Saturday 24 February 2018

We're very keen on giving this competition a right go this year

‘To come away without the losing bonus point against Ulster was frustrating. All you can do going forward is to take the positives out of it’. Photo: Sportsfile
‘To come away without the losing bonus point against Ulster was frustrating. All you can do going forward is to take the positives out of it’. Photo: Sportsfile

Tiernan O’Halloran

I picked up a bit of hip injury last weekend against Ulster - it was tough to come off early in a big interpro game and then watch on as they lads just missed out on snatching a losing bonus point. But things are starting to come together and I'm certain the results will follow suit shortly.

I don't think any of the lads would have ever played in Switzerland before, so the trip to play Oyonnax will be interesting. There are a few different factors with travel and that, and it will all add to the experience.

I spoke to someone recently who had played in that stadium before and they said the ground is very nice over there. It should set up for a really good game.

Oyonnax are moving their home games from the 4G pitch, but hopefully it will be a good atmosphere and we can get a much needed win to kick-start our European campaign.

We put a big focus on the first 20 minutes against Ulster last weekend because at times this year we struggled have struggled in the first quarter. We thought we would do well in the second half like we have for many of our games this season.

We started well and got a lead, and scored a try towards the end of the 40 minutes from Tom McCartney. That put us in good stead. We hadn't had much ball in the first half but in those derby games, away from home, that's the way it goes and you are going to have to play territory.

moment We felt we were in a pretty good place at half-time. And we had a really good opportunity to score when Matt Healy broke away in the second half. To turn it over then and for them to go the full length of the pitch and score a try, it was a massive moment in the game.

It was essentially a 14-point swing and a momentum-killer and then you are battling when you are eight points down, you know you need to score twice and in a place where you haven't won since 1960 that's a tall order.

It was a huge task from there and it was a disappointing dressing room after the game. To come away without the losing bonus point was more frustrating again. All can you do going forward is to take the positives out of it.

Defence was our big focus coming into the game, and it has been for the last few weeks. Between not starting well in the first half of games and just having a few misreads, it was killing us.

Even though we conceded a few tries against Scarlets we felt that our shape was a lot better in defence. We just had a few things to tidy up going up to Ulster. In fairness we got good line speed right and put them under pressure at times. It was good to be able to do that against a quality team like Ulster, and you could see the rewards during the game.

But, in fairness to them, their try was a great counter-attacking effort between Charles Piutau and Jacob Stockdale. Kudos to them for that. But our general shape was a lot better and that is the big positive we will take from that game.

It's always tough starting the Challenge Cup away to a French side, but you just don't know what kind of mindset they are going to have. Traditionally, if a French team is struggling in the Top 14 they will just focus on the league, because that's their main competition and they want to stay up.

But it's really hard to know, we have to go in expecting them to come out all guns blazing. Really you are stepping into the unknown especially with the game not even being in Oyonnax.

You always place a massive focus on your first two games in Europe each season, and although we would obviously prefer to be playing Oyonnax in the Sportsground, we are going there to win.

They are struggling in the French league and there are definitely areas where we feel we can target them. We have done our homework and we are well prepared to go over there and get a result. And it will be great to get back to Galway for another big European outing in the Sportsground against Worcester.

We will have been three weeks away from the Sportsground after this weekend. The last time we were in Galway we had that gut-wrenching defeat against Cardiff Blues. We threw that game away but now we feel we are getting close to where we want to be.

We have come out on the wrong side of some results in recent weeks, between that Cardiff game, Scarlets and last weekend against Ulster. There are one or two things we need to tidy up on - we need to be more clinical.

But it will be great to get the Sportsground crowd behind us again, they always push us on that bit more too. And then you have the home comforts. You know the place and what advantages you will have. That is something we can use to our strength with a tough Worcester side coming over.

We would all keep a keen interest on what's going on in the Champions Cup this weekend too. You would watch all the games, but it is what it is and we are in the Challenge Cup this season.

There is definitely no regret over not being in it. That's the position we have put ourselves in. Connacht have never made it past the semi-finals of a Challenge Cup so that's the test we have set for ourselves this year.

We will still watch the other Irish provinces and see how they get on in the Champions Cup but there's only one focus for us this weekend.

Irish Independent

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