PREVIEW: Racing 92 V Connacht

11 December 2020

PREVIEW: Racing 92 V Connacht

By John O’Sullivan

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will employ a confrontational and attacking gameplan in their Heineken Champions Cup clash away at Racing 92 on Sunday afternoon at 3:15PM.


The French side have contested two of the last three Champions Cup finals and are also unbeaten in European competition in their indoor La Défense Arena home.


While respecting and acknowledging the quality of the Parisians, Friend says that his team will be aggressive and will attack the game, both in defence and in attack.


“One of the things we talked about them in our preview yesterday, it was Pete Wilkins(the defence coach) who said, is that if you sit back and look at all their names on the team sheet and you let them play, they are going to be good. But if you just say ‘it’s another 15 bodies’ out there and we actually attack it and we don’t give them the time and the space, there’s a chance of upsetting them,” the Australian said of Connacht’s tactical plan for their first European game of the season.


“We asked(the squad) do you think we can beat Racing? Yeah, I think we can. Sweet. Let’s focus on that. We go into the weekend -- and the whole week -- with that in mind and we do believe we can beat them. So, let’s go over there and give it a shot.”


Friend, the former Australian Sevens coach, also highlighted attacking efficiency -- taking scoring chances when they are presented -- as an area of the game where the Westerners will need to be sharp. He is, however, optimistic that Connacht can manufacture openings that they can profit from.


“We got to nail our opportunities. When we get them -- and we’ll get them -- we got to make sure we’re clinical with those. We might not get too many, but if we get them early and we nail them early it will put us in a strong position. If you don’t, and they nail theirs, the gap will start to increase.


“That would be the first thing. The second thing is we got to get in their face. We got to get off the line and don’t worry about who is wearing the jersey and just get off the line and get your body in front of those jerseys and shut down their time and space.”


Statistically, games played at Racing’s home -- with their 4G indoor pitch -- see’s the ball in play for longer stretches of time than in other stadiums.


Friend is confident that his team can adapt to this and the playing surface suits their preferred, attacking mentality and style of play.


“We much prefer to play an open brand of rugby,” the Australian said.


“At the same time, we need to play in the right areas of the field so we’ll need to get that balance right. For us, we’re excited to be able to get to a venue where the conditions aren’t going to hurt us. We saw that a little bit against Zebre(in Connacht’s 52-7 win), we had a beautiful afternoon and we managed to score six or seven tries over there. It’s definitely something that suits us and is something the players get excited about. There’s a real buzz in the group around this weekend, that’s for sure.”


Meanwhile, centre Sammy Arnold echoed Friend’s thought’s and said that the players are aware that their approach in the La Défense Arena will have to be attack minded.


The former Munster back has settled into life well with Connacht and says that Sunday’s game is exciting, especially because he predicts it will be played with a quick tempo with attacking tactics favoured by both teams.


“It’s such a fast surface that you have to play an attacking brand over there,” the Irish international said.


“You can’t go over there and not play. You’re going to have to score tries to win at Racing. The surface, the dryness, there’s no wind or no rain is a massive factor when playing there.


“Definitely. It will definitely be a quick tempo game. They like to play a quick brand of rugby and obviously have some exciting players. We like to play that brand of rugby and we showed we can score some great tries when we are at our best. It’s set to be a really exciting game.”


Arnold, 24, says that the squad believe they belong at the highest level of European club rugby and they are excited to test themselves against the best teams.


“We’re in a competition now we believe we should be in and for us we’re just taking it one game at a time. Like I said, it’s such an exciting fixture and these are the games you want to be a part of, these big European games, these exciting games.”