Wednesday 22 November 2017

We can't afford to play the victim

Zebre the ideal opponents to help injury-hit Connacht get back into groove

Without both Bundee Aki, pictured watching training, and John Muldoon, Connacht need players to step up as leaders. SPORTSFILE
Without both Bundee Aki, pictured watching training, and John Muldoon, Connacht need players to step up as leaders. SPORTSFILE

Johnny O'Connor

Last weekend was another stark reminder of how cruel the league can be. Round 13 was unlucky for Connacht as Ospreys thrashed them at Liberty Stadium, but hopefully they can bounce back against Zebre in the Champions Cup this time around.

The game was done and dusted around the hour mark in Swansea. When Connacht were going over, the expectation was that they hadn't a chance but they ended up fielding a strong enough team.

Connacht don't have great depth at present, but they could have managed it around the front-row and the back-line as they had a bit of continuity about them.

But the team looks a bit spent at the moment. It's impossible to cope with all of the injuries and volume of fatigue, and therefore once the injuries accumulate they are hard to get rid of.


When you take captain John Muldoon out of the team it's a big loss, as he is the only guy that really communicates around the park and gets players into position defensively.

John Muldoon. Photo: SPORTSFILE
John Muldoon. Photo: SPORTSFILE

He ensures that all of the Connacht players reset their position in defence, and his absence cost them against Ospreys.

If you get back you can look up and if there is a guy running a flat line off you, you won't miss that tackle. But Ospreys identified the weakness there and they went for it.

In terms of attack Connacht have been very good at times, especially at the end of last season, but they lacked the bite and gain-line breaks against Ospreys.

Bundee Aki leads the charge there when he is available. And when both Bundee and John are taken from the starting 15 Connacht can look lost.

At the moment they are losing guys everywhere. It's a domino effect, and losing a couple of players last week has put Connacht in a precarious position over the next two weekends.

The out-half position is the obvious weakness presently and hopefully they can rectify that properly prior to Toulouse with Craig Ronaldson back fit, but they should have enough no matter who fills that jersey against Zebre.

You would like to introduce guys gradually via an 'A' game but Pat Lam doesn't have that luxury. It has been a really tough few seasons in terms of injuries, and this is the worst it has ever been.

But if you don't have the players left to play you just have to plan without them and get on with it.

You need to put all of your time and effort into the players that you have playing on the field. They need to get across the line and be ready to put in the required performance at the weekend.

A team can play victim and all of those scenarios in their head, but they must focus on the objective and what needs to be done during the 80 minutes.

It is mentally draining and disappointing from the highs of where Connacht Rugby was last season. But that's sport, it can be week to week, month to month or year to year, it all depends.

You don't always get it your way. It was another bad result away to Ospreys, but at the same time there is no doubt Connacht are playing good rugby in fits and starts, they just need to cut out the errors that have crept in.

But Zebre are definitely the right team to be playing at this time in Connacht's season, and hopefully another big Champions Cup game at the Sportsground will help Connacht get back on track and find their groove again.


It's all about confidence, and this game should give Connacht the opportunity to put some points on the board, considering the ten tries and 70 points that Leinster hammered home against the Italians last weekend.

It just all depends on how fresh Connacht can be going into this game.

You can't sit back and not do any training during the week because the players will be exposed to the rough and tumble at the weekend again.

If you don't expose them during the week then they are at risk at the weekend, so it's a chicken and egg situation and it will be fascinating to see how Pat Lam and his management team use their players over the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

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