Centre Tom Daly believes that the lessons learned from last weekend’s defeat away to Cardiff Rugby will stand Connacht in good stead as the season progresses.
The Westerners, who scored two tries through Kieran Marmion with the boot of Jack Carty tacked on three penalties and a conversion, lost 33-21 in a quick tempo, entertaining game at Cardiff Arms Park.
Despite the reversal in Wales, Daly believes Connacht can make amends, starting this Friday when they welcome the Vodacom Bulls to the Sportsground at 7:35 PM.
The game was decided by small margins and the centre -- who started alongside the returning Tom Farrell in Wales -- is relishing the challenge the South Africans will provide and the opportunity it will provide to put the learnings of the Cardiff defeat into action.
“It’s definitely an opportunity lost, from our point of view,” the Carlow native said.
“We always knew it would be tough going away to Cardiff. It always is. Friendy(Andy Friend) said last week that we only won there twice in the last ten years and it’s probably the best position we have put ourselves in there in the last couple of years. We had that line out five metres out with fifteen to go to go ahead.
“Unfortunately, that didn’t go to plan and then a few lapses in discipline and we lose a few players and you’re never really going to close out the game with thirteen men versus fifteen, so it’s maybe those little things like discipline -- and that lapse of concentration at the line out -- that we need to really learn from that and improve and it’s a big opportunity this weekend back at home at the Sportsground against the Bulls.
“We know what sort of challenge we’re going to face against them, it’s definitely a different challenge to Cardiff, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Friday night’s clash will be the first game that Connacht host with a crowd since October 2020 and Daly -- as well as the entire squad and coaching staff -- is looking forward to welcoming the Westerners’ faithful back to the Sportsground.
“Definitely,” the 28-year old said when asked if he felt the return of the home crowd would give the Westerners a boost.
“Even playing last week, I know we were away to Cardiff, you can just see the kind of effect it has on the game. When they do something and the crowd gets behind them, it really lifts them.
“We’re looking forward to having a few thousand Connacht fans back in the stadium this weekend and it will definitely give us the kind of lift we need. I’m really looking forward to that and it would be great to get as many in as we can in the Sportsground.”
Meanwhile, attack coach Peter Wilkins says that Connacht will need to be at their best -- in all aspects of the game -- to get their first win of the season against the Bulls.
The South Africans were defeated 31-3 away to Leinster last weekend, but Wilkins says the Westerners must be wary of their smarting opposition.
“I think they will certainly be smarting from it(the Leinster loss),” Wilkins said.
“I thought the performance they put in against Leinster was higher energy and it was highly skilled in parts. They have got some very good players and some established internationals, others that are obviously away, but certainly enough quality that they are a real threat.
“We need to frame them as a momentum team. They want to put you on the back foot at the set-piece, whether that’s in the scrum or the maul or whether that’s in the second phase to bring big runners around the corner or big runners back against the grain.’’
Counteracting the physicality of the away team will help the Westerners’ cause, the Englishman said, but Connacht can’t just rely on that and will need to focus on their own strengths such as tempo and speed of their passing and angles of running.
“There’s an enormous physical threat there, but I also think it’s too simple to say they’re purely a momentum team and if you front up physically you’ll get the job done.
“I think there is a bit of nuance there in how we need to play, both in attack and defence, to respect the threats they have got.”