PREVIEW: Benetton Rugby V Connacht

30 March 2022

PREVIEW: Benetton Rugby V Connacht
Head coach Andy Friend is confident that Connacht will put last weekend’s defeat to Leinster in the United Rugby Championship(URC) behind them when they travel to Benetton Rugby in the URC this coming weekend. 


Benetton sit fourteenth in the table this season, but, despite this, Friend is wary of the Italians’ strengths and says that his team will need to be at their best to get what could prove to be a crucial win. 


“It’ll be a tough task to go to Bennetton this weekend and we’re licking our wounds again,” the Australian said. 


“But I know what this team is capable of and I know if we go over there and do what we can do, we can get a performance and a win.”


Friend will have some of his Irish international contingent to call upon in Italy, with Mack Hansen and Finlay Bealham available for selection. However, Bundee Aki – who only arrived back to team training on Tuesday – will not play. 


“Bundee only just arrived back today(Tuesday), so he won’t be in the reckoning at this stage. The other two boys(Bealham and Hansen) came back in yesterday and trained well with us and looked fresh and good to go. It’s nice to have that calibre of player coming back in.”


Meanwhile, loosehead prop Matthew Burke has praised the work of forwards coach Dewald Senekal at Connacht. 


The South African was appointed last summer after years of coaching in the French Top 14, where he coached current Connacht player Leva Fifita at Grenoble. 


Senekal has put a particular emphasis on the maul – both in attack and defence – and his friendly nature has made it easy for players to communicate with him, says the Mayo native prop. 


“I think one thing about him is he’s a very approachable guy, a very friendly guy,” Burke said of the forwards coach. 


“That’s really worked well, in terms of bringing us together as a forward pack. We’re very close. He’s targeted certain focus areas, like our maul defence and maul attack, which has been a been big focus for us this season and not conceding tries. “


“Every time we review a match, we ask ‘did we concede a maul try?’ and we kind of give ourselves a little pat on the back if we were particularly good at that. The maul would be the biggest change, in terms of where we have targeted something different.”


The coming weeks will bring big games – in Europe and domestically – for Connacht and Burke says that the squad are looking forward to the challenges. 


“Obviously we are tremendously disappointed with the way that went,” the Ballinrobe man said of last weekend’s defeat to Leinster at the Sportsground. 


“At this stage, we’ve just had to park it. We can’t let that bleed in and affect us this weekend. We have reviewed it yesterday, talked a bit about it today and now we’re really focusing on Bennetton. 


“Obviously it’s a big game this weekend. Bennetton are obviously a lot stronger than maybe they would have been a couple of seasons ago. They are playing good rugby and they have a lot of internationals in there."


Burke is confident that Connacht have learned from recent defeats and that they can apply these lessons going forward and turn losses into wins. 


“We’ve got a number of games over the next few weeks, both the URC(United Rugby Championship) and those two Leinster games in the Heineken Champions Cup, and we’re targeting every game for a win.


“Unfortunately, because of results during the season, we have kinda taken things out of hands in terms of how we qualify for the URC, but we’re really just targeting every game we’re going into as a must-win We’re confident. We know what we’re capable of. 


“Some of the losses have been hurtful – that loss versus Leinster and the loss to Edinburgh – but we know what we’re capable of and we know what went wrong and how we can fix it, so we’re still confident going forward that we can do really well and finish the season on a high.”