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Raise the bar higher than top six

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Kieran Marmion in action during squad training this week

Kieran Marmion in action during squad training this week

SPORTSFILE

Robbie Henshaw

Robbie Henshaw

SPORTSFILE

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Kieran Marmion in action during squad training this week

I have been based in London for the last couple of years and you become removed from the feel of the province at times. But on the back of that stunning win over Munster, I was delighted to sense the buzz of anticipation around Connacht now.

People are starting to dream about what might be possible. The stated target has been a top six place since the start of the season and I have no doubt that Connacht will get that.

But is it time that they set the bar a little bit higher for themselves? A top four place is not beyond them if they continue to play like they did last week.

Like everyone I was dismayed to see Connacht come away from the RDS with nothing a few days before Christmas, but taking a bonus point from Belfast was a huge result.

I cannot ever remember Connacht taking anything from Ravenhill, and I'm sure that gave the lads a real lift ahead of Munster.

The key indicator will be how they get on in the their next few Pro12 outings, so tonight against Edinburgh is a massive game.

It will be a month before they play in the league again after this one, and with a few of the other top six teams away from home with tricky assignments, it's a great opportunity to close the gap a little.

During Christmas I got the chance to spend some time in the Sportsground with the strength and conditioning team and it is clear to see the lads are bursting with confidence. Connacht seems like a happy place.

Like everything, the place has evolved since I left, and there have been plenty of positive alterations under Pat Lam. The system is really player-driven: guys have their voice heard and a lot of the more experienced players are stepping forward as leaders.

There was murmurs a couple of months ago that Pat was going to be offered a new deal and right now it looks like he should get it.

He has already been a success in Connacht and it won't be too long until other clubs come sniffing around him.

Brave

I like the way he approached the Munster game. When the team was announced some people were surprised to see Jack Carty and Matt Healy miss out, but Pat was brave.

He made the changes to suit the expected conditions and Munster's game plan. And he wasn't afraid to tell people about it either. He has confidence in his squad and it paid off.

It was an almost full-strength Munster side, but looking at the two line-ups, you'd have to say Connacht looked just as strong as them on paper. With a stronger front-row, and in-form pack and some top-class backs in the side Connacht had no reason to fear Munster.

For instance when you look at the centre partnership of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki, I don't think any other province has that quality in the centre. They have the potential to be one of the best partnerships in the league if they stick together.

Robbie is on his way to becoming a world-class player and Bundee has come in, made a huge impact and created a spark. Having Bundee alongside Robbie takes some of the heat off him - teams cannot afford to put all their eggs in either basket.

Under the residency rule in three years' time Bundee is one of these guys who could have been playing for Ireland.

Aly Muldowney really stood out as a physical force in the second-row; Eoin McKeon was fantastic off the back of the scrum; Quinn Roux had his best game; and Willie Faloon did a lot of the dirty work and made a couple of good turnovers.

There was a great balance to the back-row there, with John Muldoon tying everything together.

That power is going to be needed again tonight, though. I was surprised Edinburgh beat Glasgow but under Alan Solomons they have a massively physical pack to beat you up, but they also have some good backs like Tim Visser and an excellent kicker in Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, but comparing the two sides I think Connacht have a better team and they should put them away at the Sportsground.

A strong scrum, a lineout firing well under Tom McCartney and Connacht's dangerous backs should result in another home win.

Irish Independent