Saturday 24 February 2018

We have to be patient with new man

Win against Blues is key in search for confidence

Eoghan Masterson and John Muldoon hard at work during training. Picture: Sportsfile
Eoghan Masterson and John Muldoon hard at work during training. Picture: Sportsfile

Noel Mannion

Like 99pc of Connacht supporters I had to make do with listening in to Galway Bay FM from Rodney Parade and some online highlights, but the few minutes I saw didn't make for pretty viewing.

Going into the game Connacht had been lifted by their result and performance against the Kings the previous week, but they really didn't kick on and left Dragons empty handed.

I'm sure these are worrying times for the Connacht coaches. Already is seems as if Munster and Glasgow are going to run away at the top of the conference, so the race for that third spot is going to be fierce. Connacht still have to play Munster twice and Ospreys twice, so every other game with your divisional rivals has massive weight.

With that in mind it shows how tough it is to drop points to Dragons last week in the only game between the sides this season, and how important it is to beat Cardiff tomorrow.

Over the years Connacht have had a pretty decent record at Dragons, and with their poor start to their season, the lads would have seen this as a chance to pick up a good win on the road. Instead, they were blitzed from the start and they never really recovered.

After 40 sloppy minutes where they had conceded a good few penalties - it was 14 by full-time - and they also missed a few tackles. Dragons led 21-3 at the break even though Gavin Henson missed a couple of kicks, and even though the home side failed to score in the second half they held on easily to win.

I was a bit surprised that Connacht didn't kick on and launch a bit of a comeback after Quinn Roux scored his try early in the second half. Both teams failed to score in the last 27 minutes, which suited Dragons and left Connacht frustrated.

Considering Dragons had lost their first two games against Leinster and Edinburgh, this was regarded as a chance to claim a precious away win. But fair play to Bernard Jackman, he had lined up Connacht and the fact that it was a former team of his I'm sure it was a sweet win.

But let's be realistic here too. This is not panic stations yet, but from a momentum and morale point of view it wasn't a great result. The coach made a good few changes from the Kings game, but some of those changes were positive: Jake Heenan was back in, Roux and Eoghan Masterson were there, so you'd like to think the team wasn't weakened.

Reality

But the reality is that when a team has been embedded in a particular way of playing for three or four years, when a new coach comes in, it is going to take a bit more time than he has had to nail his game-plan.

It is going to be hard to make that change over from one coach to another, it won't feel natural for the players for quite some time, so maybe we have to be patient with them.

Looking at their early games under Keane, Connacht used the aerial game a bit more. I believe he wants them to be a bit more pragmatic - kick when we have to kick and not be running the ball from silly positions. Give it a chance and it will become second nature to the players.

For sure, this is a good chance for the boys to take a confidence-boosting win. Cardiff only have one losing bonus point from their three games to date, but Connacht also need to be very wary here too. If their execution of the basics is off the mark again, Cardiff will punish them. It won't have gone unnoticed in Wales what Dragons did, so Cardiff will regard this as their chance to claim a first win of the season.

And Cardiff are a team that always seem to cause a bit of bother to the Connacht lads. We've seen countless twists late on to deny Connacht against them, but this really has the hallmarks of a mid-table battle. They will have to punch it out between them and whoever wins this will regard it as a key win when all is said and done.

I will be very interested to see what team Keane picks - does he go back to his strongest possible 15 and how do the lads that played at the weekend react? For the sake of morale and momentum in the squad a win is crucial tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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