PREVIEW: Connacht V DHL Stormers

23 February 2022

PREVIEW: Connacht V DHL Stormers
Head coach Andy Friend wants Connacht to be aggressive and physically brave in Saturday’s 1 PM kick-off United Rugby Championship meeting with the DHL Stormers at the Sportsground. 


Connacht kept their Champions Cup qualification hopes for next season alive last weekend when they defeated the Scarlets in Wales 29-23.


The Stormers will pose a different challenge, but Friend – citing the 34-7 win over their compatriots, The Bulls, last October as an example that should provide confidence – is confident that his team can win if they stick to their tactical blueprint. 


“The blueprint is not too dissimilar to the Bulles,” the Australian said. 


“We know we’re up against a very physical side, so we’re going to have to front up physically. We have got to not be afraid to put bodies in front defensively. I think probably more so than against the Bulls, they are full of threats in the backfield, so our kicking game has got to be spot on. 


“And then similar when we played the Bulls, I thought we made the most out of all our opportunities. We got into the score zone and we executed, so our ability to look after the ball and to take our chances when opportunities present ourselves; if we can do all that, I think we can put ourselves in a very good position. 


“And if we don’t, they have enough firepower to really hurt us, so it will be a good contest.”


After last weekend’s win away to the Scarlets – the first in the league in Connacht’s history – Friend is keen for his team to find consistency and to knit a run of wins together. 


“It’s really important(to gain that consistency). That’s the beauty of this competition. Someone asked me the other day if the season looked like it was dwindling out, but it’s not; we still have eight games to go. 


“The teams that we’re playing, they’re either ahead of us or around us so there’s still a lot that can happen. The only thing that we can control is what we do on Saturday. It’s really important that we back that up(the Scarlets win) now and really important that we just don’t leave it.


“It was a good performance and a courageous performance, I thought, against a good Scarlets side, but if we leave it there, it won’t have counted for much. We’re very clear in our reckoning that out of the next seven games, we must win five of them. 


“We’ll be attempting to win seven of them, so ideally, we’ll target this one on the weekend and see how we go.”


Meanwhile, centre Tom Daly is keen to make up for lost time after his recent injury absences. 


The Carlow native returned to action last weekend away to the Scarlets after a number weeks out with injury and contributed an excellent performance, capped by providing two try assists for teammates in the victory in Wales. 


And now Daly is looking to contribute as much as he can to the Connacht cause between now and the end of the season. 


“Yeah, definitely, it’s always frustrating being injured,” he said. 


“I think I have been very lucky since I came to Connacht, I hadn’t had an injury since I’ve been here. I was on a nice roll, but unfortunately, injuries are a part of rugby and you’re always going to pick up one here or there and it was tough missing that block because there was a lot of big games in it. 


“Obviously the four European games, you want to be part of them and then the big interpros over Christmas as well, so it wasn’t the nicest block to miss but it’s just good to be back out there now and back winning games as well last weekend, which is good.”


The Stormers are Connacht's next opponents when they visit the Sportsground and Saturday and Daly is expecting an exciting and physical affair. 


The key to any home win, the former Ireland sevens player said, is to front up in the physical stakes and not allow the visitors to release their talented backline. 


“I think you can expect from all South African teams that they are going to have a massive pack with big carriers and a really big back-row who are good over the ball and then some really good individuals in the backs. 


“I know one of their wingers, Seabelo Senatla, he is a former sevens player and I played against him at under ’20s and I remember he was electric back then and he’s the same now. Their whole back three looks very dangerous. 


“They are pretty similar to the Bulls team we played earlier in the season. A big heavy pack with good individuals in the backs, so it’s about fronting up physically and meeting them head-on, like we did with the Bulls earlier on in the year and then trying to keep their outside backs quiet by taming their forwards a little bit.”