Defence coach Pete Wilkins insists Connacht will need to be defensively robust in order to win Friday’s 5:30 PM Guinness PRO14 game away to Benetton Rugby.
The Westerners go into the game in good form, with consecutive league wins under their belt after last weekend’s 32-17 victory over the Cardiff Blues.
The Italians, meanwhile, are winless in eleven conference B games so far this season, but Wilkins believes that Connacht needs to be wary of their kicking game and their ability to quickly transition from defence to attack.
“For me, I think Benetton’s biggest threat is coming out of their own half,” the former Queensland Reds’ defensive coach said of the Treviso-based team’s best tactical attribute.
‘They kick long and effectively, in terms of the distances they get when they are exiting. But they are also very dangerous running out from that bit of the field. They are not afraid to take risks and offload out of tackles when they are coming out of their what we call C zone, coming out of that area between the 22-metre line and halfway.
“They will take risks and they will play to width. How we control them getting access to the ball will be really important in that regard. The quality of our kicking game, not conceding attacking turnovers in their half of the field, that will be important in terms of denying them access to the game.
‘I think if we can squeeze them around that then, you’d hope that our quality would shine through. But if the game gets loose with them getting a lot of chaotic turnover ball doesn’t suit us, it suits them. So we will have to work our backsides off to make sure that if that does happen we control it really well and get back to controlling where they get the ball and in what part of the field.”
Connacht go into a block of four games in consecutive weeks, starting with Friday’s trip to Italy, and Wilkins says there is no set target other than trying to win every game and attempt to qualify for this season’s final.
“Similar to what Andy said, we’ve not put a hard goal on it, in terms of points or expected points. But we have been really open with each other in saying every game is a must-win and every game is a cup final. I know that’s easy to say, but it’s pretty literal in this sense.
“If it does go down as the competition is expected to at the moment, there is only the one conference winner from each side that goes through to a final and we’re trying to hunt Munster down. Every game is a must-win and the bonus points play an important part in that,” the Englishman said.
Meanwhile, lock Oisin Dowling said the positive environment created by the staff and players at Connacht has quickly helped him settle in at the club.
Alex Wootton, who joined the Sportsground team at the beginning of the current season, recently hailed the culture within the Westerners squad’ and playing staff as a big factor in helping him acclimate after joining the province from Munster.
Dowling, 23, who recently joined Andy Friend’s team from Leinster, agrees with Wootton and said that the entire squad and backroom staff get on well and this has made his adaptation easier.
“Yeah, 100%,” the forward said when asked whether he has settled in well on and off the pitch with Connacht.
“Obviously there’s a difference between coaches and players, but everyone gets on really well, like friends. There’s always good craic between each other and I think that helps the team and the bond with the players and the coaches.”
Dowling was sidelined with a back injury when he joined the province, but the lock says that the time gave him the opportunity to get up to speed with the demands of the Westerners’ tactical systems.
The 6’5” former Lansdowne club man is now looking forward to applying what he has learned during his injury on the pitch for the remainder for the season.
“When I came in, I was injured so I had time to get to grips with it more and kinda just watch how it works a bit more. So then, once I started playing again, it was kind of easier when I knew all the systems.
“I had taken everything in and learned all the plays and it’s a bit easier when you’re able to watch a lot of training sessions and games, you