Head coach Andy Friend says his Connacht side’s performance against Leicester Tigers in last month’s Heineken Champions Cup game at Welford Road has given them the confidence they can go one further and defeat the English Premiership table-toppers this coming Saturday at 3:15 PM at The Sportsground.

 

Despite coming out on the wrong end of a 29-23 scoreline in Leicester, the Westerners – who had a losing bonus point to show for their efforts – put in a solid performance throughout, against a team who only tasted their first defeat of the season in all competitions last weekend. 

 

Friend believes that his team can take the positive learnings from the first leg in England – where their attack caused the hosts headaches – and apply them this Saturday in Galway, where a win for the home team would boost their chances of qualifying for the second round of the Champions Cup for the first time in the club’s history.

 

Connacht’s win over Munster in their last outing in the United Rugby Championship will, the Australian said, have prepared the squad – given the Southern provinces and the English team’s similarities in the style of play – for the oncoming physical onslaught this weekend.

 

“We’re of the belief that we can win this game. That’s our intention: to go and win it,” he said.

 

“It will be very similar. They play a very similar game style, Leicester as do Munster. There’s a lot of contestable kicking, there’s a big pack coming at you from scrum and from maul. They like to win penalties and either kick three points or kick to the corner. They’re very similar on that front.”

 

The key to any victory, according to the former Australian Seven coach, is Connacht being true to their style of play and imposing it on the opposition, while also improving in their set-piece to provide their attack with the platform to thrive. 

 

“We need to play us. We need just to be us. We need to be better in our set-piece, in terms of our scrum. We got caught last time not chasing our weight after the hit, so we got to make sure we do that and not give them easy go-forward ball on the scrum. 

 

“But I do believe we have a pack that can do that for us. I think our bench is going to be really important this week. We just need to go back and play our brand of rugby and I think if we can do that we will cause some headaches.”

 

Conor Oliver, meanwhile, says he is loving his rugby at the moment. 

 

The 26-year-old former Munster former back-row joined Connacht in July 2020 and has since become a key figure in the forward pack. 

 

With his fitness, bravery in the tackle, and breakdown threat, Oliver has excelled this season and he attributes this to his enjoyment of the style of play the Westerners utilize and his familiarity with the game plan, which has grown over time. 

 

“I’m loving it at the moment, that’s why I’m performing as well,” the Dublin native said. 

 

“When anyone enjoys something, you’re going to perform better. I like the way we play, I feel it does suit me. 

 

“Last season I wasn’t performing to the level I knew I could or wanted to and I feel I have been long enough here that I understand the way we want to play Rugby and I think I’m fitting in well into that kind of brand.”

 

The openside, who started in the 29-23 reversal at Welford Road, expects the Leicester Tigers to bring a high degree of physicality when they visit the Sportsground on Saturday for the round three clash. 

 

However, Oliver – who says Connacht could have won the round two meeting in England – believes the Westerners’ squad are confident that they can earn a victory, based on their faith in their game plan. 

 

“We know what’s coming,” he said of the physically dominant game the Engish Premiership team play. 

 

“We were over there and we feel like we should have won that game and we felt we weren’t at our best when we were over there. We’re confident going into this weekend that we can win this game. We feel we have the right game plan to win it. We know what’s coming and we welcome it with open arms.”

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