We just had to slay Dragons
CONNACHT recorded a valuable bonus point victory over the Gwent Dragons in the Sportsground last Friday night that will hopefully prove to be a timely boost of confidence as we press on towards the business end of the season.
It was great to get the win but the manner in which we achieved the bonus point with five second half tries was particularly pleasing. The squad has worked hard over the last few months but with little reward to show for the effort. Two disappointing away defeats to the Ospreys and Edinburgh sandwiched a frustrating and inexcusable second half collapse at home to Cardiff when we threw away a fourteen point lead.
Finding ourselves eleven points adrift at the bottom of the Magners League with six games to go meant it was vital we won last Friday. No matter how determined you are to learn from mistakes and build on the positives you are ultimately judged by results.
If we had lost last weekend it would have been a tall order to achieve our goal of Heineken Cup qualification through the league. With five games to go people would have been writing it off as yet another failed league campaign. Even after the win on Friday some people will still feel it’s too little too late, but we feel we have given ourselves a chance.
After a roller coaster of a campaign we are now only six points adrift. We are still in touch. We still have hope. But more importantly we still believe!
Trailing 10-3 at half time we needed to call on that belief. People asked afterwards what was said at half time, ‘Ye must have got a roasting’ was the general consensus. There wasn’t much shouting or roaring to tell the truth. We didn’t suddenly come up with a magic formula either. We just agreed we had to keep plugging away with added intensity and accuracy. Sure, we had made a few mistakes but we were still in the game.
We managed to get the ball over their try-line twice but were held up so we knew we had caused them problems when we attacked. The second half just turned into one of those halves of rugby when things just seem to go your way. Rucks were being cleared out that little bit better. Tackles were slowing their ball down a little more, and off-loads were sticking rather than being knocked on. Suddenly we had scored five tries in 40 minutes when the most we had managed in a league game up until then was two.
It was nice to be able to return to the dressing room and pat ourselves on the back for a change but we are certainly not getting carried away as next up in the league we face Munster away in Thomond Park on Saturday week.
Again, last Saturday, the champions of Europe showed just how good they in overcoming Leinster for the second time this season with a clinical 22-5 win. Leinster threw everything at them but Munster’s defence yet again was immense. Every tackle and ruck was a turned into a contest, resulting in scrappy ball for Chris Whittaker and Felipe Contemponi. The breakdown is always of huge importance against Munster as they seem to know every trick in the book to slow the attack down!
NOTHING EASY ABOUT
TRIP TO NORTHAMPTON
IT will be absolutely no different this weekend when we travel to Franklins Garden to take on Premiership side Northampton in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup.
The midlands side have bounced back and found their feet in the top flight after a year in National Division one. They have lost only once in two seasons at the very impressive Franklins Garden which plays host to 15,000 passionate, vocal, and extremely loyal ‘Saints’ supporters.
Under the coaching of Jim Malinder and Dorian West, Northampton play a very physical and direct game but with All-Black Bruce Reihana and English international Ben Foden part of a fast and clinical back three, they can strike from all over the pitch. Their confidence will certainly be sky-high too after producing a powerful display to defeat Gloucester 40-22 last weekend.
We will be up against it for sure, but we will take heart from Connacht’s previous encounters against the Saints when the two sides met at a similar stage in Europe in 1997-1998. Laden down with internationals like Nick Beal, Jonathan Bell, Budge Poutney, Gregor Townsend and Martin Bayfield, Northampton were overwhelming favourites to record double victories over Connacht.
However, with Warren Gatland at the helm, Connacht surprised the English side with a stunning display at the Sportsground to win 43-13. A month later in Franklins Garden, Connacht withstood a late onslaught to secure a memorable 20-15 victory. Eric Elwood (current coach at Connacht), Pat Duignan, Nicky Barry, Conor McGuinness, Mervyn Murphy (Ireland’s video analyst at present) Nigel Carolan (currently head of the Connacht Academy) and Willie Ruane (who is a cousin of mine) capitalised on a huge forward effort by the likes of Mark Finlay, Martin Cahill, Graham Heaslip, Barry Gavin, Shane McEntee, Mark McConnell, Junior Charlie and captain Rory Rodgers.
It will require a similar effort and more by the current Connacht squad to upset the odds this time around. With no break now until the end of the season the games are going to come thick and fast. Thankfully there is a still a hell of a lot to play for!