Thursday 18 January 2018

Pressure is on but this squad can recover

Leaders must step forward and make major impact

Andrew Deegan got 80 minutes for Connacht against Cardiff at The Sportsground last weekend DIARMUID GREENE/SPORTSFILE
Andrew Deegan got 80 minutes for Connacht against Cardiff at The Sportsground last weekend DIARMUID GREENE/SPORTSFILE
Ultan Dillane and Jarrad Butler of Connacht react after the Guinness PRO14 Round 4 match between Connacht and Cardiff Blues at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Ronan Loughney

It was obviously a disappointing result losing at home to Cardiff Blues last weekend, but it's not the first time we've suffered at their hands, and there's no need for kneejerk reactions.

What would be more concerning in my opinion would be to lose some of the ability that Connacht have developed over the last few years to win ugly and to come out on top in games where we didn't play particularly well in, but were clinical when it counted.

It's funny but Cardiff have always been a bogey team for us. Despite going over there and playing some really good rugby, we would more often than not come away with a loss. The loss on Saturday brought back memories of a particularly tough loss seven minutes into injury-time three years ago.

Last year Connacht did the double over Cardiff for the first time in my memory so it was obviously disappointing to lose at home in the Sportsground where mentally they are usually at their strongest. But it's still very early days and the new coaches need to be given time to embed with this squad.

When Connacht won the Guinness PRO12 we were winning games that we didn't play well in. Previous to that we would play well for an hour and then concede, come away with the moral victory but not the result. For any team to be successful in any league system, I think they need that ruthless ability to win games that they often may not deserve to.

That was something I always admired about the likes of Munster. They would go to tough places with only a second-string squad, and without playing particularly well, they would believe and expect to win, and subsequently grind out a result the hard way. I think there was an expectation and responsibility on any player who was stepping up not to be the one to lose in the shirt.

This will and belief to win came off the back of their success, and like losing there is a snowball effect. It's all about confidence, belief and having that ruthless streak, it's something that becomes habitual.

I mentioned in a previous article about looking forward to younger guys stepping up into leadership roles and it's in games like that where they need to stand up and be counted.


I have no doubt they will in time but it doesn't matter who it is - someone just needs to take those close games by the scruff of the neck and make the big play.

I say there is no need for kneejerk reactions and in doing so I look to Connacht's second-half performance. Connacht did all the right things after half-time and showed some excellent structure coupled with serious endeavour to work their way back in front into a strong breeze.

The way Connacht have started their games is an area they need to improve on. In my opinion if you start well and finish well, you are more often than not going to be in with a good chance of winning any game. It doesn't get any easier going to Scarlets this weekend followed by the two inter-provincial games.

I predicted Munster to beat them in last year's final, with all of the emotion that surrounded the day for Munster. But Scarlets came out and blasted them off the pitch. A lot of people seemed shocked by it but Scarlets had been doing it all season and had peaked at just the right time.

They have got some great individuals. Ulster played some unbelievable rugby to beat Scarlets at home this season but there was a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes from Scarlets and that performance wasn't indicative of what the Welsh side can do.

Scarlets had 21 internationals in their squad that day not to mention a few Lions. But, as we saw last weekend, this league throws up plenty of upsets and if you are not on your game you can be turned over on any week.

The pressure is on, but losing a few games and especially losing like Connacht did at the weekend can be galvanising for a team. Now is the time that hopefully everyone pulls together.

It is early in the season and while Connacht haven't started as well as they would like, we've seen glimpses of attacking play and structure that give reason to believe with time, hard work and a bit of ruthlessness, good things are to come.

Irish Independent

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