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Rodney on the charge

Connacht 16 - Newport Dragons 11

By Rob Murphy at the Sportsground

 

Connacht are making noise this season, they’re beating the drum and saying we’re here to challenge for a top six spot. It’s ambitious stuff, especially with such a young panel holding fort early doors until the big summer signings arrive but on Saturday evening, they answered all the hard questions and emerged from their first test unscathed thanks to a strong start to either half and a battling defensive effort late in the contest. .

Drawing too many conclusions from an opening day home win is an exercise in futility for sure but leaving aside the familiar trends - an eleventh opening day win in 14 years and a sixth win against the Dragons in their last seven encounters - this had a slightly fresher feel to what we have seen before from the westerners in this fixture and at this time of year.

Pat Lam called it a ‘calmness’ afterwards when asked to compare this year with last year in the context of the the opening day. He felt his side held their nerve in a testing finale as the visitors went in search of the win specifically naming captain John Muldoon, tighthead Nathan White and Mils Muliaina - who was used as a water carrier for the game - when referencing the main drivers of that vibe.

That was only one element of the composure which saw Connacht come out on the right side of a one score contest where they might not have last season. Jack Carty kicked superbly well in open play after half time, he looked composed, clued in and determined. Denis Buckley and Dave Heffernan were immense in the front row alongside the experienced White and Dannie Poolman was the vocal leader the the backline, especially during a crucial period late in the first half when Dave McSharry was in the sin bin.

Pretoria born Poolman will be a key man for the province this year having missed much of last season with a knee injury. He has the speed, agility and nous to become a top try scorer out west and if he can break the magic ten mark during this campaign, then sixth place might well be within reach. With Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki to come into the side, the chances will be there.

In many ways Poolman is like a new signing this season and so is Jake Heenan. The 22 year old open side from the Northland province of New Zealand was back to his destructive best in this game. Not satisfied with containing or repelling attacks but more stopping them dead in their tracks and killing the momentum of a young and talented visiting side.

The Dragons have recruited smartly in the off season and there is no question that they have improved immensely with a glut of academy developed backs giving them an unpredictable edge. The experienced Lee Byrne is back from Clermont Auvergne and he was their biggest threat throughout, winning almost every high ball dual and making some hugely impressive gains in open play. His sin binning during the second half was a key blow.

Lam spoke afterwards about the hard work being put into skill development with new management addition Andre Bell playing a role there alongside Dave Ellis. Even in the warm up, Connacht were working on drills that focused on catching and passing at speed, keeping the ball moving and not taking it into the chest and the opening try was a fine example of how such dexterity can unlock defences.

That first try involved a Shane Layden counter attack, a second phase charge from Dave Heffernan and swift hands including an overlap creating split second pass from Nathan White and some superbly deft rapid footwork from the electric new signing Niyi Adeolokun to draw three defenders  before he released Eoin McKeon for the score.

Connacht led 8-0 at that point midway through the half. Darragh Leader’s penalty the other score by half time, the sides were level with Dave McSharry having seen the sin bin. The Dragons try had come from Nic Cudd after the home side miss timed a lineout throw to the back, got turned over and never recovered. The penalty from Jason Tovey came from the McSharry infringement but was all they got from that period.

After half time, Connacht settled faster and caused plenty of headaches for the home side. Byrne clattered into Carty under a high ball and saw yellow.  Leader kicked a penalty not long after, before Jason Tovey joined his teammate in the mind for a tackle off the ball. With their opponents down to 13, Connacht made hay, Carty’s crossfield kick seemed overcooked but Poolman showed superb agility to catch and score in the corner.

The rest of the sin bin period wasn’t exploited and as the game drew to a close, the visitors grew in confidence and made their opponents shudder ever so slightly, earning a losing bonus point and setting up a late lineout in the 22 that yielded nothing but a turnover and a full time whistle.

A performance born out of power and strength in the set piece with the front row dominating and 24 year old Mick Kearney calling the lineouts to great effect and contributing with a phenomenal all round performance at the breakdown lay the foundation for this win. What it tells us about the season ahead is hard to say at this point, next Friday’s trip to Edinburgh is the other half of this opening tale, a performance there and optimism will reign.

