PREVIEW: Leicester Tigers V Connacht

16 December 2021

PREVIEW: Leicester Tigers V Connacht
Head coach Andy Friend says his Connacht team are expecting a hugely physical encounter when they travel to face Leicester Tigers in the next round of the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday afternoon.


The Westerners began their European campaign in excellent style, winning 36-9 at home to Stade Francais last weekend, scoring six tries, and conceding none in an entertaining clash at the Sportsground.


But Friend expects the Tigers – who are unbeaten this season, winning ten games from ten across all competition to offer a formidable challenge to his squad.


Despite this, the ambition, shared by all in the coaching and playing staff, is to advance from the pool stage into the knock-out rounds, he said.


“I think their game style is pretty obvious, what they’re trying to do,” the Australian said.


“I think they had something like 57 kicks at the weekend(their Champions Cup win away to Bordeaux), so they play very much a territory-based game, with good half-backs that kick and a good back three that kick. They have got a big forward pack, so set-piece is going to be important.


“They’re looking pretty strong this year, with ten wins from ten. We’ll be turning up against a team at Welford Road who are full of confidence, with a game style that is currently working for them. We’re going to have to be ready for that, which we will be, and see if we can counter it in some way.”


Friend – whose team were defeated at Welford Road, in a game that was tight until the closing stages, last spring in the Challenge Cup – says the best course of action for the western province will be to focus on their own game and not to just try and counter the English team.


“No, I think we’ve got to be us,” the former Australian Sevens’ coach said.


“That’s why you have an identity, you have an identity because you believe in it and that’s what you train for and that’s what you do. Similar to Leicester having an identity, they do. I don’t know what words they use, but you can see the way they play: everyone knows what they’re trying to do and they do it very, very well.


“We have an identity, which we’ve talked about, which we’ve worked really hard to make sure what we put out there on the pitch every single game and I think we’re getting better at that. We have to respect the strengths they have got, which we will, but at the same time, it’s more about us and what we do and how we play our game.


“We said at the front end of this competition, we want to be the first Connacht team to come out of the pool stages and we still believe that and still want to be that team. We’re very aware of the challenge ahead of us, but we’re definitely going there to compete.”


Forward Cian Prendergast, meanwhile, says the mood in the Connacht camp is positive ahead of Sunday’s trip to Leicester Tigers.


Playing at blindside flanker, the 21year old excelled in the previous round against Stade Francais, capping his performance – which featured brilliant work at the line out – with a late try in the commanding 36-9 home win.


But now the Kildare native is looking forward and is focusing on what he expects to be a physical encounter at Welford Road, but one he is nonetheless excited about.


“Yeah, positive,” was Predenergast’s assessment of the mood in the Westerners’ squad.


“We have accepted that it’s five points earned(against Stade), but it’s a big week coming up. Playing the Premiership leaders, Leicester, who are unbeaten, away from home is a big challenge, so it’s a really exciting week.”


Prendergast was one of the several young players featuring for Connacht in last weekend’s win, with the likes of Niall Murray and Shayne Bolton – 22 and 21 years old respectively – also starring in the victory.


The second-row cum flanker says that Andy Friend’s faith in the squad’s young players provides them with confidence to perform against even the most prestigious of opposition.


Additionally, the leadership shown by the experienced players – like Jack Carty and Jarrad Butler – has created an environment where younger squad members can express themselves on the field of play.


“Friendy put a lot of faith in us this week in picking so many young players and he’s said that if you show your best hand in training and you perform when he gives you an opportunity, he is willing to pick you. He’s been good with that and he is willing to pick you in those bigger games.


“We fed off that last week, that we had those opportunities. Lucky enough, we had those leaders, like Jarrad and Jack, to help us through as well and even lads like Ultan(Dillane) and Gav(Thornbury) helping us out and guiding us through and taking as much burden off us as they can and helping us through the week.”