Sunday 22 April 2018

These last few games are far from irrelevant

Captain John Muldoon rallies the troops during his teamtalk before last Saturday’s encounter with Leinster. Photo:
Captain John Muldoon rallies the troops during his teamtalk before last Saturday’s encounter with Leinster. Photo:

Conor McPhillips

With no game this weekend, it was a chance for the squad and backroom team to regroup after a tough block of games and a lot of travelling.

While we had four wins from four in the previous block, we only managed to get four points from the last four games and that is obviously disappointing.

What's most frustrating is the fine margins that are the difference. We are creating opportunities but it's our execution and some basic errors that are hurting us. That was evident in last weekend's loss to Leinster.

Of course, coming up against the top team in the Guinness Pro12 is always a challenge.

We felt we were prepared for what they were going to bring. No matter what team they sent to Galway its always a tough Leinster side to beat. Fair play to Leinster, they did their homework and are a well coached side.

But we didn't help ourselves. All the stats backed up our good play but we failed to capitalise on that. We had more clean breaks than Leinster, more offloads, carries, passes and metres made. But we committed too many turnovers and let Leinster in for some soft tries.

It was an entertaining game for the neutral and there was a great atmosphere at the Sportsground. But we were frustrated we didn't get more from the game. There is no questioning the effort that went in from the lads but that doesn't make it any easier to take.

We were especially disappointed we couldn't mark John Muldoon's monumental achievement of 300 caps with a win.

Delighted

I've known Mul for so long, having played and lived with him before I moved in to coaching, and like everyone, I was delighted for him at the weekend.

It is an incredible feat to play 300 games for one club and your home province.

More than anyone, he was hurting after that loss on Saturday because he really felt we could have and should have done better. He expects so much of himself and the same of those around him. That's what makes him a fantastic captain.

But there's plenty of rugby left for John and this team.

We are guaranteed a play-off spot and a chance to achieve our ultimate goal of Champions Cup rugby for next season.

I'm moving on to coach with Bristol next season so I won't be here but after 15 years with Connacht Rugby, there is nothing I want more than to finish on a high together and ensure that the club is playing among the European elite.

Competing at that top level is part of the vision of the club and something we all believe in.

This week, some of the squad were given a few days off to recuperate. Depending on game-time and injuries, there were also guys in for conditioning and skills sessions earlier in the week. With two big games coming up against Scarlets and Munster, we need everyone who is fit and available to be ready to go.

We know it's a huge challenge coming up against the second and third-ranked sides in the Pro12. Munster have their semi-final place guaranteed but Scarlets will be looking to ensure they stay in that all-important top four.

A lot of people will look at these games as meaningless for us but that's not how we see it. The players take a lot of pride in the jersey and their own performance. But as well as that, we are going to need an overall improvement to give us the momentum going into a play-off away to the seventh-ranked Top14 or Aviva Premiership side.

If we end up going over to England, we also have the carrot of a home final the following week and that would be huge. There is a lot of rugby to be played and a lot to play for in our minds.

With no Pro12 this weekend, all eyes will of course be on Champions Cup and the semi-finals involving both Munster and Leinster.

I think both the provinces have a great chance and I wouldn't be betting against either of them. It's knock-out rugby so anything can happen but I wouldn't be surprised if it was an all-Irish final in Murrayfield.

It's great for Irish rugby and while we're obviously disappointed with the way our own European campaign ended, we'll be cheering them on to the end.

Irish Independent

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