Connacht: S Layden; N Adeolokun, D Leader, D McSharry, D Poolman; J Carty, I Porter; D Buckley, D Heffernan, N White; M Kearney, Q Roux; J Muldoon, J Heenan, E McKeon.

Replacement: G Naoupu for McKeon H/t; K Marmion for Porter 53 mins; W Faloon for Muldoon 55 mins; R Ah You for White 61 mns; C Finn for Leader 65 mins; M Nikora for Carty 65 mins; S Henry for Heffernan 74 mins.

Dragons: L Byrne; T Prydie, T Morgan, J Dixon, A Brew; J Tovey, J Evans; B Stankovich, E Dee, L Fairbrother; A Coombs, R Landman; L Evans, N Cudd, A Powell.

Replacements: T Faletau for Powell 55 mins; I Gough for Coombs 58 mins; T Thomas for Dee 61 mins; D Way for Fairbrother 63 mins; O Evans for Stankovich 74 mins; D Jones for Evans 79 mins; G Jones for Tovey 79 mins; B Nightingale for Dixon 79 mins.

Referee: M Mitrea (FIR).

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RogueXV's Avatar
RogueXV replied the topic: #28498 5 years 10 months ago
Good to get the season started off with a win. It wasn't as comfortable as it could have been but there were some very good performances. You wouldn't expect perfection the first real day out but Connacht will have to work on a few things. The backline defense has to improve quickly. Hopefully Henshaw's return will aid in that department because in the second half it felt like when the Dragon's were at full strength they were causing Connacht enough problems. Not sure where the answer lies with the goal kicking accuracy but if Connacht are to keep the scoreboard ticking over and put opponents away it will need to be addressed. A win against Edinburgh would be good especially with tough games against Leinster and Glasgow to follow.
salmson's Avatar
salmson replied the topic: #28491 5 years 10 months ago

wp_rathead wrote: Missed penalities. The most frustrating one out of them was Miah's miss - everyone in the Clan knew he hadn't the legs to get it, was head scratching who ever gave the call for it? (possibly White, think Muldoon was off at that stage?)


White was gone by that stage too. Heenan was acting captain and made the call. Seemed to overrule Nikora, who initially shaped to go for the corner.
wp_rathead's Avatar
wp_rathead replied the topic: #28484 5 years 10 months ago
Layden and Niyi were encouraging - obvo improvements needed and mistakes made by both but very happy with how they performed. Niyi needs bulk up a bit - but my gawd the lad has SERIOUS GAS! I'd start Leader FB and Robbie 13 vs Edinburgh.

Porter had decent run out - certainly not as frustrating as Murphy and POD anyhow - be handy squad player season ahead.

Roux played well but frustrated with him giving away a penalty when we were 10 metres from try line. The crowd went bananas but ref was dead right and perhaps Roux was lucky not get a yellow, McSharry had just gone in bin so prob didn't wanna send another straight away..

Heff had a smashing opening 20 - but then messed up own lineout and Dragons went up pitch and scored try in corner.. He had a great game in the loose has to be said.

Carty had two great cross field kicks for Poolman, but some off his tactical kicking was a tad suspect at times (you don't want to be kicking straight down the park into Lee Byrne).

Apart from that, scrum and lineout seemed solid enough. Dennis and Kearney had great game I thought.

George deserves special mention - was outstanding 2nd half and (despite Eoin taking try well) he should start next week vs Edinburgh..

