Wednesday 26 September 2018

Slam dunk can boost all provinces

Crucial for Connacht to gain momentum for Euro test

John Muldoon leaves the field following defeat to the Toyota Cheetahs. Picture: Sportsfile
John Muldoon leaves the field following defeat to the Toyota Cheetahs. Picture: Sportsfile

Noel Mannion

Connacht are back in PRO14 action at home to Edinburgh this weekend and the whole province must be buoyed by the heroics of the Irish national team in the last few weeks and months.

Connacht are back in PRO14 action at home to Edinburgh this weekend and the whole province must be buoyed by the heroics of the Irish national team in the last few weeks and months.

Connacht's defeat in South Africa was a blow, but they will have taken so much from touring together and the performance they put in at altitude.

The result didn't go their way in the end, but they were the better team and that performance will be a real lift for them coming into the Challenge Cup.

But in the immediate aftermath of a Grand Slam it will be interesting to see how the provinces cope. And I watched Edinburgh beat Munster last Friday night. The Scots are a very good side. They have performed really well with their internationals away and this is a crucial game for Connacht to win before they head back into European action against Gloucester.

Kieran Keane will look at this game as a chance to build momentum ahead of that Gloucester game. But Edinburgh are a really good side and they are performing above the odds in Conference B this season. 

It's all set up for another cracking game in the Sportsground and backed by the high that Irish rugby is on at the moment I expect Connacht to have enough.

It was a difficult game for anyone to call at Twickenham last weekend. Nobody knew what Ireland's state of mind would be, or more importantly, where England were at. 

I expected the English to come out all guns blazing. Not to spoil Ireland's day, but just to want to win for their own peace of mind. England didn't want to end their season with three losses on the bounce, particularly in Twickenham. 

Ireland were consistent. It's the third time they scored a minute before half-time and then a few minutes after half-time to kill the game off.

Ireland have a worry at nine and 10 if anything happens to their two leading men. But when Johnny Sexton went off before half-time and Joey Carbery came in, the transition was seamless. And fair play to Carbery he slotted over a conversion shortly after coming on.

POSITION

Unfortunately Kieran Marmion didn't get a chance to come on in his own position. It would have been nice to see him play an extended period at nine, but he still acquitted himself well on the wing again.

Joe Schmidt will look back at the campaign as a whole and know Ireland were lucky at times. They were lucky against France, but at the same time, you make your own luck. 

That was a massive team effort to drive up the field in the dying minutes, with no mistakes, and then Johnny Sexton to step back in the pocket and land a huge drop-goal. You could compare the work-rate to the All Blacks and the time Ryan Crotty scored against Ireland to break hearts in 2013.

The players have their own bit of history now. Hopefully the future is bright. I would worry about Ireland performing well 18 months out from a World Cup.

They have been in this position before and imploded on the big stage. But let's hope this is a bit different with the few youngsters that Schmidt has blooded in this tournament. Hopefully those six or seven guys will be the driving force for the team in the World Cup in Japan.

There is something different about this Irish team. Their confidence and ability to think on their feet, ability not to panic. All the systems appear to be working. The scrummaging, the lineout, and the most important thing is the interaction of the players. The players can come in and out and link up no bother.

When you look at some of the changes, Jack McGrath, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, even Jordan Larmour at his young age, there is no panic anymore where there is an injury.

It's a very well-oiled machine. The trick is to keep the pundits', fans' and players' feet on the ground and the next Six Nations will be a difficult one from that point of view.

The province will have a tough time too because it's likely that Schmidt will want to have his players together for a longer period of time coming up to a World Cup. But you expect all of that to be managed meticulously. 

Irish Independent

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