Thursday 18 January 2018

We need a big improvement to beat Blues

Connacht staring at derby defeat if defence does not step up a gear

The absence of Tiernan O’Halloran after he was yellow-carded hurt Connacht against Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile
The absence of Tiernan O’Halloran after he was yellow-carded hurt Connacht against Zebre. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

There was plenty of food for thought after Connacht's 22-19 victory in Edinburgh last weekend. It was great to win over there, don't get me wrong, but Connacht will have to show massive improvements if they hope to take out Leinster at the Sportsground tomorrow.

It was fantastic to see Connacht build up a 22-0 lead. But they must be desperately disappointed with the way they let Edinburgh back into the game in the last 20 minutes, and in the end they were hanging on for their dear lives.

You didn't know what to expect after the Zebre game, because losing against the Italians for the first time was definitely one of the low points of the season, and you never know how the players will react to something like that.

Form-lines

But saying that, Zebre beat Dragons last weekend, so they aren't as bad as we might have thought. 

Still as reigning Pro12 champions Connacht should have won that game, and probably got all five points in the process - that's what top teams tend to do in Italy.

To get back on track in Edinburgh is very rewarding, keeping the distance between those below Connacht, and gaining ground on Glasgow Warriors in sixth.

To go 22 points up is significant in any game, but when Connacht reviewed this game they would have homed in on the fact that they let their opponents back into the game.

Connacht will be upset that they were exposed so badly when Tiernan O'Halloran got yellow and they were down to 14 men near the end. Because even if that scenario occurs, you lose your full-back and concede a penalty try - they were still 15 points clear.

When Edinburgh were attacking, Connacht should have held their composure and used their defence as a weapon.

When teams are chasing a lead they are bound to leave gaps in their back-field and that was there for Connacht if they'd had the vision to spot it.

But for whatever reason that didn't happen, and it showed that despite Connacht's great attack, they still have frailties in defence.

You can't predict those sort of comebacks but thankfully they held on in the end, because if they had lost that game it would have been catastrophic for the team's confidence and momentum heading towards the Champions Cup play-offs next month.

It's four points against a team who could have beaten Connacht on the day, had they scored more in the first half, and if Scotland out-half Duncan Weir had had his kicking boots on.

I don't think anyone was expecting Connacht to get a bonus point over there. You probably would have been worried after the Zebre game, but they pulled a win out of the bag, and that's something to add to their tally going forward.

But it gets very real this weekend, and with the way Leinster are playing at the moment, and the talent that they always seem to produce it's a difficult task to face up to.

You are hoping Connacht can try and put something together. But regardless who Leinster put out they play really well, similar to the way Connacht were last year. 

Leinster are a great team to watch on the front foot, and they smother teams when they are defending. And although it's at home in the Sportsground, it will be a tough one to get over the line. 

Proposition

Connacht always seem to raise their game against Leinster, but even if Leinster don't play to their full ability they are still a huge proposition.

Connacht need to be at 100pc to have any chance of winning this game.

They have beaten Leinster plenty of times with lesser quality, and it's probably a good thing that they are being written off.

On the other hand, there is a real chance that Connacht could get opened up big time if they don't shore up defensively. Leinster have great players and a great coaching set-up.

Leinster react very well for in-game situations, and with the talent they have it makes them hard to beat, but Connacht could pull this one out of the bag.

Irish Independent

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