PREVIEW: Ulster V Connacht

02 February 2022

PREVIEW: Ulster V Connacht
Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are keen to right the wrongs of last weekend’s defeat to Glasgow Warriors when they face off us against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening.


The Australian described last Saturday’s performance in the 42-20 defeat at home to the Scottish team as unacceptable, given the strides the team and squad have made this season and the positive impression they wanted to make in front of a full house at the Sportsground. 


However, Friend is confident that Connacht – whose training sessions have been aggressive and intense, with players looking to make amends and put their hands up for selection – can get back to winning ways on Friday, despite acknowledging the many qualities of Ulster.


“We actually saw a response yesterday afternoon,” the former Australia Sevens coach said.


“We put it to bed yesterday morning. We had a lengthier team meeting yesterday morning. The players were good. They get it and they own it. Things were presented to them and conversations were had, but we parked it as of about 10:30 yesterday morning. 


“What we saw today was a much more energized team today like we’re used to seeing and what we thought we were going to see last Saturday.”


Friend says that the key to any win for the Westerners will be focusing on their own game and executing to the standard they know they can, rather than shaping their game plan depending on their opponents with the October win over the Westerners’ interprovincial rivals providing the template.


“It’s got to be about us. The last time we played Ulster at The Aviva, we had that hunger and physicality about us and we took the game to them and that’s what, unfortunately, you didn’t see last Saturday.


“It’s about us taking the game to Ulster. They’re a good team, so they don’t lose at the Kingspan very often. But we have shown, over the last few years, that if we do front up there and if we do play a brand of football with that physical edge to it, we actually can get wins against them. 


“So, it’s about us turning up and doing that.”


Meanwhile, back-row Jarrad Butler says that the Westerners’ trip to Ulster on Friday evening poses a massive challenge.


The Sportsground men won the sides’ last meeting 36-11 in a brilliant performance at The Aviva Stadium last October. 


And after three defeats in a row – including in Europe and the league – Butler hopes that the interprovincial in Belfast will spark Connacht back into a winning run of form.


“Yeah, it’s a massive challenge,” the former Brumbies flanker said.


“I think it’s exactly what we need to try and bounce back from last week and then a couple of close games before that as well. We really need to get ourselves back into the winner's circle.


“I think Ulster are the perfect opposition for that. They have been outstanding for the past few games. They have been consistent, they have been playing really good footy. But like you said, we’ve had some really good results against Ulster. 


“I think back to the Aviva and we were able to put them under a lot of pressure, we were able to move forward and assert ourselves and we think if we can do that again, we can definitely get a good result, that’s for sure.”


Last weekend’s home defeat to the Glasgow Warriors – coupled with the narrow European reversals against Leicester Tigers and Stade Francais in the previous weekends – have provided lessons for Connacht and Butler believes they are ready to apply them when they lock horns with Ulster.


“There was a bit of extra physicality and energy this morning at the training session but it was good and it was warranted because we needed a kick up the rear end, you know what I mean?


“I think we have to be able to look back at that and say ‘hey, let's not put ourselves in a position, sitting in the sheds, scratching our heads and wondering what happened out there for the last 80 minutes. We need to have a reaction.”