I said last week that the real test of this Glasgow game would be how Connacht bounced back from the defeat, and that is still the case. Somehow many of us fans have begun to inhabit a bolshy sort of attitude where we expect to beat Cardiff Blues at home this weekend. This is despite the fact that they have many more internationals than Connacht and did the double on Connacht last season. In fairness I do also believe that we should win this fixture, and I believe we could have won it last year but failed to do so.
Despite losing to Glasgow there are a lot of positive vibes surrounding the teams performance, even though the vast majority of fans didn’t get to see the game. While Connacht sloppily gave up an intercept and a blockdown try, its fair to say these scores don’t happen very often even to the worst of teams, and when you deduct those points from the final scoreline (which we all automatically did, right?) then you’re left with a picture that is overall quite flattering to Connacht. This was enhanced by the kind words of various Scottish commentators who made Connacht sound like a quality outfit that Glasgow just about outperformed. After the win against Leinster there was always going to be some sort of comedown, and maybe the mistakes that I discuss below can be attributed to a sort of defense hangover. There were a number of positives about last weeks game as well, not least the efficiency that Connacht went about scoring and the penalty try at the end which further enhances our packs reputation as one of the scrums to beat this year.
However personally I would be more concerned about the ‘real’ tries that Glasgow scored, which were all too reminiscent of Connacht of the past few years when players switched off at key moments. For Hogg’s first try Poolman was essentially left to defend the short side himself, which obviously didn’t end well. In theory Carty was also supposed to provide cover but he was not in the correct position to do so and only got across in time to see the ball touched down.
I felt that Porter was partially responsible for at least two of the Glasgow tries and no I’m not talking about the chargedown. Rather I feel if Marmion, or indeed any other semi-experienced scrum half had been playing, then there would have been much more pressure on Pyrgos at the scrum and/or he would have at least attempted to get a tackle in before the ball went to Hogg. Instead he clearly is unaware of his defensive duties at this scrum and this allows the Glasgow backs to easily outnumber Poolman and Carty.
For the third try Dave McSharry made a somewhat uncharacteristic error by leaping in the air to try and smack down a high cut out pass from Hogg who had correctly read McSharry’s movements. Before McSharry attempted this Glasgow were moving well but should not have been a huge threat in that position and could easily have been bundled into touch or tackled and turned over. Instead McSharry completely took himself out of the defensive cover and gave the numerical advantage to Glasgow. Admittedly there was still a lot of work to be done and there was some very nice handling from Glasgow which allowed Hogg to eventually score. However the decision by McSharry was in my opinion completely wrong; there was no chance of him catching the ball, so at best he would have made a deliberate knock on and could have been binned which would obviously have given Glasgow even more scoring opportunities.
At sixes and sevens?
The fourth Glasgow try was initially very disappointing and at first it appeared to be a classic case of Connacht switching off in a terrible position, but there are some caveats. McKeon at 7 was playing out of position and did not break off quickly enough to make an effective tackle. As he is not totally new to playing on the flank I think he should have done better, but if given time in the role I would hope he would not make this mistake again. Porter again was putting zero pressure on Pyrgos and does not react at all when the ball had left the scrum and was travelling very quickly away from him. We have seen Marmion make some great tackles on eights coming off the base of the scrum in the past and I expect he would have tried the same in this instance, or at least challenged for the ball in some way. The fact that the scrum wheeled slightly towards Porter is even more aggravating as a strong tackle here could have won Connacht the ball or at the very least slowed Glasgow’s attack significantly, possibly causing a poor pass which would have been a big help in preventing that try.
The referee possibly slows Porter a tad as he does start to get in position on the far side of the scrum to make a tackle but at that point its much too late. Porter should have been 3-4m closer to the pass from Pyrgos to DTH than he was. I’m not even asking that Porter make the tackle, simply that he is up there and in a position to make things difficult for the winger. Instead he is easily sold by Pyrgos’ change of direction pass and doesn’t even react to the run of Van Der Merve. There were definitely more than just McKeon and Porter at fault for that try but the momentum the Glasgow winger had built up to ghost past the rest of the defense was founded on mistakes by the Connacht twosome. While its obviously very harsh to criticize a scrum half making his first start away from home to the league runners up, Porter will not have many chances to bed into his role gently, and although he has very few Ulster appearances at 26 does not get a pass on account of youth. I said at the start of the season that I was unconvinced by this signing and nothing has changed – he was unable to usurp either Marshall or Heaney at Ulster, neither of whom are particularly good.
All three of those tries were quite well worked on Glasgow’s part but none of them were unpreventable. Rather they were mainly based on mistakes and a lack of attention from Connacht. Having seen the excellent 80 minute defensive performance of the previous weekend this is extremely disappointing and must be fixed immediately.
I watched the Leinster-Cardiff game for clues as to what they will do and my main take home point was simply that the Blues are an extremely impatient team. Rather than going through the phases and building a platform for attack they are far more likely to start playing silly buggers and throwing the ball around without thinking about territory. They are not particularly threatening when they do this to a team as players often become isolated, but if Connacht fail to react in a calm and structured way then it will open up space for Blues to attack. The second thing is that Patchell has been playing out of position at 15 but this might well change soon. He makes them a very different prospect to the team that faced Leinster and will direct play much better from 10, bringing Cuthbert and their big centres into the game more and closer to the gain line. Again its nothing Connacht shouldn’t be able to handle unless they are caught out by changes in the direction of attack.
Although Cardiff have an all international front row I don’t believe they are as threatening as they would have been just a year ago and Connacht should be able to achieve parity as a matter of course. Cardiff tried Leinster’s trick of having the six burrow into the front row but as long as the referee is made aware of this beforehand or soon into the game it will not make much impact. At this point we can’t know if Warburton will feature, but he looked rusty against Leinster and could probably do with another run out so I would not be surprised. Navidi was more effective in the jackalling role but that could change depending on Warburton himself. Regardless their backrow was not particularly threatening against Leinster. I would start George to give Connacht some momentum and power in the early stages and put McKeon on the bench if Faloon comes back into the starting team. Five penalties versus Glasgow’s ten is a serious improvement on past performances but at least two of those handed Glasgow points. Against Patchell and his giant boot, five penalties could easily win Blues the game. Obviously its all about pitch position in this instance but its something to work on for the week.
Maybe I’m not giving Cardiff enough credit, hence the bolshy attitude, but I don’t think any of Cardiff’s main strengths are unassailable obstacles for Connacht. I hope we don’t go with a lazy gameplan of attempting to kick behind Cuthbert or the like. While that can sometimes bear fruit its not enough to win a game and I think Cardiff are aware enough of Cuthbert’s limitations in that regard. Personally I would be quite happy if this was Connacht’s dullest game of the season and we saw them gradually snuff out Cardiff with the minimum of fuss. If the defense of the past weeks is maintained or improved, and cool heads prevail, then Connacht will win.