Time to enjoy a welcome break
THE Autumn Internationals kicked off last weekend with the top sides of the Southern Hemisphere all coming north to take on the best Europe have to offer.
You wouldn’t have got a great return on your money for betting that New Zealand, Australia and world champions South Africa would emerge victorious over the weekend while both England and Ireland also proved the bookies right with comfortable wins against the Pacific Islanders and Canada respectively.
Martin Johnson and Declan Kidney will be pleased to get the show on the road after lengthy build-ups to their first games in charge as national coaches but both will know their squads will face stiffer tests over the coming weekends.
Here in Connacht we also played against International opposition as Portugal came to a wet and windy Sporstground on Sunday evening for what was the first of their two matches against Irish opposition (they play Ulster on Thursday).
The Magners League is in the middle of a four week break as is the All Ireland League so Sunday’s game was an ideal opportunity for the Connacht management to not only give the likes of David Gannon, Tim Donnelly and Conor O’Loughlin some game time on their return from long term injuries but also to offer young home-grown players like John O’Brien and David Nolan an opportunity to win their first caps for the province.
The weather was atrocious but both sides tried to play attacking rugby in front of the regular hardy band of home supporters who were surprisingly accompanied by a very vocal and enthusiastic Portuguese contingent.
They seemed to enjoy the first ever opportunity of seeing their national side play in the West of Ireland and they would have been encouraged by their team’s opening half hour as the visitors defence held firm under constant Connacht pressure.
Eventually that pressure took its toll however as Troy Nathan and John O’Brien scored well worked tries, both excellently converted by Andy Dunne from close to the right touchline, as half-time approached.
Portugal struck back after the restart as winger Goncalo Foro finished well for a good try after 49 minutes but Connacht finished much the stronger. Replacements Brett Wilkinson and Mel Deane made it four tries to one and at full time the scoreboard read: Connacht 27, Portugal 11.
Long ‘weight’ is over as new gym opens up
I, along with a few other members of the squad were not involved in the game last Sunday and having these four weekends free from games allows us to really concentrate on specific game skills such as tackling, handling and kicking while also getting some extra quality fitness and conditioning sessions done. We all have specific areas we need to work on. Some lads are working on upper body strength, some on general fitness while others are focusing on rehabbing niggly injuries they may have been carrying over the last few weeks.
Personally I’m focusing on leg strength and power, both of which are vitally important in the modern game. The ability to stay on your feet in contact be it as the tackler or the ball carrier not only comes down to body position and angles but to leg strength.
In order to win these contact areas or ‘collisions’ and break through tackles players rely on leg strength and power. With appropriate speed drills worked into these weight sessions the gains made in leg strength and power will transfer into greater speed and acceleration…I hope!
We have just opened a new state-of-the-art gym at the Sportsground complete with a 33 meters indoor running track. It’s a huge improvement and addition to present facilities and we are all looking forward to getting in there for the first time this week.
It is built specifically to meet our requirements and one aspect I’m looking forward to is being officially allowed to just ‘Drop’ the weights when you are finished with them. When you have just struggled to lift a heavy weight sometimes the last thing you think about or worry about is ensuring that the weight returns gently to the ground. Now with suitable platforms and weight plates the fitness staff have one less thing to give out to us about!
The track will also allow us a greater opportunity to develop our speed work during the winter as pitches become heavier underfoot.
Ultimately, we hope the new training opportunities afforded by this new facility will see us develop as a squad and enhance our ability to compete with the top sides on a more consistent basis.
Not a happy Halloween for ‘kidnapped’ biscuits
IT’S with great relief I can announce that it was a peaceful Halloween for the Connacht squad this year.
There were numerous instances of mischief last year, the biggest talking point being who egged and floured cars belonging to members of the squad across the city.
It was, of course, an inside job and while the usual suspects were interrogated, the perpetrators still deny responsibility to this day. This year, however, an early Halloween truce seemed to have been called after the kidnapping of the belongings of David Gannon, Andrew Dunne and John Lynne, who all live together.
In an elaborate plot, a bogus e-mail account was set up by the ‘terrorists’ who proceeded to involve the whole squad in their ransom demands made in relation to the DVDs, TV and Playstation remote controls and two packets of biscuits now in their possession.
Subsequent photos sent by e-mail showed that the biscuits were not going to last the ordeal but all the rest of the goods were returned after a poll was conducted in which the squad had to choose the outcome of the ‘hostage situation’. Again, those involved are using that well-known phrase adopted by those seeking to establish a tight-knit unit of ‘ Loose Lips Sink Ships’. Peace prevails for the moment but suspicion remains!