By John O'Sullivan
Head coach Andy Friend says that the breakdown will be a key area of battle when Connacht entertain The Cardiff Blues this Saturday at 7:35 PM in the Guinness PRO14.
In the reverse fixture -- a 29-7 victory for the Welsh team in Newport last October -- Friend believes that the Blues got the upper hand at the breakdown and this prevented the Westerners from turning their territory and possession into more tries.
But the Australian is confident that Connacht have learned from the defeat and they can apply those lessons on Saturday evening.
“The big word for us is being clinical, being clinical when it really matters against a side that’s a very good defensive side,” the head coach said.
“I thought their defence was outstanding(in the first game between the teams), so we are going to have to play a really smart game, as we always have to do. We have to make sure we’re not running into the blue brick wall, especially close to the ruck where they are really dominant.
“They got four or five blokes who love to jackal over the ball. So, when we do carry we have to carry hard and the speed of that support has got to be really good. If we can come out of that game having lost no turnovers, it would be an amazing game.
“We’re normally guilty of about six or seven turnovers at the breakdown against them. If we can come out with anything less than two I would be really happy with that and we would probably be having a win.”
In the Westerner's last game, a 30-20 win away to the Dragons, Shane Delahunt played a prominent role with a hand in three of Connacht’s four tries in the bonus-point victory.
Friend praised the hookers' skillset and said that having a multifaceted player like the Offaly native, who is able to assume playmaking and creative responsibilities, is a huge boost to the team.
“It’s really helpful,” the former Australian sevens coach said of the 27-year-old’s ability to play make, and facilitate attacks.
“He is a really creative player and a very clever footballer. He’s probably not your traditional style hooker, although his set-piece is excellent. What he gives you around the park is the capacity to create something out of nothing.
“His performance, in two of those tries in particular -- the offload to Abraham(Papali’i) and then the break out of the maul and the pop to Caolin Blade -- was really, really special. He’s probably one of the only blokes that can deliver that on a consistent basis.”
Meanwhile, winger Alex Wootton praised the positive welcome he has received as a Connacht player and said that the environment around the camp has helped him settle quickly and show his best form.
The 26-year-old, who is on loan at the Sportsground from Munster, has scored eight tries in all competitions this season and finds himself second in the PRO14 top try-scorer list, a solitary try behind Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee.
“Yeah, I am,” Wooton said when he was asked whether he was pleased with how his move to the province has panned out so far.
“I think the biggest thing for me is obviously game time. That was the biggest thing coming here, was trying to find a spot in the team and seizing the opportunity.
“But it’s been so much more than I expected, being honest. Everyone here has been so welcoming. I have fitted in relatively well and the guys are second to none. There are definitely no complaints".
The former Irish sevens player agreed with Friend’s assessment that Connacht need to be efficient in attack against Cardiff, especially given the organisation and strength of the visitors’ defence.
The speedster is sure that Connacht can prize the away team's stubborn rearguard open and says that any home win will be dependent on their ability to take the try-scoring chances that are presented to them.
“Defences are so good nowadays, especially in their own half,” the winger said.
“You get one or two opportunities, especially as a back three player, and you have to take those opportunities while you can. That’s really the way the game has gone, whichever opposition you’re playing. But these guys especially, they like to defend.
“There will be a few opportunities like there is in every game, and it will depend on whether or not we take them.”