John Muldoon believes Connacht are ready to seize their chance and complete a dream season by following in the path of unfancied Premier League champions Leicester City.
The province face defending Guinness Pro12 champions Glasgow Warriors in the play-offs in Galway this Saturday, a rematch of the final round fixture that secured a home semi-final for Connacht at the Warriors’ expense nine days ago.
Glasgow made history themselves last season when they became the first Scottish team to win the league and Muldoon said that too, was an achievement to stir the westerners’ imagination although Pat Lam’s side need not have to be as patient as the Warriors were having lost the previous season’s final.
“You always take inspiration, you take inspiration from Leicester City, we’ve had so many breakthrough moments this year, winning in Thomond Park, only losing one game at home this year. There is lots of things you can take inspiration from,” Muldoon said.
“Glasgow undoubtedly have been the top team over the last three years. Unfortunately it took them two years to win one. Sometimes people say you need to lose one to win one. But we will be hoping that’s not the case for us.
“Glasgow have got very, very good players. With that as well, they are on a steep learning curve with young out-halves as well (as Connacht)... it takes a while to develop those but we are in a great situation. Confidence is high and now is as good a time as ever to win your first one.” That said, Muldoon was careful not to read too much into Connacht’s 14-7 win over Gregor Townsend’s men at the Sportground on the last day of the regular season, the Scots not helped by their prop Sila Puafisi being sent off early in the second-half when the scores were level.
Indeed, despite a home side never losing a Pro12 semi-final, Muldoon insisted Glasgow will start favourites on Saturday.
“The red card was a huge moment in the game and, in a way, it actually took away from the way we were playing. We kind of went into our shell and it put pressure on us, the fact there was a red card and everyone expected us to push on and win the game and unfortunately we went into our shells a little bit.
“But it was a credit to Glasgow, they dug in really well and put us under a bit of pressure. We’ll be a little bit disappointed, we’d a lot of opportunities we wasted and I think for everyone, for supporters of rugby and anyone outside of Glasgow and Connacht will be looking for a dry game the next day and we’ll be looking to run the ball, I’d a good 20 second conversation running in with Peter Horne at half-time and both of us agreed it was a shame it was pissing rain that the day because ultimately we’ve probably been the two best attacking teams and the weather took away from that.
“The advantage is all in Glasgow’s favour, they know how to win competitions, have been there before and ultimately they have the experience and players to do it. It’s up to us. It probably evens it out a small little bit that we’re at home, but Glasgow are definitely favourites for it.”
Connacht’s run to their first play-off semi-final and with it automatic qualification for next season’s Champions Cup, was recognised at the Guinness Pro12 awards when Bundee Aki won the Players’ Player of the Season award, Pat Lam was named Coach of the Year, seven players made the Team of the Season and Muldoon was honured by the prestigious Chairman’s Award.
The veteran back rower believes while Connacht have dazzled in attack this season his team have developed some much-needed defensive steel over the campaign, as evidenced by the way they held Glasgow out in the final round.
“The way we dug in and we defended at times was excellent, but we are going to need that in buckets and spades in the next few weeks.
“You just look at the quality of teams and quality of players that are in opposition to us. We are in an unique situation for Connacht Rugby that we have never been there before, we have absolutely nothing to lose now. We might as well go out and give it our all. And if it’s not good enough then ultimately we can go and walk away and say we didn’t go that well. But I would say deep down if we play like we did on Saturday and we lose the semi-final or we lose the final we will be a bit disappointed. I don’t think we played that well on Saturday. Glasgow would probably think the same. So hopefully it will be a better spectacle and a game to watch. But definitely you are going to need that grit and defensive effort going forward.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved