It was no surprise to me that Connacht’s game against Saracens last weekend came down to the last play of the game. The start — conceding two tries in the opening eight minutes — and end ultimately decided the game in Saracens’ favour.
Before the match, a lot of people were referring to Connacht having just one win and Saracens league form but I was saying ‘Just watch’. I’ve been in that dressing room and I know what those players can deliver.
Looking at positives from the loss, which Connacht will reluctantly do, Kieran Marmion was superb. He gets better and better. He is up against [scrumhalves] Frank Murphy and Paul O’Donohoe, who are no shrinking violets, and has held his own.
Lots of the Connacht lads have put on a bit of timber over the summer; Marmion in particular. That was inevitable as he was so raw last year but must have played in 99% of Connacht’s games. That exposure to professional rugby will toughen anyone up.
He’s a sniper and has a lot of strings to his bow. He is not just a passer and is taking on more and more responsibility. Many people would feel that Dan Parks would be calling all the shots but he really encourages [decision-making] in the younger lads. He really wants to them to develop their games and has been great for lads like Marmion, Robbie Henshaw, Jack Carty and Conor Finn.
Pat Lam and Dan Parks calling the training ground shots. INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Rodney Ah’You has come back from the summer stronger that ever. As an athlete, he is phenomenal, and his acceleration, hands and ball skills are top class. Added to that, he can play both sides of the scrum.
Andrew Browne comes in for John Muldoon and, no disrespect to Mullers, but there’s no loss there. He is well able to make the step up, as he showed against Biarritz last season. It will be interesting to see James So’oialo at fullback and I suspect he is in there to give Gavin Duffy a rest. It is good to see Matt Healy back on the wing and he is a genuine threat in those broken field situations.
The one guy to watch is Dave McSharry. He is starting on the bench but will be busting to go. Watch out for him to make an impact off his first crash ball. He’ll probably overrun it and it’ll hop off his forehead!
I played Zebre last year and it was far from easy. [Scrumhalf] Brendon Leonard is a bloody good player and Luciano Orquera, at 10, is a proven talent. Connacht were 100% from their lineout and scrum last week but you can be sure that [Zebre captain] Marco Bortolami will be looking to nullify that. This game should be won or lost in the pack.
Zebre’s RaboDirect Pro12 win over Cardiff Blues [their first] was much deserved and they were so, so close to it last season. It is more than likely that they will be targeting the visit of Connacht as the time to claim their first Heineken Cup win. Still, I’m calling it for Connacht today.
@adrianflavin played 159 times for Connacht between 2006 and 2013 and earned two Ireland Wolfhounds caps.Also Read