Monday 20 November 2017

We want to make it five wins at home for our fans

Bundee Aki is congratulated by supporters after his side's victory over Cardiff Blues in the Sportsground Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki is congratulated by supporters after his side's victory over Cardiff Blues in the Sportsground Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Conor McPhilips

It was great to get back into match mode again last week and to mark it with a win at home in the Sportsground was really pleasing.

We spoke about the break coming at a good time and I think we could see the benefits of that in Friday night's performance.

It was by no means perfect against the Cardiff Blues and we know we were a little bit rusty at times. But it was great to see the likes of Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Nepia Fox-Matamua and John Cooney all coming back in after long-term injuries.

They got vital match minutes under their belts and we were satisfied with the way we secured that win and the four Pro12 points. Cardiff are a good side with great squad depth and they have always been a bit of a bogey side for us so it was a really important result.

Craig Ronaldson had been our designated place kicker last week but unfortunately he felt his quad tighten up a bit in the warm-up. I had a word with John Cooney and asked him would he be happy to take the kicks and of course he backed himself to do it.

He had kicked for us in the Challenge Cup quarter-final against Grenoble last season and did well. To be honest, it's a part of his game that he would practise each week along with a group of maybe six or seven other players in the squad.

We need guys to be ready to step up when needed and Friday just highlighted that for us. Because John had put the practice in during the week, we, as coaches, had full confidence in his ability and thankfully it was a successful night for him.

Contribution

That need for versatility is becoming an even bigger part of the game and that was never more obvious than in the Test game between Ireland and Australia on Saturday. Due to injuries and forced substitutions, our scrum-half Kieran Marmion had to play 40 minutes on the wing. The fact that he did so almost seamlessly is testament to his ability as a rugby player. Apart from an underage game and a few minutes the week before, I don't think he's ever trained in that position, never mind played it.

As a player, I was lucky enough to have played both scrum-half and wing for Connacht but for anyone who hasn't trained in that position it can be extremely difficult. In terms of your positioning and timing, it would be a very hard transition to make under pressure. Your communication and the way you have to connect with your full-back and number 13 in defence is vital and I thought Kieran did extremely well there.

Overall, we were really happy with Connacht's contribution to a really successful and history-making November Series. With the likes of Tiernan O'Halloran making his international home debut, our vision of 'Grassroots to Green Shirts' is one that we are achieving and that's fantastic. Tiernan was back in for us last Friday night and again tomorrow. He came back from camp even hungrier to do well and put the work in and that's all you can ask for. He's a great inspiration to the other players who want to make that step up.

We all know how big tomorrow's game against Treviso is. We spoke all week about the importance of our preparation. We saw what happened last year over in Italy when we lost out on finishing top of the table because of our one-point defeat to them.

Treviso are a good side and will be boosted by the return of their internationals who, in turn, will bring their own energy after their first ever win over South Africa.

But we have the added lift of being at home again this weekend and it looks like it's going to be another full house for the Saturday afternoon kick-off.

We want to make it five wins at home for our supporters. A lot of people are looking ahead to Europe already but we know we have to remain focused on the job of Treviso before we switch into Champions Cup mode next week.

Irish Independent

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