Thursday 22 August 2019

Time to rotate squad to stay at the top

Challenge Cup is the perfect chance to rest busiest players

Robbie Henshaw is back in business for the Treviso match
Robbie Henshaw is back in business for the Treviso match

Johnny O'Connor

This Connacht side have been through thick and thin together over the last few seasons, and that experience has brought about this new level of maturity that we are seeing from them at the moment.

To go six wins from seven at the start of the season in the Pro12 is unheard of at the Sportsground. But I really think the guys can do it, and then they can reduce the workload for some of the main components.

A few of the players have racked up a lot of minutes already this season. And I feel that, this time around, the Challenge Cup needs to be used a little more wisely. It must be all about squad rotation, and the academy guys should get a real run-out.

But back to the Pro12 and that was a really solid performance by Connacht against Edinburgh, where they only used one strike play and it worked to perfection.

Tiernan O'Halloran's try was a touch of class. And how accurately they constructed it: Jack Carty's inside-ball was perfect and Matt Healy hit the line right on cue. They almost made it look easy because they did the simple things really well.

And that was the general pattern of the game, Connacht came out on top because they were precise around the breakdown, and although Carty missed a few kicks, the guys around him helped him out like any good team should.

The set-piece was a little shaky at times but Connacht have got to a stage where teams know they need to front up in the scrum and lineout. If you don't bring your A-game to the Sportsground you will get turned over.

The opposition are doing their homework now and they are placing a massive emphasis on where Connacht lay their platform. At the weekend Edinburgh disrupted a few lineouts and put a fair bit of pressure on Rodney Ah You in the scrum. That led to a few penalties but it didn't cost Connacht the game.

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It's nothing that cannot be rectified either, and thankfully so, because that is where Treviso will be strong this evening. They don't have the greatest fluency behind the pack, but their forwards really know how to disrupt the opposition ball.


Connacht need to turn up and not take anything for granted, because against a side like this, you know you need to work hard for each other at the breakdown. There will be plenty of lazy Italians lying all over the ball and they won't lack in the physicality stakes.

Treviso haven't won a game in the Pro12 this season, so they will be hungry for something in Galway. They didn't do so well against Leinster last weekend but they have picked up a few losing bonus points this season.

With the confidence these Connacht guys are playing with, I couldn't see anything other than a win, and to have Nathan White and now Robbie Henshaw back in business, there is so much depth.

With Robbie we should have patience. You don't want to over-work him so soon after the World Cup - he still has a long season left ahead of him.

And even without him the backs have been top-class. Bundee Aki put two brilliant performances back to back and Tiernan is so steady at full-back.

Another aspect of the win over Edinburgh was the back-row. They just seem to get about their business really well, and they are always back in line for the next defensive burst.

Speaking of back-rows, Richie McCaw played what will probably be his final game in a New Zealand jersey in the World Cup final, and you couldn't begrudge him another crown.

You would have to feel sorry for David Pocock and Michael Hooper after all they contributed to the tournament, but New Zealand were the better side.

I just don't know how anyone is going to reach that level; they've raised the bar completely and it's up to everyone else to catch up.

If Scarlets don't win at Leinster tonight, Connacht's could be raising their own bar in the Pro12, and it would be a nice way to go into Europe - top of the league.

But then the key thing is to manage the squad correctly; injuries do tend to catch up with Connacht.

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