PREVIEW: Leinster V Connacht

01 December 2021

PREVIEW: Leinster V Connacht
Attack coach Pete Wilkins is happy with the balance Connacht have struck in attack this season ahead of Friday night’s United Rugby Championship interprovincial away to Leinster, kick-off 7:45 PM. 


In the Westerners’ last outing, they played some superb attacking rugby -- both from set plays and unstructured play -- in their 46-18 win over the Ospreys. 


The English coach says that the coaching staff endeavor for the squad to play with an attacking blueprint, but to strike the right balance between prescriptive play and off the cuff decision making. 


“I suppose we’re trying to find that balance between playing in an unstructured environment and bringing as much unstructured chaos to the game -- and I mean that in a positive sense -- as possible but still give the players a framework that enables us to have some cohesion and all be on the same page decision making wise within that framework,” Wilkins explained. 


“We’re trying to find a sweet spot somewhere in there. What it means is letting go a little bit the strictness in terms of the attacking shape and judging ourselves by where the pieces on the chessboard are and focus more so on what they are doing within the play in those small moments, in terms of their movement and their link play together and the cohesion of those running lines together. 


“So, I guess it’s trying to destructure the environment but at the same time getting us all on the same page within that. What it looks like in practice is that we should get a real flow to our attack and we should see a lot of motion, a lot of movement, but, ultimately, generate and regenerate that momentum within games. 


“Obviously, defences have a pretty strong say in how much they allow you to do that, but that’s our intent to get that flow and that unstructured environment and to empower the players to be able to thrive within that."


Interprovincial clashes are invariably physical affairs and Wilkins believes that -- mirroring Connacht’s win at the RDS last season and Ulster’s last weekend -- the Westerners will have to be at their physical best to topple the defending champions. 


The away teams focus will be on themselves and the facets of their game that they can control, the senior attack coach confirmed. 


“I think what Ulster did well was they brought an enormous amount of physicality and energy to everything that they did. 


“I think when there were positive moments in the game for Ulster, they built on those with more positive moments. When they had their own speed bumps in the game, when Leinster had their moments -- which you fully expect them to, especially at home -- then find a way to bounce from that quickly and let go of that negative phase and reassert yourself on the game and regenerate your own momentum. So, I think from that point of view, that physicality and energy that Ulster brought enabled them to do those things pretty well.


“For us, one thing we know we’re never lacking in any interpro -- but especially Leinster -- is that energy and excitement about the occasion. The determination to do well in those games -- whether that’s in terms of provincial identity and rivalries, whether it’s to do with international selection and everything that’s at stake there different guys coming up against players in their position -- there’s no shortage of motivation or incentive in the game. 


“I think the important bit for us is to focus on what we can control and what we can do well.”


Elsewhere, forward Eoghan Masterson says the mood in the Connacht camp is buoyant ahead of the Westerners' trip to face Leinster on Friday evening. 


Last weekend’s big victory over the Ospreys in the Sportsground men’s first game back after the international break was a welcome result and performance, but -- despite this -- Masterson says the atmosphere in the changing room has been positive for weeks. 


“I think the mood has generally been good for a few weeks,” the former Irish underage international said. 


“Obviously we finished up the block with that big win in the Aviva against Ulster, which was a great day out and a really good experience and then going into a few weeks off it was a good time to celebrate that win with everyone.


‘Then, we had a couple of days and everyone came back in a great mood. Then the training after that point was really good. The big challenge for us was the consistency, could we back up a good performance with another good performance. I thought the lads were outstanding on Friday night, particularly in the first half into the wind. 


“I’m not sure if everyone watching on TV could understand how bad the conditions were. It was absolutely freezing, howling wind, really cold, wet weather. Some of the handling that particularly the backs showed was really good and really encouraging that the hard stuff and the key principles that Andy(Friend) and Pete(Wilkins) are talking about were implemented. So, yeah, I think the mood is generally really good.”


Heading into Friday night’s interprovincial, Masterson expects a typically attacking game -- given both teams'  style of play -- with Leinster smarting after losing last weekend at home to Ulster. 


Statistically, the Eastern province lead the way in a lot of attacking metrics in the URC while Connacht also play an enterprising, pacey style of Rugby.


“Yeah, on paper from the outside looking in as a neutral, it should be a cracking game. We looked at Leinster statistics this season and they are number one for tries, number one for line breaks, points scored and run metres. 


“We’re well aware of the challenge in front of us. We’re trying ourselves to be an attacking team that leads the way for line breaks and for tries scored and to be an exciting team to watch. Hopefully we can apply the stuff we’re working on and getting better and use it to our advantage,” the Laois native said.