Wednesday 21 March 2018

'We've used European competition to kick-start the season'

Since his arrival at Sportsground, former Saint has added a steadying hand at the set-piece

James Cannon of Connacht Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
James Cannon of Connacht Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Whether he is studying the intricacies of an opposition lineout, or what it takes to move one rung further up the real estate ladder, James Cannon is intent on accuracy.

Now in his second season at the Sportsground, the 29-year-old has become a first team regular in Connacht green and 15 appearances this season tell the full story.

Cannon is the lineout caller when he is on the pitch but off of it the second-rows work as a unit, and the start of every week brings about new challenges that the former Northampton Saint thrives on.

"In most of the games that I have played I have been calling the lineouts. It's a part of the game that I have been used to. I've done it a fair bit and it's nothing new," says Cannon.

"Obviously when you play different teams and have different systems and there is a few tweaks each week. But in terms of picking options, it's not something that has been thrust upon me. It's something I have done in the past and enjoy.

"At the start of the week there is usually a lot of time spent in front of a laptop analysing the game you just played, and then having a look at the opposition for the following week and seeing where you think there might be opportunities.

"It's not one man's job, there is a group of players that do it. Jimmy Duffy is forwards coach and being an ex-second-row he has got a lot of good ideas on how things should be done. It's a working group rather than a dictatorship."

Cannon grew up in Kettering and played soccer before the likely route towards rugby took him into the Northampton ranks, from there he signed for Wasps.

Six seasons and 93 games later, ex-Connacht coach Pat Lam signed him up during an injury crisis, but Cannon's sizeable 6ft8ins frame didn't arrive just to make up the numbers.

"I arrived at the end of September last season. It took a little bit of getting used to. But everyone has been fantastic since I have got here," says Cannon.

"Every rugby club is similar. You get on with the lads and they soon make you feel very welcome. This season hasn't felt like I am much of a new player at all.

"Results have been a bit disappointing considering we haven't put together as many wins as we would like. We have been very close in a few games but haven't got over the line.

"We have got a very competitive group of second-rows. You have to show your mettle every week. I have been fortunate to play a fair bit.

"There is still a lot of games to go this season. We are coming up to the business end and they are games that everyone wants to be involved in."

INJURY Cannon has played 32 times for Connacht but picked up an AC shoulder joint injury in their 39-13 interprovincial derby defeat against Munster at Thomond Park on January 6.

Defeat was a setback for Kieran Keane's side after they put up a record 44-16 scoreline against Ulster, and ran high-flying Leinster very close at the RDS.

"The interpros are a huge occasions and before I came over to Connacht I didn't really appreciate how big the interpros are," Cannon says. "The atmosphere in the ground and build-up to the game is great. That's why we play, the kind of energy that comes off playing in front of big crowds and passionate supporters on the pitch. It's a great occasion.

"I have a few mixed feelings about the festive period. We were delighted as a squad with the performance we put together in the Ulster game and the result that we got. But ever so disappointed with the result over in Leinster where we thought we might have snuck the game.

"Leinster are a very good side and used to seeing out wins. That's something where we can kind of build onto our game and get a little better at. The game at Munster was very disappointing. It's something we have addressed as a squad and hopefully that won't happen again."

Connacht proved their character at Worcester last weekend but just failed to pull off a miraculous comeback victory after they trailed 24-14 at half-time, with Quinn Roux and Jarrad Butler in the sin-bin.

But they are still in control of their European destiny and Cannon knows the significance of a potential home quarter-final, the tenth time Connacht have reached the knockout stages in the Challenge Cup.

"Through our season we have really used the European competitions to kick-start things. We played some good rugby and had some good results," said Cannon.

"We look forward as a squad to the European games because it's a change of scenery. You are playing different teams that you are not used to playing.

"And obviously if we manage to get out of the group with a home quarter-final, it gives us a great chance for knockout rugby and the chance at silverware. It's something we as a squad really look forward to."

But despite his injury Cannon was still working hard off the field this week. He is studying a Master's in Real Estate at the University College of Estate Management and had an essay due on Tuesday.

"That career applies worldwide so it certainly gives you options. But hopefully I have got a few more years playing in me yet," says Cannon.

"It's something that interests me and I said I would have a look at it. I have done work experience around that sector as well and it sets me up for a few years down the line."

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport