Saturday 24 March 2018

We respect Zebre - they gave us one of our toughest games last season

John Muldoon chats with Matt Healy in training ahead of their clash against Zebre SEB DALY/SPORTSFILE
John Muldoon chats with Matt Healy in training ahead of their clash against Zebre SEB DALY/SPORTSFILE

John Muldoon

While it was another defeat last weekend, we felt it was a much better performance overall against Ospreys than what we saw against Glasgow.

We went through the game in detail on Monday and I don't think the scoreline reflects what happened on the field.

I was talking to a few of the Ospreys coaches and players afterwards and they were delighted to get the bonus point win because they knew that game was anyone's as the clock approached the 70-minute mark.

But we are really disappointed with the outcome and we know we have to work extremely hard to improve things. That's been the focus from day one and it doesn't change for us against Zebre this week.

We knew when the fixtures came out that Glasgow and Ospreys are two phenomenal sides with quality players across the park. As Pat said, Ospreys were without Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones Ospreys, but were otherwise at full strength.

Ospreys went through a year of transition last season but now a lot of those younger players have 20, 30 and 40 games under their belt. They have grown from that and the experience of having guys away on World Cup duty.


Two of their tries were from turnovers when we were in control of the possession. One bad mistake in defence cost us dearly.

It shows the quality of opposition you are playing against - if you make one or two mistakes they will punish you.

We probably came up against two of the teams that are going to be in the top six. From that point of view we are disappointed we have got no points out of it either.

There were a lot of things we did well all the same. Our set-piece was quite good and at times we looked more like we did last year, and we added a bit of tempo to our game. Even on the pitch at times we spoke about adding that.

We looked better in the breakdown too. And now it's just a matter of putting 80 minutes together. Our defence improved and even though they got a bonus point, we don't feel it paints the full picture.

It's a different challenge for us going over to Zebre. We have got to respect them and what they have done over the last few years. It has never been easy over there, culminating last season in one of the toughest games we had all year.

It was a try-fest and it took a few of us by surprise. It was end-to-end stuff - it was like Sevens rugby.

It's a very important game for us to get some points out of, and we expect a similar game this time around.

Playing them early in the season, we know we are going to get good conditions. I had a look at the weather forecast over there earlier in the week and it was 30 degrees.

It is going to be warm, and a dry track which will lead to a quick game. But they are the conditions that we relish. Maybe not so much the heat, but we like the opportunity to go out and express ourselves and throw the ball around.

We feel we have trained and prepared well all week and we are looking forward to the game and our first away trip of the season.

We feel that if we can put in an improved performance over the 80 minutes, the outcome and results will take care of itself.

We know we haven't achieved that yet but we also know it's within us and we can get back on track.

There's a game against Scarlets only around the corner but we are not looking past the Italians and we cannot wait to get out on the field against them tomorrow evening.

We will face them four times this season so it's a trip that we will be taking again this year. It's something we have done before, so we know what's ahead of us and we are ready for it.

Outside of the match aspect, it was great to see the announcement made earlier in the week around Niyi Adeolokun signing a contract extension.

The most interesting thing about Niyi is he hasn't come through the conventional route.

In the era of professionalism and academies, he came through the old-school way. He has cut his teeth at AIL level and played a little bit of underage with Leinster but didn't get an opportunity there.

Niyi is a very talented player. He has buckets of speed and there are not many braver than him on the rugby pitch. He has worked very hard on his skills as well as the mental side of the game, and you have to give him credit for the way he came in to his first professional environment, worked hard to improve himself and took the opportunity with both hands.

He joined Connacht two years ago and fought his way into the first team.

He's a really popular guy in our squad and with the supporters so everyone is really happy for him.

It's great to see these younger guys like Niyi and Finlay Bealham signing on so early for the future.

They are a great advertisement for the game we like to play and how they contribute to the game-plan.

There is great competition in the back three now with fellas like Niyi, Tiernan O'Halloran, Matt Healy, Danie Poolman and Cian Kelleher, to name a few.

They give us a great outlet out wide and it's brilliant for us that we can build a game-plan that they can slot in to so seamlessly.

Irish Independent

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