Monday 23 September 2019

Victory in Switzerland can give us the lift that our campaign needed

Bundee Aki congratulates his Connacht team-mates after a job well done against Oyonnax. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki congratulates his Connacht team-mates after a job well done against Oyonnax. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Denis Buckley

It was a bit of a crazy week for everyone at Connacht Rugby, with trips to Switzerland followed by an unscheduled Monday off due to ex-Hurricane Ophelia, but we got through it and now we can focus on welcoming Worcester Warriors to the Sportsground.

With five defeats and just one win heading for Geneva last weekend we knew we needed to beat Oyonnax and get some momentum going forward. We know that despite the big scoreline it wasn't our most polished of displays but we can see signs of improvement again.

Hopefully this will give our season a kick-start and the results will start to fall in our favour. There were still a lot of areas to improve on but getting a big scoreline like that can give the lads confidence and momentum.

The boost from a performance like that will stand to us. Every week we are getting better playing under the new system implemented by Kieran Keane since he arrived in pre-season. We have been using it for a while and hopefully we have our catalyst now to improve.

I still think there is a bit of inconsistency in our play. Oyonnax shouldn't have been in the game by half-time. When you take a 19-3 lead against any team you need to put them away and destroy any hopes they might have of launching a comeback.


Even though they did score two tries at that stage, it was just one lapse in concentration and all of a sudden Oyonnax were back in it.

It shows you the margins in these big games but overall Connacht played some really good stuff and the lads got the few tries as well, it was obviously good to get the bonus point and that could prove crucial after Christmas.

The defence was something we honed in on to get right over the last few games, and barring that one real lapse, all game we were quite good. Those are the sort of things that really hurt you, especially away from home and in Europe. But to get so many points after half-time, and not concede anything up the other end was very satisfying.

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Our defence coach Pete Wilkins has come in and everyone has been impressed by him and the work he is doing at the Sportsground.

It's good to see that it's actually possible to go a full half of rugby without conceding now and we will look to replicate that going forward.

We still haven't put in a good defensive performance for 80 minutes but that will come.

We were close against Ulster too. It was just the one mistake on a kick-chase that led to Jacob Stockdale's try in Kingspan Stadium and that was the difference between winning and losing.

It's great to keep on improving and hopefully we can carry that on into this weekend against a really good Aviva Premiership outfit too.

Worcester have a lot of internationals and a pretty impressive team on paper anyway.

Like all of the Premiership teams these days they invest heavily in their squad and the big-name players are dotted throughout their side.

It's going to be a tough game but we are back in the Sportsground, and in front of our vocal home support.

We expect a big crowd to turn out in Galway tomorrow and with the confidence and momentum flowing who knows what we are capable of. Hopefully it can stick for us and we can put in a good defensive performance to solidify our good attacking game.

The lads will be confident after what they produced in Switzerland. With the French teams at times it's hard to judge them in Europe, particularly in the Challenge Cup, and when they are struggling in the Top 14 table they prioritise their league games. 

Back in the Premiership, Worcester have been a good team when they are allowed to play and they have got some good players. We have to be clinical if we want to win and we are aware of the threats that the English will pose. But we are improving every week and if we can put in a decent performance and do what we do in training, while focusing on our own game, we will have no problems. But that's easier said than done.

We have got a reasonably tough pool compared to the other ones in the Challenge Cup this season. But a cup run is always good for the fans, and as a player.

We will be taking Europe very seriously again this year and if we can win against Worcester in the Sportsground tomorrow, it would put us in a great spot going forward for the usually pivotal back-to-back games against Brive in December.

If we can do OK there, ensuring that we win at home, it will be in our own hands going forward. This is huge for qualification and for getting a favourable knock-out game if we could to get to that stage.

Interprovincial derbies are always huge games for us and they are always tight enough, especially when they are against Munster at home for us. We always have big games against them, and have done well against them in the last few seasons. 

These are the games that you want to be a part of. It's great that Munster are coming up so soon after Europe, and hopefully we will kick on from last weekend and put in a good performance against Worcester. That would give us great momentum for taking on Munster.

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