In Heenan and Poolman we have lads that wouldn't look out of place in international side - they are vital to our season (although Faloon played well when he came on has be said)

Plus - my 6/1 "Poolman Top Connacht Try Scorer" off to daycent start (has to before Marimon gets back in the fecker)

Downsides:
8-0 up we need be more ruthless.
Missed penalities. The most frustrating one out of them was Miah's miss - everyone in the Clan knew he hadn't the legs to get it, was head scratching who ever gave the call for it? (possibly White, think Muldoon was off at that stage?)
Defence again at times worrying
salmson's Avatar
salmson replied the topic: #28483 5 years 10 months ago
This is on Teilifís na Gaillimhe also

www.tg4.ie/en/programmes/rugby-on-tg4/home.html

for those who have trouble with Other Channels on the Sky Box...
ConnachtCows's Avatar
ConnachtCows replied the topic: #28482 5 years 10 months ago
Good result on Saturday. People were talking up the Dragons before the game, mentioning their good pre-season.
I wasn't too confident when our team was named, but we had the beating of them all game long. There were at least 4 kicks from Connacht that took unlucky bounces, and on another day, would have led to more scores for us.
We seemed to relax each time we built up a lead, so that's something to work on. We need to keep going when we're on the front foot.

Very impressed with Porter, and thought Poolman was very hungry. Niyi looked good, but you cant judge a player on one game. I'm sure he can push on, and keep improving.

We need to build on this start, and attack Edinburgh, and treat it like the important match it is. If we're serious about targetting 6th, this is a game we have to be winning

Anything from Glasgow, Ulster, Leinster, Munster and the Ospreys should be a bonus. It's everyone else we need to take points from.
swift4prez's Avatar
swift4prez replied the topic: #28481 5 years 10 months ago

Sol_ie wrote:

swift4prez wrote: good to meet old faces from here, a few pints were had. also good meeting Ger C for the first time


*cough* Dail this Friday from 7 ish *cough cough*


:lol: you got to work better on your marketing skills Sol.

"This friday after 7, you can watch Swift4prez live on tv in the Dail bar, waving at the cameras when BBCalba are showing connacht fans celebrating a bonus point win vs edinburgh. Show up early to get good seats incase you fail to see him. Best entertainment in galway this friday night".

:evil: :evil: :evil: :evil: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :P :P :P ;) ;) B) B)
Sol_ie's Avatar
Sol_ie replied the topic: #28479 5 years 10 months ago

swift4prez wrote: good to meet old faces from here, a few pints were had. also good meeting Ger C for the first time


*cough* Dail this Friday from 7 ish *cough cough*
salmson's Avatar
salmson replied the topic: #28478 5 years 10 months ago

swift4prez wrote: ...other problem i had was layden dropped a catch, ball went through his hands and between his legs. How is it a knock on if it went through his legs?...


That was right in front of us, Clan side of the pitch in the first half I think: Layden was moving forward, ball went down and forward then bounced back through his legs. Looked marginal but correct from where we were standing.

Layden had a mixed afternoon but he was the source of the break that led to the first try, standing up two Dragons before putting Heffernan through the gap with a lovely soft pass.

I presume Marmion and Henshaw will start next week with Layden moving to the bench and Leader going to fullback. Hopefully that'll sort a few of the defensive issues in the backline.

Regarding knock-ons I note Lyn Jones is whining about needing a TMO at all matches (that much is perfectly reasonable in fairness to the guy) because a knockon was given against them that wasn't, denying Dragons a try. Pure nonsense of course, their player dropped the ball forward onto the ground then reached forward to pick it up, but it's good to see the teams we need to finish behind us getting their excuses in often and early.
ummm,'s Avatar
ummm, replied the topic: #28477 5 years 10 months ago
Great to get the season off to a winning start but for all the positivity I can't help feel we let ourselves down in allowing the Dragons to leave with an LBP.

From following the game on the radio it sounded like we had most of the possession and should have pressed our advantage more. Another 33% kicking ratio is just not on. If Leader isn't making his kicks then we have another kicker in Porter, let him at it. Leaving 10 points out on the pitch might not have mattered much this time out, but we know from last year just how important it is in the long run.

