ON the face of it this was a bonus point win over a disjointed, error-strewn and undisciplined Zebre side that brought none of the nous and spark they had delivered in previous encounters. Underneath that, Saturday’s tussle in the rain at the Sportsground was an illuminating illustration of a potential shift in approach from Connacht, one that could prove to be very rewarding.
In the vast majority of their games last season, Connacht had more possession than the opposition yet by and large, it made no difference. Connacht lost 14 of their 21 PRO14 games for example. Time and again opponents were happy to let the westerners have the ball and held their patience in defence when playing the men in green – and more often than not it worked as Connacht huffed and puffed to no avail.
On Saturday, Connacht had just 48% of possession yet outscored their opponents five tries to one. They had a spell in the second half with two extra men after the visitors lost the run of themselves with two quick yellow cards, but only managed one try during the period yet they didn’t lose shape or confidence and kept a firm grip on the contest once Zebre were restored to the full complement.
Twice last season, Michael Bradley and his management team shrewdly outfoxed the men from Connacht with well carved out game plans and on the field his players showed nous and composure to deliver back-to-back wins in Parma and Galway.
There was no chance of that here and while Andy Friend insisted that his side played the conditions not the opponent in terms of tactics, this really did feel like a case of tailoring a game plan for an opponent. Even if that’s just coincidental. Zebre thrive in loose games, they are fast on the counter attack but tight structured encounters leave them exposed at set piece time and vulnerable in terms of their skillset to get out of trouble.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
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