PREVIEW: Connacht V Stade Francais

08 December 2021

PREVIEW: Connacht V Stade Francais
Head coach Andy Friend says his squad are looking forward to the challenge of hosting Stade Francais in the Heineken Champions Cup at the Sportsground on Sunday at 1PM.


The Westerners were defeated by Leinster in an interpro in the United Rugby Championship last time out, but the Australian – who was happy with elements of his team's performance – says the squad have drawn a line under the loss and all their focus is on Sunday’s European clash. 


The contest at the set-piece will be a determining factor in who wins, Friend says, but the home team’s priority for their continental opener will be ensuring they are at their best and that they can execute their own game plan, rather than adapting to try and counter their opponents. 


“They have a very dominant set-piece platform to launch from. In that La Rochelle game(last weekend’s French league clash) and others, when they get that right, they get good energy off that,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 


“Our scrum is going to be really important, as is our maul. They have brilliant individuals, so we need to be aware of the threat those individuals will throw at us. 


“But more importantly, and like we have been focusing on in the last four or five games, it's about us and what we do. We’re aware of the threats they have there, we need to get parity in those key areas. 


“When we have got the ball, we can play our style, we believe we can cause them some issues. And when we don’t have the ball, we need to make sure we’re working collectively rather than individually.”


In the midst of a ten-week block of games, Friend believes that squad rotation and depth – either making substitutes in-game or naming changed starting teams – will be key in keeping the squad fresh and competitive. 


“It will take a 23 to be able to beat them on the weekend, “ he said. 


“All 23 will have to be at their best if we do want to beat them. The most important thing there is to not give them the ins via their set-piece. If we can do that and play the rugby we know we can play, we will give them some troubles.”


Meanwhile, tighthead prop Jack Aungier says the decision to renew his contract with Connacht was an “easy” decision to make. 


The 23-year-old joined the Westerners from Leinster in the summer of 2020 and has since been a regular feature in matchday squads, impressing with his combative style of play. 


With plenty of game time, Aungier – the former Suttonians club man – has enjoyed his rugby and this was a key factor in his decision to continue plying his trade at the Sportsground as well as being able to compete at the highest level of club rugby, the Heineken Champions Cup. 


“I suppose it was a pretty easy one,” the forward said of his decision to pen a new deal. 


“I came up here and got an opportunity straight away. The COVID break was tough, but I played 13/14 games last year and I was pretty much involved all the time. 


“I’m really enjoying it up here and I’m delighted to sign for another two years and it was a pretty easy decision, really.”


Connacht reshuffled their coaching team over the pre-season with Mossy Lawler and Cullie Tucker promoted from the academy ranks and Dewald Senekal joining as forward’s coach from the French Top 14. 


Aungier says that he has enjoyed working with Senekal – the South African native – and learning from a coach with a French and South African interpretation of forward play. 


“He’s been very good,” the prop said of the forward’s coach. 


“I've learned a lot from him. He’s probably got a few new ideas around the scrum and line out that you wouldn’t see as much in Ireland, it’s probably more French or South African. He’s been a really good addition. Our maul defence has been really good this year and our scrum has been pretty solid. He’s brought a lot to the party.”


Similarly, second row Oisin Dowling is delighted in joining Aungier in signing a fresh deal with Connacht. 


The 24-year-old former St Michael’s student joined the Westerners in the summer of 2020 and has impressed with his physicality in the forward pack. 


Despite some injury set-backs, Dowling feels settled in the squad and is looking forward to contributing on the pitch going forward. 


“Similar to Jack, I’m really delighted to have gotten the opportunity to come up here last year,” the former Irish underage international said. 


“I’m really happy to be signing on. I got to play a good bit more rugby this year and last year as well, so, yeah, it was a pretty easy decision.”