By John O’Sullivan Attack coach Nigel Carolan believes that the breakdown will be a key area of battle in Connacht’s PRO14 trip to the Cardiff Blues on Saturday.
The Westerners started their domestic campaign with a 28-24 victory over The Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground last weekend, a win built on a combination of sturdy defence and efficient attacking.
The Blues, meanwhile, opened their season with a 16-6 win away to Zebre in Italy and Carolan anticipates a big challenge from the Welshmen, especially at the breakdown, and wants to see Connacht improve their discipline.
“Looking back at the last game, what we learned from that game was the discipline, the ill discipline and how that can pressure our game; how it puts so much pressure onto our defence and how it inhibits our attack. It doesn’t give us the opportunities that we would like,” the former Irish U20’s coach said.
“They’re a big threat over the breakdown. You have got Ollie Robinson and (Josh) Navidi and, traditionally, Cardiff go hard after the ball so there will be a big focus on the breakdown. And, in some cases, we’ll need to play a little bit more without the ball, so we’re not giving them the life they want by stealing our ball at the breakdown.”
In the victory over Glasgow, Connacht scored two tries from quick thinking, transitional plays-- attacking as soon as possession was won -- and Carolan was pleased to see facets of the game forged on the training paddock pay dividends in a game.
“It’s a massive part of our game(transitional plays) and where we see our attack is in the transition game, in what some may term the unstructured part of the game. But for us it’s not really unstructured because we try and create a little bit of structure around that.
We focus a lot on playing off turnovers and trying to capitalise on turnovers. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been playing a lot of little games, working from kick transitions and turnover transitions, and trying to go forward on the ball and finding other players' space is the terms we’re looking to do when we’re in transition.
It’s pleasing that that’s starting to pay reward,” the former Connacht centre said.
New signing Alex Wootton, meanwhile, says that he is enjoying playing under Andy Friend and is thriving in the attacking style of rugby played at the Sportsground.
The former Sevens player -- who joined on a season long loan from Munster -- feels he has settled in quicker to life with the Westerners because of the emphasis Connacht -- with former Australian Seven coach Friend a key factor -- place on a quick style of play.
With assists for Kieran Marmion and Bundee Aki tries -- both with accurate grubber kicks in behind -- against Ulster and Glasgow respectively, Wootton has already made a telling contribution.
“Absolutely, yeah”, the 26-year-old said when asked whether Connacht’s style suits his skillset as a former Sevens player.
“Sevens was a big stepping stone for myself, as well for a few other people as well who have gone on to play professional 15’s. It’s definitely something which was highlighted a good few times, speaking to Andy. That was definitely a tick in the box. We hit it off from that side of things,” Wootton said.
On and off the ball, the Sportsground teams back three impressed versus Glasgow. With Irish international’s Matt Healy and Tiernan O’Halloran to return -- as well as Peter Sullivan and John Porch in contention -- the competition for places for a starting berth at full back or on the wings is huge.
With so many quality players vying for position, Connacht are in admirable position and can only benefit and Wootton says that the challenge is exciting and that it is improving each player as an individual
“You look at the squad and you’ve got Tiernan -- who is a capped international -- and you got Matt Healy, who is a capped international, and these are guys who are yet to come back in.
By no means, and kudos to the coaches that are building the squad well, is there anything(a preferred back three) set in stone. That might have happened before and you look at other provinces and you can say ‘that’s definitely their starting back three’ but that’s definitely not the case here.
That’s bringing the best out of all of us. That goes right down through the squad and into the academy as well,” the former Irish U20 winger said.