Also, the home jersey is worse than I thought. Fine when front-on, but a navy shirt running at black shirts was impossible to follow on the highlights reel, can't imagine what it was like for 80 minutes.
clanman's Avatar
clanman replied the topic: #28474 5 years 10 months ago
the positives first, I thought our power up front was impressive, and looks like we are getting back to something like where we were 3/4 years ago with our Pack dominating teams. Still the same issues as last year out in the backline, defensively very poor I thought, we need to learn from Leinster where they re-allign and organise themselves defensively Phase after Phase, even when the first tackle is missed we have to close down the space. Leydan got off to an ok start but then steadily got worse as the game went on, he is not a backup to Henshaw.

The pack is near to full-strength whereas the backline currently is at it's weakest and we will see a lot of changes for the better as we head into November but for the next month we will have to keep it tight and let the forwards win us games.
swift4prez's Avatar
swift4prez replied the topic: #28470 5 years 10 months ago
First off, win is a win. we got 4points. pity results elsewhere didnt go our way. edinburgh winning and scarlets draw.
I was very nervous coming into this match, alot of people talking dragons up, there own fans expecting 5 points :side: :silly: and our injury list. i agree with what most said re players, buckley great again, george doing well. porter is a lot better than murphy and POD. Id guess the reason KM got a run out was that Joe Schmidt was here, looked up at him few times, looked like he was very much enjoying himself.
Thought ref did okay, missed a crazy lineout from the dragons, not sure why touchjudge didnt help him out, only other problem i had was layden dropped a catch, ball went through his hands and between his legs. How is it a knock on if it went through his legs?
Oh ya Niyi had a great 1st match. Great play to set Mckeon up. He chased everything, connacht have been lacking that for few seasons.
he ran down the line a few times and kicked ahead but unlucky not to get anything out of it. He really lifted the crowd when he chased a kick in the second half in front of me in the clan stand and won a penalty.

Bring on Edinburgh i say! They were average vs Munster who had players out who are lucky to be earning a wage from playing.
if we up our game, we can win. Its not a game we should win but its a game we could win. ill call it 50/50.

on a side note, good to meet old faces from here, a few pints were had. also good meeting Ger C for the first time
OldSchool's Avatar
OldSchool replied the topic: #28468 5 years 10 months ago
Great Game, there is a lot of improvement required around the pitch. Looked a lot better in the second half when we carried the ball and attacked around the rucks.
The next 4 games will give us a good indication of where the team is at and if we have improved on last year.
Sol_ie's Avatar
Sol_ie replied the topic: #28464 5 years 10 months ago
Agree with most of whats been said here. I did think Leyden acquited himself quite well. Adeolokun had a great turn of pace and had two little grubbers down the line that he was unlucky not to have made anything of. Pack was great, Buckley had an immense game, great to see.

I thought the defence was a bit lacking, we had lots of flat balls that were ripe for an intercept, a lot of the play was lateral etc.

Way more positives than negatives, can't wait for the rest of the season!
Magpie's Avatar
Magpie replied the topic: #28463 5 years 10 months ago
Firstly delighted with the win, a win in the sunshine is a rare thing in the Sportsground so savour it. B)

I cannot disagree with most of what has been said, the pack were fantastic, great scrum, good mauls. Dragons tried a few mauls which went nowhere.

I do not know what happened after we went 8-0 up but we had 20 minutes of sloppy play that nearly cost us dear. I thought we coped quite well when down to 14, we slowed the game and ran the clock down without much happening, and this was when dragons were at their strongest.

The decision, when we had restored out 8 point cushion and with 15 minutes on the clock, to kick for the line and not go for the 3 points was poor. As it turned out we had a bad line out and Dragoons cleared their lines, 11 points up with 15 minutes is a nice lead and one that allows for a mistake without having to hit the panic button.

