Second best not good enough
A TRY and conversion by Llanelli Scarlets out-half Stephen Jones five minutes from full-time broke Connacht hearts at the Sportsground in Galway last Friday night.
Having led 6–3 at the break and 14-3 midway through the second half we looked to be in the driving seat, and very much in control of our first home game of 2009.
But after a line-out catch and drive five metres from our line by the Scarlets pack that allowed prop forward Decan Manu to burrow over for a try that Jones converted, the visitors grew in confidence and threw everything at us as they went in search of a winning score. A hole in the defensive line offered Jones the opportunity to barge over beside the posts after we had already soaked up a lot of pressure.
We didn’t help ourselves though. When the final whistle blew my initial thoughts were that we just kicked the ball away too much in the second half allowing the Scarlets to pile on the pressure with multiple phases of attack.
But in the cold light of day as I look back on the game 24hrs later it’s easier to see that the problem wasn’t with the decision to kick but more the accuracy and precision of our kicking.
Just like the hooker has a job to find his jumper in the line-out, the kickers have to either turn the defence or find space in opposition territory. We failed to effectively clear our lines at times and I won’t be let off the hook by the coaching staff on Monday morning for a couple of my kicks either.
It was hugely disappointing. Just like after the Leinster game when we came agonisingly close to a memorable win only to be left empty-handed by two late tries, this defeat is a sickening blow.
The effort on the field cannot be faulted over the last month but with only five points gained from the Munster, Leinster and Scarlets games we still find ourselves four points adrift of Cardiff and nine behind Ulster and the Newport Gwent Dragons at the wrong end of the table.
But, we should still move forward with confidence. We have played some good rugby in the last month and certainly there have been signs of learning, improved performances and more consistency.
At this stage of the season though it’s all about winning and nothing else (when is it any different, I suppose?) but as our focus now changes to European action, rest assured that when the Magners League resumes in mid February we will be determined to make up the lost ground in order to keep our goal of Heineken Cup rugby alive.
LONDON IRISH CALLING FOR US NEXT WEEKEND
GUINNESS Premiership pace-setters and pool one leaders in the European Challenge Cup, London Irish, are our next opponents this weekend.
Having already beaten us 27-10 at the Sportsground back in October the London side will be looking to complete the double over us and maintain their unbeaten run in the competition.
Kick-off on Saturday is at 3pm at Reading’s Madejski Stadium and a large crowd of ex-pats are expected to turn out. I also know Ballina rugby club are bringing over 50 mini rugby kids for the weekend not only to see the game but to partake in a couple of matches themselves against local opposition. A brave undertaking by the 20 plus adults who are in the travelling party!
The following week we host French club Dax at the Sportsground. The crowds have grown at the College Road venue over the last couple of years and have been instrumental in many of our victories. We hope another big crowd will turn out on Friday week and hopefully see us progress to the quarter-final of the Challenge Cup for the first time in three seasons.
LIFE AFTER RUGBY IS STARTING NOW
AS professional rugby players we are often asked, ‘So how often do you train?’ When we reply with the usual answer, ‘Twice on Mondays, twice on Tuesdays, day off Wednesday, train Thursday and play Friday with either a recovery session on a Saturday morning or training on Sunday’ the next question is usually, ‘So what do you do for a real job?!’Aside from training, meetings, video analysis and physio treatment, yes, we do have a bit of free time alright. Sometimes it is necessary to just put the feet up and relax, although we like to call this ‘rest and recovery’ as it doesn’t make us out to be as lazy!
A lot of lads do put this time to good use though. Some lads are still in full time education finishing off college or university courses but all of us are mindful of the fact that we will indeed have to get a ‘real job’ at some stage down the line.
A recent survey conducted by the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) has revealed that professional rugby players face major issues on retirement. One of the core issues unveiled by the study is that 41% of pro players suffered enforced retirement directly as a result of an injury.
The impact of this involuntary retirement is felt significantly in terms of post rugby career planning, meaning that no matter how prepared a player may think they are for retirement and life post rugby, there is a 40% chance that you will retire before you think you would like to. So like the boy scouts we are determined to be somewhat prepared!
Personally, uncertain as to how I might best put a degree in Commerce I got six years ago to use, I’m now halfway through a two-year long physical fitness and conditioning course that a few of us on the squad are doing. Although we do help each other out there is no denying that there is a bit of a battle on for the top marks and best qualification because it’s all about the bragging rights!
A few of the lads are doing exams to become qualified financial advisers while others are doing a computer course on Monday nights. This group is the quickest to show off their newfound tricks, especially in relation to editing and printing with most of the squad falling victim to slanderous and outlandish poster campaigns on a Tuesday morning!
IRUPA have a full time career services advisor in place to provide one to one guidance on all aspects of a rugby player’s career, education and personal development in order to make the transition out of professional rugby as smooth as possible when the time comes. But we all hope it won’t be for a few years yet.