The last days of September see us reaching the end of the first block of Magners League games. It has been a difficult period for us and we need to finish it off with a good performance and good win against Connacht.
Realistically, I would have thought a lot of people on the outside would have said we would beat Ulster at home, struggle against Ospreys and Munster away, and it would be a tight call against Leinster. I dont think we are a million miles away from where people thought we would be, but as a group of coaches and squad of players, we are a bit disappointed.
We felt going into the Leinster game we could win it and afterwards we felt we should have won it. We had all the territory and possession but didnt take our chances. The midweek game against the Ospreys was always going to be difficult because of all the changes in a three-day turnaround. Ulster was another quick turnaround and the players were all extremely tired but it was a game we had to win. We didnt play well but the result was more important than the performance.
Last weekend, Munster put all their big hitters out against us. I thought we gave a really good account of ourselves and if it wasnt for another poor decision that went against us, I feel we could have won the match. Im not saying we would have won it but the yellow card really killed us. We werent given a penalty try against Leinster in our opening match, so without bleating too much and looking as if we are making excuses, weve had two bad decisions that have gone against us, which I feel possibly cost us two wins. Over the course of the season, that normally balances itself out so Im looking forward to having two little pieces of luck that will go our way because we certainly havent had any good fortune so far.
Weve played four games now but as I said, the first week was always going to be difficult and we werent going to see what we were really capable of. We were a lot better in all aspects in the match against Munster and we need to keep up that level of performance. If we do so, we will win a lot more games than we lose. However, we dont want to tap ourselves on the back too much because at the end of the day, we lost the game. It would have been great to come away with some points as I felt we deserved something, but yet again it wasnt to be. We can take a lot of heart and a lot of confidence from the match because they were the team that won the Heineken Cup, so were not a million miles away. Weve got to keep working and keep being positive. Its a long old season and were only three weeks in.
With regards to the new ELVs, weve noticed that there has been some change in the way teams play this season. The driving lineout has become pretty much redundant, its an area we have to move away from. Most teams are seeing that also. What the new rules have produced is a lot more kicking in matches and teams being a lot more direct off the back of the scrums.
With the new 5-yard rule, basically its very easy to get over the gain-line if youre direct. The new rules have resulted in changes to styles of play and when the coaches and players get more used to them, they will find out more ways to exploit them. The opening matches have also seen referees interpretations vary from game to game. Some areas are regulated far stricter by some referees than others. I dont like criticising referees but weve had two decisions that I feel have cost us dearly.
In the first week, I felt not many of the players did themselves justice because the matches were crammed in. Now we have to try to get some continuity in selection leading into the EDF Energy and Heineken Cup matches. Its a long season and as weve seen it in the past, weve thought we were blessed in certain positions and you end up with two or three injuries to players that can really affect you. Squads win trophies not teams. Whether this squad is good enough, only time will tell. We have to use it wisely because when it comes to the business end of the season, we have to make sure we are in a position to get our best team on the field.
I have great respect for our opponents tonight. What we expect from Connacht is what we get year on year, a very honest workmanlike performance with players really playing their hearts out for each other. They are also very well organised by their coaching staff. Theres plenty of variation in their game but Id like to think, physically and skills wise, wed have the edge on them. We have go out and win because every game you play against Connacht is a potential banana skin for every team. Im sure theyll come to the Arms Park determined to get some points. However, we have to build on our Munster performance and put away any opportunities we have. We were better against Munster but in the first three games we were getting ourselves in position and not scoring the points. I felt against Leinster and Ulster if we had gone two scores in front, we would have kicked on and won those games comfortably. We need to be scoring more tries and more points this evening.
Enjoy the match.