Saturday 21 September 2019

Players have ability to take Brive scalp

Connacht's Ultan Dillane makes a break through the Enisei-STM defence
Connacht's Ultan Dillane makes a break through the Enisei-STM defence

Johnny O'Connor

Last weekend brought Connacht out of their comfort zone, but tomorrow they are back playing on home soil, and I can't see anything other than a win against Brive.

It's fantastic to be top of the Pro12 and their pool in the Challenge Cup, and as long as they stave off an injury-crisis, they should continue to do well in both.

The trip to Siberia could have done damage to Connacht's good start to the season, especially when a few players went down in the win over Treviso.

But thankfully everyone seemed to come out of the sub-zero temperatures with their fitness still intact, and the bonus-point victory was a huge boost to Connacht's season.

Going to play a team like that, it's easy to underestimate them or over-play the enormity of the challenge at times. But Connacht were smart with how they used the ball and controlled the game.

To get four tries in the second half was very pleasing, and it's given Connacht a massive platform to build on for the rest of the pool phase - a bonus-point win tomorrow, and they could be talking home quarter-finals already.

I think centre Peter Robb, who was making his debut, is a star of the future. He made a nice break at one stage, but it was his overall awareness, and his physique that makes me think he has what it takes.

He put his hand up with that performance, as did other younger members of the squad, and they have added more invaluable competition with that display.

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The worst thing a player can become is comfortable; if they don't feel the need to perform week in-week out just to stay in the squad then there will be problems. Luckily for Connacht right now, nobody is comfortable.

But it wasn't just the younger guys that stood up in freezing Siberia. The more experienced heads of the likes of Denis Buckley, John Muldoon and Aly Muldowney all played their part.

Outside of the match itself, the Connacht marketing department got it bang on with their coverage of the week's events. Things like the Road to Russia, and West versus East, really caught the imagination and fair play to them too.


But the novelty of the Challenge Cup opener will be well worn off now, the extra-long journey back has hampered preparations for a predictably unpredictable French side.

French club sides are capable of anything. Brive showed they are no mugs last weekend with an important win over Newcastle, but they're away from the confines of their home turf this time around.

The key thing for Connacht is to make sure they don't have a pleasant experience, and to get after them from the get-go. Obviously the pack is always their main asset so if Connacht get on top in there early on, the French are too disjointed in the back-line to pose any serious threat.

But then on the flip-side of that, if Brive start well they could shock Connacht too. So Lam needs to ensure his men go out with the right mindset, and they can't afford to start slow.

I've played Brive many times in my career, and when I was with Connacht there was a few years where we seemed to draw them constantly. I remember they pumped some serious money into the club and brought in a few big names a number of years back.

Andy Goode was there, and former Connacht player Damien Browne. But unlike Toulon, things never clicked for them. We had some great battles all the same, and if this team has the same heart, Connacht need to be careful.

But Connacht are the strongest team in Pool 1, and I think they will have too much for Newcastle too. They can continue to rotate their players and still get the home quarter-final, and I hope that's what Lam does.

It will only help them in the long run because these younger guys need some continuity, and if they get that in a European competition with a few wins along the way, it will bring up the mood even more.

Things are going pretty well in Galway at the moment, and a win over Brive would set Connacht up for a tilt at Munster in the Pro12.

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