By Linley Mackenzie
(this article first appeared in the Galway Advertiser)
Connacht can give themselves a real chance of qualifying for European quarter-finals if they repeat their performance and victory over Brive in the Galway Sportsground on Saturday (3pm ).
The hardest work was done last weekend in France, and now Connacht, backed by a home crowd, must use that advantage to help nail down a Challenge Cup quarter-final at home, and head into the Christmas interprovincials with momentum and confidence.
It is a realistic outcome if Connacht display the same character, attacking desire, and defensive structure, that saw them fight back from a 16-point deficit in the Limousin region, while also improving consistency and discipline.
“The most important thing for Connacht is consistency,” says backs coach Nigel Carolan. “Hopefully the game against Brive is like Oyonnax in the first block which kicked us off to a run of four wins. We have some huge games coming up and that level of consistency is really important.
Despite the away win, Carolan says Connacht cannot afford to be complacent. “On our trips to Cardiff and Zebre, we failed to spark, but at home, certainly in the latter stages of the first block, we were good. We haven’t played here for a few weeks so we are looking forward to being in front of a festive home crowd, and producing the performance that can achieve the result we badly need again.”
Brive’s rolling maul, which is their number one weapon, did the early damage last Saturday, but Carolan insists it comes down to indiscipline.
“That is what Brive has been doing in the Top 14. Unfortunately we had a player in the sin bin when they scored the first one, and on the second, a couple of our roles were wrong, so we will be working hard to address that this week. But to have put ourselves there in the first place was our own indiscipline which allowed them access to our 22, so we have to ensure our discipline is better.”
With no fresh injuries from that 38-31 win in Brive, Connacht is hoping Eoin McKeon (hamstring ), having returned to training, will be fit, while Craig Ronaldson (calf ) and Peter Robb (hip ) also came through the Eagles’ win over Richmond. Tom McCartney, who suffered a haematoma against Cardiff, is also expected back on duty. No restrictions have been imposed on Irish players by Joe Schmidt, but coach Kieran Keane may opt to rest some of those players ahead of the Ulster fixture.
Carolan insists the team is starting to gel.
“We have grown massively as a team. It’s been a new approach how we play a game, and it’s taken time to bed in. We created opportunities and it’s down to the lads, down to the way we play. It is not a prescribed process, it’s figuring it out, and there are mistakes along the way, but it does produce some outstanding phases of play and creates opportunities to score, and we have to be clinical enough to score those.
“We are playing on the edge, and there’s a fine line, and sometimes we get the wrong call, but we have to push the boat out. If we improve discipline, we would have more possession and we are dangerous when we have the ball.
“I think there is real competition in the squad, it is finding the balance and those players who are willing to take ownership and account for themselves. Confidence breeds courage, which is about ambition, not only as a club, but how we play, but it does come with risks.”