PREVIEW: Scarlets v Connacht

17 February 2022

PREVIEW: Scarlets v Connacht
Senior coach Pete Wilkins says that the Connacht squad have been re-energized after a week off from playing responsibilities. 


After a glut of games in quick succession – both in Europe and domestically – the Westerners, who were defeated at home to Glasgow in their last outing, afforded their players five days off to recover, physically and mentally. 


And now, ahead of Saturday evening’s trip away to The Scarlets in the United Rugby Championship, Wilkins says he can see the benefit of that hard-earned break in the intensity of training and the energy of the players.


“I think there is a natural reset with the by-weekend we had. It was a big stint of games there and those Leicester and Stade Francais games took an enormous physical and psychological toll on the group, understandably,” the Englishman said.


“I think the effort that went into against two very physical and very good teams, but also the psychological impact of losing two tight games at the end, but then to back up for the Ulster and Glasgow matches, it was probably a couple of bridges too far for us, in terms of the performance levels we delivered. 


“We’ve had our by-weekend, the lads have had five days off to recover and regenerate mentally and physically. We have been back in since last Thursday and we have trained really well, with the sort of energy we saw earlier in the year. I think that reset that has happened is the nature of the schedule but was certainly needed and you can see the bounce around the group on the back of that.”


After the Scarlets game, Connacht host the Stormers before completing the block of consecutive games away to Edinburgh on March 4th. 


More than a particular set of results from the trio of URC games, Wilkins says that – first and foremost – the objective is to focus on Scarlets and to take it game by game. 


“We wouldn’t be setting ourselves a hard target, in terms of points or in terms of wins out of these three,” he said. 


“Scarlets hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Connacht previously, but, equally, we have generally played really in parts of those games. Scarlets are the type of team that, if you give them easy access to the game, they will punish you; whether that’s through turnovers or through discipline or providing them with too much field position.


“We went down before there with a twenty point plus lead(last season) but then were ineffective at getting out of own our half and then they have the danger and threats to capitalise on that. 


“We showed enough glimpses(last season) to show we can do it against the Scarlets, but it’s up to us to deliver that eighty minutes of applied pressure to make sure we can do it. We need to win this week. It’s important to bounce back from the previous run of games we had before the break. It’s important when you’re starting a new mini-block at this part of the season and it’s important in terms of our URC and Champions Cup ambitions.”


Meanwhile, hooker Dave Heffernan says that Connacht will be focusing on getting their attacking game back to its best in Saturday’s clash in Wales. 


The attack in an area where the Irish international feels the Westerners haven’t fit their usual heights in recent weeks, but – after having some constructive training sessions – is confident they can turn that around and use it as a platform to win as many games as possible. 


“I think everyone knows we need a win, but how we get there is how we play and I suppose we have probably let ourselves down in the past few weeks with the way we have played,” he said. 


“We haven’t been too hung up on talking about winning, but we want to get back to the way we were playing about a month ago when we were a real attacking threat. In fairness to Pete(Wilkins) he has identified a lot of things that we can improve on and given us actual work ons in our attack specifically. There’s a lot of room for improvement there. 


“We have kind of slipped up on that in the past few weeks, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on, rather than talking about getting a win, we all know we need a win, but it’s how we do that. I think getting our attack back to where it was about a month ago should go a long way towards that.”