Three minutes later Miah takes on a harder kick and misses it. I'm not sure who was captain at that stage, as Muldoon was not on the field, but that was some poor decision making and as a direct consequence the last 5 minutes were far tenser than they need to be.
menacethedenis's Avatar
menacethedenis replied the topic: #28462 5 years 10 months ago
Delighted with the win although the last five minutes were very tense. Dragons are a poor side, I don't think we were massively better than them though. McKeon took his try well but I thought he was very poor apart from that. Georgie was barnstorming when he came on. I agree he looked like he's back to his best but if he can't reproduce this form regularly we are in huge trouble at 8. I thought heffernan had a great game and looks to have seriously bulked up over the summer. Apart from those glorious cross-field kicks I thought Carty was poor also. The backs looked like headless chickens at times and our lack of experience is glaring at the moment. We looked sharper when Miah came on but Mils can't get out there quick enough. Niyi did very well on his league debut, his lack of size is a concern but he might be the quickest player I've ever seen in our colours. I think the first thing he did was knock the ball on but after that he looked very dangerous. Plenty of positives to take but definite work needed if we're going to get anything in Edinburgh next week.
RonanL's Avatar
RonanL replied the topic: #28460 5 years 10 months ago
Agree with everything Diom said. Carty is clearly a skillful footballer, those cross field kicks were inch perfect, but in general I thought he struggled a bit. Layden looked out of his depth and II thought our lineout was dodgy too - it was obvious that Heffernan's poor throwing is still an issue. Having said that, I thought we played well and shouldn't have given the Dragons the opportunity to nick it at the end. Thankfully they couldn't take their chances. A win in the first game of the season, so onwards and upwards.
salmson's Avatar
salmson replied the topic: #28459 5 years 10 months ago
Entire pack was good, Roux like the rest was solid and lasted the full 80, jumped at the front of the lineout on our ball, was a lifter on theirs. . Dragons scrum under pressure from first to last.
Darragh507's Avatar
Darragh507 replied the topic: #28458 5 years 10 months ago
How was roux ?

Front row good?
connachta's Avatar
connachta replied the topic: #28457 5 years 10 months ago


Lee Byrne pass was indeed forward
connachta's Avatar
connachta replied the topic: #28452 5 years 10 months ago

galway_gas wrote:

connachta wrote: His injury doesn't look too bad?


Same shoulder as was operated on earlier this year but from what I hear its not as bad as was first feared. He still could be out for a few weeks. McKeon came off at half time with concussion but should be ok.
Uncle Joe was at match. I'm sure he was impressed by Bucks and Kearney and pencilling Poolman and Heenan in for the future.


Thanks a lot for those precisions :)
Yeah I firmly assert we can come from 0 to 5/6 international players in a 2/3 years term
galway_gas's Avatar
galway_gas replied the topic: #28450 5 years 10 months ago

connachta wrote: His injury doesn't look too bad?


Same shoulder as was operated on earlier this year but from what I hear its not as bad as was first feared. He still could be out for a few weeks. McKeon came off at half time with concussion but should be ok.
Uncle Joe was at match. I'm sure he was impressed by Bucks and Kearney and pencilling Poolman and Heenan in for the future.
Diom's Avatar
Diom replied the topic: #28447 5 years 10 months ago
For me the best thing to come out of that game is the great form that George seems to have (re)found. His work in two separate mauls won them for Connacht. His runs were strong and he was looking for the offload. I don't want to jinx him but it looked like the George of old. McKeon has a fight on his hands which is great for everyone.

Layden obviously has some fitness issues after his long stint out of the game. Personally I think he was not up to scratch, but he had been thrown in at the deep end. Carty had some execution issues as well. I don't think we have our reassurance at ten like we do at 8.

Defense was poor. Griffin is missed. He was running that defensive line last year and no one took that role on yesterday in his absence. Really McShaz as the most experienced lad out there should have stepped up to that particular plate.

Pack was great though and the inexperienced backline did a great job overall to hold out against the Dragon attacks despite organisation and fitness issues. Great win and a great start to the season.
Borders no.2's Avatar
Borders no.2 replied the topic: #28446 5 years 10 months ago
On TG4 at 22.45 along with the other matches for anyone who wants to see it.
connachtexile's Avatar
connachtexile replied the topic: #28444 5 years 10 months ago
Internet packed in 5 mins into the second half :angry: We won which is great and still have a bunch of big boys to come in. Today is a good day.
connachta's Avatar
connachta replied the topic: #28443 5 years 10 months ago
His injury doesn't look too bad?
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