PREVIEW: Connacht V Leinster

05 May 2021

PREVIEW: Connacht V Leinster
By John O’Sullivan 


Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to show the same qualities that saw them win away to Leinster in January when the Eastern province visits the Sportsground in the Rainbow Cup on Saturday evening. 


The Westerners secured a bonus point 35-24 victory at the RDS -- their first at that venue since 2002 --  with a performance underpinned by accuracy and physical intensity. 


After winning 26-24 away to Ulster last time out, Friend feels that his team will need another big performance to make it two Rainbow Cup wins from two. 


“Probably not too dissimilar to what we showed at the RDS in January,” the Australian said when asked what it would take for his team to win in Saturday’s interprovincial. 


“We talked about it all week this week. We were the first Connacht team to win up at the RDS(since 2002), that doesn’t happen very often up in Dublin.


“That’s a nice feather to have in the cap, but, having done that, you now know what’s coming. You now know you’ve got a Leinster who we knocked off up there. They’ve just lost their last two and they are a very proud club and they’re coming down here to make sure that their losing streak is snapped. 


“We know exactly what’s coming and that’s 23 men in blue -- which 23, we don’t know yet -- and we know we have to be right up for that fight in order to try and steal another win. That’s our intention. 


“It won’t be too different to what you saw in the RDS in December. We brought great intent and line speed and I thought our physicality was good and I thought our game smarts and our game management was very good. Our intention is to try and replicate that and to try and get another win.”


Meanwhile, Friend says that Connacht’s elongated season -- the squad have nearly been training together for an entire calendar year, thanks to the pandemic canceling games and rearranging fixtures -- has provided the opportunity for new players to get up to speed with the Westerners systems. 


New recruits, such as Ben O’Donnell, Abraham Papali’i, and Oisin Dowling, have made big impressions since joining the club. 


While the campaign has been physically taxing on the playing personnel, the former Australia sevens coach takes positives from the unusually lengthy season. 


“I always try and find positives for whatever happens,” Friend said. 


“You could look at it and say it’s just been a hell of a long season and it’s draining. But it’s an opportunity for us to expose other players to game time and to build our relationships and build our knowledge of our game plan and our game pattern. 


“It has been a long season, but we have been able to give other blokes a great opportunity and they are going to be better for that.”


Elsewhere, hooker Dave Heffernan paid tribute to outgoing forwards coach Jimmy Duffy. 


Duffy, who has served Connacht with distinction, will leave the province at the end of the season and Heffernan said that the Galway native had a huge impact on his career and his development as a rugby player. 


“Jimmy has been massive for me,” the Irish international said. 


“I remember when I was coming through in the academy and I was initially moving to hooker(from the back row) he would have been a huge helping hand. 


“He was always offering to and putting his hand up to catch balls for me. He went above and beyond and he didn’t need to do it at the time. I will always be hugely grateful to him for that. 


“I have worked closely with him for years and he’s the ultimate pro and you could never fault his work rate or his work ethic. He leaves no stone unturned every week and he's left the club in a better place than where it was when he came to it. He’s been a massive servant and he’s a brilliant guy as well.”


Heffernan says that the possibility of Irish selection in any potential Ireland summer tour will add extra intensity to the upcoming interprovincial games, which are already full of “fire”. The Westerners travel away to Munster next weekend after hosting Leinster on Saturday.


“The intepro’s are so easy to get up for. You’re playing against your friends and your competition as well. Even if it was a friendly match, there would be fire in those Interpro games,” the Ballina man said. 


“Yeah, 100%. It would be a massive opportunity if I got selected. That’s what the next few games are for. I need to show that I am good enough and I can be better than the guys that are ahead of me. 


“I didn’t get a look in there during the Six Nations, and I probably wasn’t playing good enough. But I think now I need to up my form and really bring it in the next few games. I was quite happy with my performance against Ulster and I need that forward to the next couple of games as well.”