Saturday 24 February 2018

Tim Allnutt: All to play for in final few games of season

Pat Lam Photo: Sportsfile
Pat Lam Photo: Sportsfile

Tim Allnutt

With our last home game of the regular season taking place tomorrow followed by the Connacht Rugby Awards Ball on Sunday, it's a busy time of year for everyone involved in the club.

While there is a lot of excitement around the squad at this stage of the season with our play-off place secured and a Champions Cup spot to play for, it can also be a difficult time for a lot of players.

We've been able to confirm a good bit of player news over the last few days with guys signing contract extensions and the confirmation of young Irish second-row Gavin Thornbury joining our squad.

The reality of professional sport, however, is that there are also a lot of guys who have been told that they won't have their contracts renewed at the end of the season and that can be very tough.

You get to know these guys from working so closely with them for the last number of months or even years so it's not easy having to tell them that they don't have a job with Connacht come the summer.

There's obviously huge personal disappointment but it's admirable how these guys keep a professional head and continue to give their all for the team in the way they work and constantly push themselves.

It's important that we recognise and value the contribution of everyone that comes through Connacht Rugby and we will acknowledge the departing players at tomorrow night's game.

As well as the players leaving, it might also be an emotional time for the outgoing coaches Pat (Lam) and Conor (McPhillips).

Momentum I know they'll treat the game as any other and look to build real momentum going in to the play-offs but it will be nice to have everyone together at the Awards Ball on Sunday evening.

There are a number of awards for the professional team but it's important to remember that the annual event is organised to recognise the achievements at all levels of the game throughout the province.

Looking at the list of nominees, it's certainly been a hugely successful year for grassroots rugby in the province and I'm really looking forward to finding out some of the deserved winners on the night.

While it's a bank holiday weekend for most, it won't be a late night for the team or management as we're in early on Monday morning to prepare for the Munster game.

While our play-off spot is already secured, these next two championship games are still important in the context of our overall goal of Champions Cup qualification.

On the weekend of May 20 we will be going to England or France to play a quality Premiership or Top 14 side.

Whoever our opposition is, it's going to be a tough task away from home and we want to give ourselves the best chance.

The confidence and momentum will come on the back of our performances in the next fortnight.

We have a few guys coming back from injury and from talking to the coaches, it's almost like there is a clean slate for selection within the squad.

If individuals can put their hand up in training, they will get their opportunity over the next two weeks.

Competition and guys pushing each other hard for selection will be, I believe, a huge factor in how we finish this season.

Tomorrow's game won't be an easy one. We are boosted by being back at home again in front of our home support but Scarlets are a very tough side. They are still in the hunt for a home semi-final so they will be coming here all guns blazing. No doubt the Welsh side is buzzing by the inclusion of three of their players in the British and Irish Lions squad.

I have to say I was absolutely delighted to see Robbie Henshaw included in the squad when it was announced last week. Of course, Robbie is no longer with us but we can still take great pride in the fact that he came up through the Connacht set-up and played so much of his rugby here. As well as that, we all know what a good guy Robbie is and how hard he works. We're just thrilled for him and looking forward to cheering him on in June.

But first it's back to the Sportsground. The support all season has been immense and we want to repay our supporters with a big performance at home.

Irish Independent

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