PREVIEW: Benetton V Connacht

26 May 2021

PREVIEW: Benetton V Connacht
By John O’Sullivan 


Defence coach Pete Wilkins says that Connacht will need to control the possession against Benetton Rugby in order to win in Saturday evenings 5:15 PM Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup clash at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo. 


The Westerners go into the game after a 24-20 victory away to Munster last time out and knowing that a win will help their prospects of qualifying for the Rainbow Cup final. 


Benetton, meanwhile, have won their last three games and Wilkins says that Connacht will need to control the ball and the territory in order to prevent the Italians -- who he notes as being dangerous broken-field runners -- from stamping their authority on the game in attack. 


“There are different strategies you can take to take the chaos out of the game,” the Englishman said. 


“One of them is to kick long, or as long as you can, and try to squeeze the opposition with a good kick chase. But that previous game(Connacht’s 19-17 win in Italy in February) showed that Benetton often kick it back longer and you don’t end up reversing the pressure or momentum too much. 


“You can certainly look to kick the ball off the field and look to pressure teams at the set-piece, that was something, again, that was in our gameplan going there previously. But their lineout actually functioned much better than it had done in the previous weeks, prior to playing us. 


“There are different ways to look at it, in terms of how you control the field position. As I said, we tried a couple of things that day that didn’t quite get the rewards that we were after, so we’ll have to look at it possibly a little bit differently with possibly varied techniques going into this one, in terms of how we use the ball." 


Wilkins, who will become the province's attack coach at the beginning of next season, says that varying their attack -- choosing when to kick and when to run -- will be a key area of focus for Connacht and will prevent them from conceding turnovers. 


“In terms of our own running game, it’s making sure we control the possession and that we’re not conceding cheap turnovers and I think those cheap turnovers can occur either because you’re trying to play too much rugby at times or giving yourself too many options when you have ball in hand rather than having that clarity of thought as to what we’re all striving to achieve,” the former Queensland Reds coach said. 


“ I think that clarity going into the game in terms of how we want to attack. The ability to mix up how we want to give the ball back to the opposition with our kicking game and just to stay on task mentally in every minute and every phase as a defence. 


“It’s about being accurate in what we deliver on both sides of the ball and I think if we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a position to control their access to the game in a rugby sense but also in an emotional sense, which, against the Italian teams, is important.”


Elsewhere, prop Denis Buckley says that winning 200 caps for Connacht would be an achievement he would be immensely proud of, especially for a boyhood fan of the province. 


Buckley, who made his debut for the Westerners away to Saturday’s opponents as a replacement for Ronan Loughney in 2011, will earn a double century of appearances for the Western province if he is selected to play this weekend. 


“Yeah, it is, it’s one I'm proud of,” the Roscommon native said when asked how he felt about approaching the milestone appearance figure. 


“I suppose with the week that’s in it, and the importance of the game, it’s nice to recognise but, at the same time, the focus is on the game. In a way, it’s no more important than cap number 199 or 201, but it’s great to get there. 


“It’s something I'm proud of, but my focus this week now is on the game and my performance this weekend and the team’s performance.”


Buckley, who was a Connacht mascot as a child in a game against Bristol after he wrote a letter to the club asking for permission, said that he always wanted to play for his home province and that wearing the green shirt is a privilege. 


“I was a big rugby fan from a really young age,” the loosehead said. 


“Obviously, being from Connacht, I ended up being a really big Connacht fan from a young age. I became a mascot for one of the games and got to walk out with the team and go to one of the Connacht games and it was a pretty big occasion at the time. 


“I was a big Connacht fan before that and an even bigger one after it.”