Friday 15 November 2019

Top six is no pipe dream for inspired squad

Hard to criticise tight group that's breaking new ground out west despite recent defeats

Connacht’s Aly Muldowney wins a line-out against Ulster
Connacht’s Aly Muldowney wins a line-out against Ulster
Ulster’s Rory Best is tackled by Connacht duo John Muldoon (left) and Robbie Henshaw

Johnny O'Connor

Once again Connacht will be disappointed how they started against Ulster - it's been a bit of familiar trend in recent weeks but it's something they can remedy and if they can sort a few things out I can see them putting on a late surge and securing the top-six spot they crave.

They created a bit of a humdinger against Ulster with the way they finished out the game but a they just left themselves with too much to do. Every time you thought the game was getting away from them, they came back into it.

Restarts are pivotal and they need to be on the money - the manner some were lost was disappointing, while the breakdown in the first half proved very costly. When you play the top sides, you pay dearly for your mistakes.

It's something that is worked on all the time but obviously Ulster spotted an opportunity there and exposed Connacht because they did not do well for a lot of the kick-offs.

If you secure the ball, you are thinking of exit strategies and how you get out of the half - do you run it? But Connacht couldn't even secure the ball and that put them under serious pressure, allowing Ulster to get back in, get in the green zone and get points.

Connacht could take a lot of positives from the game and in that sense it was very different from the loss over in Gloucester because Pat Lam's men played a lot of good rugby throughout against Ulster.

They scored some nice tries, particularly Matt Healy's effort; it came out of nothing and he showed some turn of pace - you just don't see that as often these days. It's something you associate more with the Jason Robinsons of this world.

Certainly having Bundee Aki back was a major positive and it added another dynamic into their game. I'm sure he was blowing hard when he was taken off but it was good to get him back on the pitch and they did look like a better backline for it.

Before kick-off there was a bit of disruption with Craig Ronaldson getting injured in the warm-up for the game and with Miah Nikora having to step in and that's a difficult ask for any No 10.


Miah had been out of the picture for a few weeks so to bring him in like that would've been difficult for himself and team - during preparation for the games you get used to your half-back's style of play and it's generally why you see teams rarely change this pairing. But Miah did well under pressure.

All in all I thought Connacht played very well. Robbie Henshaw came into the game and was brilliant again in midfield.

I would find it very difficult to pick apart that performance and say that the lads are making silly errors because they are under extreme pressure. They are going where no other Connacht team has gone in the past.

I have been there for Connacht, but I haven't been in the position these players have put the province into - possibly getting the top-six finish and getting into the Champions Cup of their own accord, so people need to reserve judgment a bit after close defeats like that.

If they are dropping the ball here and there it could be a slight lack of concentration or nerves, because it's getting to that stage of the season.

Earlier on in the campaign everything was positive because they were in the top six but you get judged on your final position in the standings, not where you were at Christmas.

They're a young side as well so with that level of experience it will be more difficult to close out the season but they are really close to putting together another top-class performance and beating one of the top teams.

Certainly I would think there's a good chance that Connacht can pick up a win against the Ospreys and possibly even Glasgow at home.

If the lads can put together something big for that Glasgow game and maybe sneak a win, then with Zebre to come after they would be well in the driving seat ahead of a final-day clash with Ospreys.

That game would be in the Sportsground as well, so it's definitely not doom and gloom - with three rounds of rugby remaining Connacht are sixth in the Pro12 and its their position to lose.

Irish Independent

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