Connacht need to be a little more street smart tomorrow


ANALYSIS: Now the trauma of Christmas day and Brussels sprouts is behind me I can look forward to the possibilities of 2013. That said, dinner didn’t pass without incident where torn between three lovers I eventually went with two versions of the sprouts – roasting and frying – knocking a late third (boiling them for eight minutes) on the head. I do thank all those who offered (emailed) their many methods in aiding the task set by Monica!

This weekend I travel to the RDS for Connacht’s visit to Leinster. Much rugby has been played since the season openers on Friday, August 31th. Connacht find themselves in the bottom four of the RaboDirect Pro 12 league – played 11, won three and lost eight. Having been impressed at the Sportsground several times this season I’m amazed at their poor showing. Knowing an ambition to cement themselves in the middle four as a launch pad into the top four is high on their agenda, sitting above the Dragons and Zebre is hardly pleasant Christmas fare.

I was in Galway for the try fest that was Connacht 34, Leinster 6. It was followed a week later by a mauling in Ravenhill – 25 points to nil. So how can a team beat Harlequins last season and Biarritz weeks ago struggle so badly for positive consistency in their domestic league?

Losing to Munster in Galway last week was most disappointing. TMO decisions aside, Connacht were taught a valuable lesson from a Munster side shorn of many stars when maximising the pendulum swings where Munster through Ian Keatley did just that. Keatley pulled Fetu’u Vainikolo down in the corner preventing a certain try followed by a scrum penalty try – all in the decisive first half.

In the second half it fell to Peter Stringer’s tackle on George Naoupu to once again get the TMO involved. Two certain Connacht tries were averted by last-ditch tackles from the Munster half backs. Had Munster been down a forward would Connacht have gained a penalty try?

I’ve got the sense that Connacht lose to the opposition that has the most focused attitude, allied to the weather conditions of the day. In round four of the Heineken Cup, Biarritz were focused on their best style to suit the conditions and negotiated Connacht, having fallen to them a week earlier. Likewise Connacht’s brilliant success over Harlequins last season came about for many positive Connacht reasons but Harlequins stuck to a war of attrition, ignoring so many strengths out wide. Connacht, in trying to expand their game, have lost eight times in 11 starts.

Huge opportunity

The good news at the RDS tomorrow is that Leinster consistently struggle to remain totally focused on their game, conditions and Connacht themselves, when struggling with the westerners. This is a huge opportunity for Connacht. Tomorrow’s forecast is to dry slightly with risk of rain which won’t reach the excesses of Biarritz but does bring style into question. In Biarritz, Connacht erred in a game plan which was brave but a little naive. Given the correct conditions Connacht are as good at offloading (if not better) than any Pro 12 team. They have also conceded 39 points less than Leinster from the same amount of matches but have scored 107 points less.

Tomorrow, I hope Connacht can play the conditions, which will be better than today but hardly perfect. To do this they need to temper their ambition, in offloading and expanse, but not in ambition of field position and punishment of the opposition. Connacht are sixth best in defence and adapting to the conditions could reap a high reward tomorrow. They are 11th best in attack (one behind their Pro 12 position) which means their attack is keeping them in the bottom four of the competition. Hence, to err in field position and defensive style tomorrow, especially if the conditions deteriorate, is the best way.

As Munster proved last week, living in the conditions of the moment maximises the pendulum swings. While Connacht can argue the toss over TMO and tactics, they lost and have done so eight times from 11 starts in the Pro 12 . They have made massive improvements in a very short space of time, much of which is linked to the victories over Harlequins last season and Biarritz this season. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and Connacht have done brilliantly in their first two seasons thus far in reacting to the Leinster-afforded opportunities (Heineken Cup wins). Remember how Ulster struggled for a decade to get to where they are now?

Considering the run Leinster are on it is conceivable they are very vulnerable to Connacht which is why I believe they will produce some of their most focused and damaging rugby this season. In many ways Connacht’s arrival at the RDS will bring the best out of the European champions; a great compliment to Connacht but worthless unless they win.

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