Analysis How did Connacht beat Toulouse

first_imgMarmion is circled above as he begins his own run, but it is Eoin Griffin [whose running line is marked with the arrow] who will actually create the overlap for Connacht.Scrum-half Marmion’s pace is vital to the move, as it allows him to get outside flanker Thierry Dusautoir and pass to Griffin, who has worked hard to get outside his teammate. Ideally, Dusautoir would have been in a decent position to shift off Marmion and deal with the arriving Griffin.However, as you can see below, his No. 8 hasn’t been able to get across quickly enough to allow him to drift out to the next attacker. Tolofua [circled] is struggling to get anywhere near to the action.As soon as Griffin takes the pass from Marmion, Connacht are in a 3-on-2 attacking position and Toulouse are in real, real trouble.That situation is highlighted in the screen grab below, and you can see Tolofua slowing up, aware that play has passed him by. As it turns out, Connacht don’t cleanly convert the overlap and it takes a powerful fend and brilliant offload by Robbie Henshaw to ensure the line-break.More excellent work from Carr and Marmion finishes off the move, but the fact that it had its origins in a strong scrum and intelligent awareness of the defence will have greatly pleased Lam, who puts a premium on the latter in particular.Marmion influenceThe 21-year-old had another excellent performance for Connacht on Sunday, even apart from his try and perfect passing. The example below demonstrates all of his best qualities in one brief snippet. This was the build-up to the penalty that allowed Connacht to go 9-7 up in the 46th minute.There is some excellent handling down the right-hand side from Parks, Griffin and Carr but keep an eye on Marmion’s run after he makes his pass from the ruck in the animation above. The scrum-half is so intelligent in reading the game, allowing him to anticipate where the ball will end up.It’s a vital run as it heaps pressure on Toulouse and they come offside in the middle of the pitch on the next phase, allowing Parks to kick the penalty.Slowing at the rucksWhile Connacht largely fanned out in defence and ensured that they didn’t allow Toulouse to have numbers up in attack, there were several instances of competitiveness at the breakdown. At crucial times in the game, individuals went in for steals or simply to slow Toulouse possession down.That had the effect of giving Connacht an extra second to re-organise their defensive line, meaning they could once again come up off the line aggressively. In the example below, Denis Buckley wins a fantastic penalty to ease the building pressure with under 20 minutes left.The closing stagesAn Irish team has suffered serious heartbreak in recent times when they failed to close out a game in the final minutes against a team who was heavily fancied in the build-up. There was danger of a repeat in Toulouse, but Connacht performed heroics to ensure the win.Toulouse had uninterrupted possession from the 77.10 minute mark until 80.15, when the ball went loose and Connacht recovered it before kicking to touch. During that three minute and five second spell, the home team went through 25 phases, but Connacht were up to the test.Remarkably, Lam’s men maintained their aggressive line speed despite being out on their feet with fatigue. It was interesting to note the encouragement picked up by the pitch-side microphones, providing a stream of technical cues and reminders to the defenders, as well as updates on the amount of time left to play.The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics below demonstrate just how aggressively Connacht pushed off the line in those closing stages. It would have been easy to sit back, and try to shadow Toulouse across the pitch in a ‘damage limitation’ effort, but Connacht stuck to their tactics and they paid off.In this example, Connacht start defending just in front of the halfway line, but initiate the tackle a full eight metres in front of that. While Toulouse did go on to get over the halfway line, this rush defence added pressure and helped to panic the French side. No one likes running backwards to hit a ruck, and Connacht deserve huge credit for maintaining their line speed.Backing it all upFittingly, it was Connacht legend Michael Swift who stripped the ball from Dusautoir’s grasp to end the onslaught and turn the ball over. Men like himself and John Muldoon deserved this result. This was a remarkable performance by Lam’s side, and will be remembered as one of the great Irish victories in the Heineken Cup.Losing this weekend in the return leg will not make it meaningless, but a win would show that Connacht are making genuine progress under Lam. The players will have enjoyed the unique feeling of creating a sporting shock last weekend, but their focus will be on backing this result up on Saturday.Like rugby? Follow’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >Ireland’s John Lacey to referee Six Nations openerMafi will be ‘bouncing’ for return leg against Munster – James Hook CONNACHT’S 16-14 VICTORY over Toulouse on Sunday will rightly be remembered as one of the greatest upsets in European club rugby’s history.Whatever about the declining quality of the French side, this was all about the excellence of Pat Lam’s men. A poor season up until this point was parked and Connacht delivered a top class performance to deservedly beat the four-time Heineken Cup champions.So how exactly was the spectacular result achieved? We’ve taken a look at some of the superb play that helped the western province to earn their greatest ever win.DefenceThe defensive shift Lam’s charges put in on Sunday afternoon beggared belief. Connacht’s figure of 140 tackle completions was bettered only by the Scarlets – who had to deal with the usual long spells of Clermont possession – last weekend.However, the truly striking aspect of Connacht’s defence was the line-speed they used to shut Toulouse down. Countless times, the Irishmen burst up to tackle Guy Novès’ side well behind the gain-line. There were so many examples of this tactic, and we’ve highlighted one of those below.In the shot above, you can see that this early phase of play begins five metres inside Connacht’s half. Obviously a photo does no justice to line speed as in cannot demonstrate motion, but the ‘after’ photo below shows how aggressive Connacht were.Fionn Carr [circled] initiates the tackle a full 15 metres up the pitch from where Connacht started defending. This defensive ploy – of which there were many examples – stifled Toulouse’s attacking play and made it difficult for their big ball carriers to build up a head of steam.Another key element of Connacht’s defensive prowess was their determined kick chase. Dan Parks’ kicking from hand was uncharacteristically loose all afternoon and against a strong counter-attacking team like Toulouse, that normally spells disaster.However, the manner in which his teammates worked to organise themselves on kick chase actually meant that Toulouse had little scope for creating line-breaks when running those ragged kicks back. Such was the extent of Connacht’s inability to find touch, the thought has crossed this writer’s mind that keeping the ball in play was possibly a tactic.Regardless, the work-rate of the Connacht players on kick chase was exemplary and meant that potentially dangerous situations were diffused. Below is one example [the ball is circled] and although the line is not perfectly straight, it demonstrates the organisation and numbers that Lam’s men brought to their kick chase.Key contributionsConnacht had very little territory in the first half – meaning most of the first 40 minutes were played in their defensive half of the pitch. As a result, they needed to be clinical with any chances they did get. That proved to be the case, as Dan Parks scored six point in the first half to help Connacht trail just 7-6 at the break.The first three of those points came about after a loose kick by Parks, but one that was wonderfully chased by his teammates [below]. It’s an excellent low tackle by Dave McSharry and then Fionn Carr and Craig Clarke do superbly to turn the ball over. A phase later, Louis Picamoles comes offside and Connacht go 3-0 up.Minutes later, Connacht were able to stretch their lead to 6-0 thanks to a neat drop-goal by Parks. The build-up featured a vital contribution from wing Matt Healy, who produced a superb chip and then retrieved his own kick.While Connacht’s win was all about a team effort, big wins also require big plays from individual players and this was one of those [below]. Just as Clarke and Carr were decisive in helping Connacht into the lead the first time, Healy was one of the key men in creating the position for Parks’ drop goal.Second half possessionLam’s side did enjoy more of the ball in the second 40 minutes and they used it very well. It may be a bit early to proclaim new skills coach Dave Ellis as having vastly improved the Connacht squad’s ability to pass the ball, but they did look very comfortable in moving the ball wide.That stretching of the Toulouse defence crucially tired Novès’ players and may have made the difference late on as they searched for a winning score.Kieran Marmion’s try was the obvious example of Connacht’s attacking strength in the second half, but it also demonstrated an intelligence from Lam’s men. A midfield scrum on the halfway line is a good attacking chance in any game, but that was accentuated by the circumstances on Sunday.On the 45 minute mark, Novès made the odd decision to bring Christopher Tolofua, a hooker, on at No. 8. As far as we’re aware, the 19-year-old had no previous experience playing anywhere apart from the front row at senior level. Tolofua is a beast of a ball carrier, but he is far from indoctrinated in the basics of back row defence.Connacht immediately recognised that they could expose his lack of defensive awareness. From a scrum in the 48th minute, Marmion burst off to the right, using his pace to get as wide as possible.last_img

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