Sunday 25 February 2018

Stick to our principles and we'll be fine

Big improvement shows we're on right track

Jake Heenan
Jake Heenan

Johnny O'Connor

No matter what anyone says and how the scoreboard read at the end of the game, Connacht were better against Ospreys. They lost the game comprehensively but they were right in contention.

As players and coaching staff, Connacht would have been looking for improvement. And overall it was there: you could see right across that performance, little things from last year began to reappear.

Ultan Dillane going through his paces in training
Ultan Dillane going through his paces in training

The sloppy handling errors of Round 1 weren't so evident and the players hit their running lines. The scrum was better, the mauls were better, even if on a few occasions things didn't go their way and they couldn't push their way over the Ospreys line.

There were just two big mistakes in that game and Ospreys were on it like a flash. They punished Connacht and that was the game: three tries in the final ten minutes would kill off any team.

The killer extinct seemed to be missing from that Connacht performance. It's nothing to worry about because it's something that they can get back again. But they need to tap into the resources of last season's Pro12 winning side.

The try Connacht scored was right out of the top drawer. And that showed they are well capable of going through the gears, keeping the ball in hand and unlocking even the most water-tight defences.

Another aspect of last year's squad was the aggression around the breakdown and there's no doubt that has been missing so far this season.

Against Connacht last year, the breakdown was a scary place to go to: guys were getting hurt, Connacht were so physically imposing and they took no prisoners in around their ball especially.

All of the best teams operate with that sort of mantra when it comes to retaining possession. There is no way you are going to disrupt their ball and they sure as hell will make your life difficult when you try to recycle your own ball.

Ospreys knew that Connacht build their game around that and they targeted it from the off in the Sportsground last weekend. Connacht couldn't match the intensity and physicality of the Welsh and their game suffered as a result.


Sam Davies got so much time on the ball, he was able to put his head up and make the right decisions; last year, opposition out-halves weren't being afforded that same sort of luxury.

As a result, Davies broke the gain-line time and again and that created gaps in the Connacht defence and led to a lot of scoring opportunities for Ospreys.

I'm sure Pat Lam and the rest of the coaching staff will have pinpointed that as an area they need to take control of again. And that could be one of the foundations for victory over Zebre this weekend.

Zebre might think this is the wounded Connacht, it's time to go in for the kill. The reality is Connacht are the better team, but that doesn't guarantee you anything on the day and Lam's men know that better than anyone.

Against Zebre, Connacht need to be more aggressive around the breakdown. They need to get the players back in the line of defence and then get off the line that bit quicker.

The attacking stuff seems to be pretty good at the moment. Connacht dominated periods of the game against Ospreys. But it just didn't happen for them on the day.

Does that mean they need to change their whole philosophy - no definitely not. Connacht must stick to their principles and the correct basics will get them over the line.

Zebre are always difficult to play. They are always hard matches to play because of the travel aspect alone. There is no point thinking about bonus points, it's all about getting the performance, the win, and that puts everything back on track.

It's amazing the difference a week can make in the sporting world and if Connacht beat Zebre there will be a whole different feel around the place ahead of the game away to Scarlets.

A Connacht win will bring back a bit of momentum and put them right back on track.

Irish Independent

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