Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Winning start for Lam

It was a welcome win for Pat Lam’s competitive début but there will have to be improvement, writes John O’Sullivan…

Connacht-rugby-piece_thumb9

One of the oldest sporting clichés preaches that the sign of a good team is when they can win despite being well under par and having to deal with being under significant scrutiny from the opposition.

Now, Connacht are far from the finished article, but the fact that the Westerners got their season off to a three try winning start, playing well within themselves is sure to have brought a wry smile to Sportsground clubs supporters, myself included.

Whilst there has been so much flux at Connacht over the past season; new coaches, players, kits etc, one facet has stood the test of time and remained the same: Fionn Carr scoring tries for Connacht. Sport can sometimes defy logic and seldom makes than any sense. Carr, who swapped Connacht for his native Leinster in 2011, returned to the West reinvigorated and with a point to prove after his less than fruitful period in the nation’s capital. It’s inexplicable how the Kildare man didn’t flourish amidst all the attacking talent and front foot ball at Leinster. Alas, that is sport, but the early indication is that Carr will pick up where he left off at Connacht.

Another former Leinster player, Nathan White, opened the try scoring for Ireland. A good scrummager and effective in the loose, the Kiwi, who will become eligible for the Irish national team before the 2015 World Cup, and should be seen as a solid back up for Mike Ross. Admittedly, White isn’t in the same league as the former Harlequin tighthead, but he offers contrasting attributes and, in my opinion, would be a strong option off the Irish bench, given the paucity of tighthead props currently in the country.

The thirty two year old showed all the attacking nous and acumen of an outside back as he intercepted a haywire Zebre lineout and sprinted twenty metres and over the whitewash for the game’s opening try.

It’s seldom I have had to write this in my time covering Connacht, but Scottish fly half Dan Parks missed the resultant conversion, leaving the scores at 5-3. Almost instantaneously, Zebre, via Luciano Orquera’s penalty, got on the scoreboard after Connacht were found guilty of not rolling away.

Parks may sometimes be labelled as a one trick pony. Many regard Parks as a Garryowen merchant who’s link up play with the rest of his back is substandard. However, regular Connacht watchers will assure you that the Australian born fly half is indeed an intelligent passer and orchestrator of his outside backs. Parks incisive play was highlighted in Connacht’s next try, scored by Matt Healy.

Connacht have been commended for giving players from the AIL a chance in the fully professional game and, in former Lansdowne wide man Healy, they may have unearthed another star. Last season, one of Connacht’s most consistent players was former Galwegian Brian Murphy. The Sportsground faithful will hope that Healy and, indeed, other former AIL players Craig Ronaldson and JP Cooney Connacht careers have a similar trajectory to that of Murphy’s.

Healy, via a combination of Dan Parks and Fionn Carr, was fed the ball beautifully on the wing, stood up his opposite number and showed wonderful pace by touching down in the corner. Parks’, after missing his two previous kicks, made absolutely no mistake from the conversion, taking the score to 12-3 to the hosts.

Parks had another opportunity to extend Connacht’s lead soon after, and he duly punished Zebre’s indiscipline with a measured penalty. The half time whistle sounded with the score 15-3 to the men in green.

The Italians started to gain the ascendancy in terms of territory and possession in the second half, with Luciano Orquera converting their pressure into two penalties, bringing Zebre to within six points of Connacht, 15-9. Sensing a potential upset, Zebre stepped their efforts up a notch, but, in doing so, threw caution to the wind in terms of discipline. Parks broke the visitor’s positive momentum with an accurately taken penalty to bring the score to 18-9.

Impressive throughout, Zebre had to resort to illegality to stop Robbie Henshaw. The youngster was foot tripped by Matteo Praticetti who received a sin binning for his troubles. A man in arrears, gaps were starting to appear in the Parma based sides defence and, through the proverbial son Fionn Carr, Connacht exploited them mercilessly. Fresh off the bench, scrum half Paul O’Donoghue’s incisive ran caused significant stress in Zebre’s defence. The former Clontarf man got his head up and his pass was met in perfect time by the returning Carr who, as he invariably does whilst wearing the green of Connacht, burned the outside cover and touched down for the game sealing try. Parks kick was good, taking the score to 25-9, with six minutes remaining the chance of a bonus point victory were eminent.

Credit to Zebre, though, they never gave in and not only did they deny Connacht a bonus point try, they scored a try of their own. Replacement hooker Andrea Manici broke through for a consolation try. The game finished 25-9 to the hosts in Pat Lams first game at the helm. Lam, however, warned that whilst he was happy with the victory that Connacht will need to improve for next week’s trip away to the Cardiff Blues.

John O’Sullivan (@JohnOSullivan91) part time student, full time sports nut. I love rugby and am currently the PRO of Connemara RFC as well as admin for the Rugby Banter Facebook page. I also do some radio work for my local station. One day, I would love to be a Sports Journalist/Broadcaster.

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