Wednesday 22 November 2017

Elwood's praise for 'super' Gannon despite loss


Hugh Farrelly, at the Sportsground

WITH Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan and Leo Cullen all in their 30s, one of the debates swirling around Irish rugby post-World Cup concerned a perceived 'crisis' in long-term second-row options.

Those concerns seem less acute following a series of strong performances from Donnacha Ryan, Mike McCarthy, Devin Toner and Dan Tuohy in recent weeks and, on a grim night in Galway, another second-row served notice of his potential with a stand-out display.

With McCarthy suspended and his regular partner Michael Swift injured, Connacht coach Eric Elwood was forced to switch George Naoupu into the engine room and needed a line-out leader to cater for the absence of McCarthy.

Cue David Gannon, whose performance out of touch -- providing security on Connacht's throw and posing a threat on the Ospreys' -- was outstanding. Credit must also go to the two hookers, Adrian Flavin and Ethienne Reynecke, for accurate throwing in ridiculously windy conditions.

"It's right to single him out, I thought Dave had a super game," said Elwood. "I thought he controlled the line-out, in really difficult conditions. The loss of Mick McCarthy and Mike Swift was big, but I thought Dave was fantastic."

It may be a bit late, at 28, to talk of a coming-of-age performance, but this felt like a major statement on the part of a player who has operated largely under the radar for most of his career.

The line-out was the major positive on a deeply disappointing night for Elwood's side, who have now gone seven games without a win.

The knock-on effects of the previous week's Heineken Cup excitement was reflected in a healthy, and vociferous, crowd of 4,107 but they were left frustrated by a performance that deserved more than it produced.

While accepting that the Ospreys are not of the same quality as Toulouse, this was a much improved performance by Connacht, who dominated possession and territory for large periods of the game. With goalposts careering wildly in the gale, it was not a night for place-kicking, and though Miah Nikora was able to knock over two penalties, Connacht needed tries. They regularly put themselves into scoring positions but buckled at the critical moments, and Ospreys coach Sean Holley will be satisfied by the tenacity of the visitors' defence -- notably when Paul O'Donohue was denied in the act of grounding.

Matters were not helped by the inconsistent refereeing of Andrew McMenemy, who could have reached for the yellow card far sooner than the 46th minute, when the combative Ian Gough finally paid the price for consistent Ospreys infringements.

The Ospreys were also allowed to dance either side of the offside line, which put the Connacht backline under extra pressure, but the decision that elicited the greatest roar of indignation from the Clan Stand was Connacht dubiously being called back for crossing after the impressive Tiernan O'Halloran had scythed his way into open space.

The Ospreys responded with a try from Sonny Parker and it was game over. A crestfallen Elwood accepted that the crossing call hurt his side badly but said Connacht only had themselves to blame for this defeat, and must become more clinical close to the line.

"It's disappointing," Elwood said. "We gave away two soft scores and when we got into the opposition '22', we lost the ball six or seven times in contact. If you get chances like that, you've got to take them. We have to be more clinical, more ruthless and more physical."

John Muldoon had a big game, but Connacht are missing the out-and-out openside skills of Johnny O'Connor. Treviso's visit to the Sportsground next week is now a must-win.

"It's tough, but things are never easy here," said Elwood. "We targeted this one and we are disappointed to get nothing for our big effort. We just have to dust ourselves down and get ready -- it's all we can do. It's our job."

CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); B Tuohy (M McCrea 68), D McSharry, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran; M Nikora (N O'Connor 51), P O'Donohoe (F Murphy 51); B Wilkinson (R Loughney 54), A Flavin (E Reyneke 54), R Ah You (S Maguire 68); D Gannon, G Naoupu; TJ Anderson (M Kearney 40), J Muldoon, R Ofisa (E Grace 71).

OSPREYS -- B Davies; T Bowe (H Dirksen 74), A Bishop, A Beck (S Parker 53), R Fussell; M Morgan, R Webb (T Isaacs 78); D Jones (J Rees 78), R Hibbard (M Davies 75), A Jarvis (C Griffiths 57); I Gough (L Peers 78), J King; T Smith (capt, L Peers 51-57), C O'Toole (G Stowers 51), J Bearman. Yellow card: Gough 46.

REF -- A McMenemy (Scotland).

Irish Independent

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