and the crowd put a lot of pressure on the referee.

Review

Even though we are obviously disappointed to have lost, we could see in the review on Monday that we played some really good stuff in that game.

Unfortunately, they got three tries from our mistakes, and that has been the theme this season where teams have capitalised on our errors.

They got one try from way out, where their player ran almost the full length of the field and no-one laid a hand on him. But that is what can happen sometimes - we were on the attack and the ball just popped out of a maul and they capitalised.

By and large, we just have to compliment Zebre. We weren't happy losing because we played well at times and scored a couple of lovely tries, but we have to be more ruthless and learn from that.

Sometimes you are just not good enough on the day and deserve to lose but that was certainly not the case at the weekend.

We did enough to win the game but were very unlucky in terms of the bounce of the ball going Zebre's way more often than not - we just didn't kill them off when we got our chance.

I spoke to Pat Lam and some of the lads after the game and said that, in many ways, it is similar to where we were a few years ago.

It was reminiscent of the Treviso game over there last year when we could, and should, have won. We could have even come out with five points, but when you are playing a team in desperation like that you have to be wary that they can come out fighting.

Zebre did that and they did well to get their win in the face of adversity, but I wouldn't put it down as one of the lowest points of my career. There have been occasions where we have lost games and been nowhere near good enough, but that wasn't the case in Parma.

We are much better than that result suggests but, as Treviso showed the previous week when they beat Ospreys, if you want it enough and you put your body on the line, you can do it - that is why we love sport.

We certainly weren't thinking about any of the other teams playing on Saturday in the Champions Cup, we had a job to do in Italy.

We lost our opportunity to earn a European quarter-final in Toulouse last January, and the Champions Cup is parked from our point of view. We would have loved to have been there playing against Munster, but we didn't take care of business.

After our match, we watched the Munster game as a squad and a lot of the lads cheered Munster on. It is great to see Munster and Leinster advance to the semi-finals of the competition.

While we were solely focused on our game, we will always cheer on the other provinces and hopefully they can make it an all-Ireland final.

But it's all about the Pro12 for us and it doesn't come much tougher than Edinburgh tonight. They are a good team and they have gone through a bit of transition this season, losing a coach midway through the campaign.

They are very good at Myreside and we know that we're going to have to play an awful lot better.

We need to get a reaction from the lads and get back to playing well after two defeats in the last two weeks.

Connacht can't afford to have 80pc possession against Glasgow, and the lion's share again the last day, and not convert that possession into points.

We need to take our chances but defend well and keep the balance right. If teams do score tries against us, we have to make sure they have to work hard for those tries.

Edinburgh will be very physical - over the last few years they have had a huge South African influence.

But don't underestimate how good they are in attack: they have a couple of pacey backs and a very good kicker in Duncan Weir. They can mix it and tend to go hard and physical early on and, as the game wears on, they have a bit more of a go.

It's a different challenge for us this week with the short turnaround coming back late from Italy.

We didn't get as much time to prepare and it will be a big challenge - hopefully we will be up for it.

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