Tuesday 20 August 2019

This is the time to shine at Thomond

Connacht have form and class to end barren run in Limerick

Jake Heenan in training with Connacht
Jake Heenan in training with Connacht
Robbie Henshaw watches on

Johnny O'Connor

It was admirable how Connacht responded to their treacherous return from Siberia with a win against Brive. The mental and physical fatigue would have taken its toll on the players.

Hopefully this weekend they will be in a more recovered state, as they travel to Munster in better shape than any other Connacht side that has gone there before. They have already won in Thomond Park in pre-season - it would be amazing if they beat them again.

But it was key to get the win over Brive prior to that, and it was a workmanlike performance at the Sportsground. They had to grind out that victory, especially when they didn't get the best start, but Connacht responded and clung to the win at the end.

It's something they've done so often this season, put themselves in a winning position late on, and then frustrated the other team when it looked as though Connacht were in trouble.

There were a few stand-out performers on the night - Robbie Henshaw was always set to come up with something. Back in his favourite position in midfield, he did a lot of damage and could have bagged a couple of tries.

Niyi Adeolokun got man of the match, and he displayed all of what is right with Connacht at the moment. When you are younger player, you need to do your basics right to be effective, but if you want to be remembered you must add something else. He's got a real turn of pace, and put himself about on Saturday, and stood out.

As usual the pack won their battle - even when Ronan Loughney had to come on for Andrew Browne and Dave Heffernan was already in for Nepia Fox-Matamua. The front-row had to stand tall, and young Conan O'Donnell came on and was brilliant.

It was a real pity to see Fox-Matamua go down - that was the only negative on the night. He has been a workhorse for Connacht all season. When a player arrives from abroad you question what he will bring to the team, but I don't think anyone doubts the impact he has made at Connacht, and hopefully he will be back sooner than expected.

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But in previous years that injury would may have been catastrophic for Connacht. Not this time. Eoghan Masterson and Eoin McKeon are well-equipped to not just plug a hole, they bring their own attributes to playing at openside, so they can switch over.


James Connolly is another young man with bags of potential. He hasn't played in the Pro12 yet, but from what we have seen in Europe, and even for the Eagles he definitely has what it takes. So there are no shortage of options, with Jake Heenan still on the mend.

It's so positive to have that depth of talent sprinkled through the squad. These guys haven't hit their potential yet, so it's frightening to think how good they could be.

A win against Munster would be the perfect reward for their start to the season, and it would silence any doubters who think Connacht are not a top-four side. The younger guys in the team won't have experienced the same heartache at Thomond Park, so the fear factor isn't there.

It's a case that Connacht need to strike while the iron's hot, they have eight wins from nine this season and seven in a row, so they are on a run.

Munster had the week off, so they will have rested up while Connacht had to go through the stresses and strains of their Challenge Cup adventure. But it could work two ways; it could leave Connacht mentally zapped, or they could feel like a stronger unit.

There is no doubt about it, Munster are still a very good side, and outside of Connacht's big win at home against them last Christmas, Anthony Foley's men have had the upper hand in recent meetings.

Munster will try frustrate Connacht's flow, they are one of the top sides in Europe in the breakdown area. They also have the internationals to do damage when they get the ball on the front-foot. Connacht need to starve Munster of possession, and it's the role of the half-backs to ensure the game is played in the right areas.

If Connacht get into the Munster 22, they have the firepower to come away with tries, and a few early efforts would make it a very uneasy night for the hosts.

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