Head coach Andy Friend is confident that Connacht can find a new level of performance ahead of Friday night’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 first leg clash with Leinster, kick-off 8PM. 

 

After his team defeated Benetton Rugby away in the United Rugby Championship last weekend, Friend says that elements of that performance can build confidence and be applied to the interprovincial showdown with their eastern rivals. 

 

However, the Australian is also aware that Connacht will need to be at their best against a formidable Leinster outfit. 

 

“As a team searching for the winning ways again, and probably a bit of confidence and belief ourselves, we got that, we got a shot of that,” the Australian said. 

 

“I think yesterday and today, with the way the game has been reviewed, leading into the preview of this game, has added more clarity for everybody and more confidence for everybody. We definitely needed that, but we’re going to need that in spades come Friday night and during the following one.”

 

Leinster’s work rate – especially in their defence and at the breakdown – has stifled many teams attacking ambitions and Friend believes that the route to victory for Connacht is to be efficient with their strike plays. 

 

“I think one of the pluses that came out of our last encounter against them was the way we launched our strike plays. I thought we made yards and got in behind them and a lot of that was with 14 men against 15 men. 

 

“I think our launches have been one of the consistent areas of our game this season. If it’s 15 on 15, I’m comfortable and confident that when we get our detail right – and that’s Mossy Lawler who looks after those, I think he has a brilliant eye for opportunity and a brilliant eye on how to pull opposition defence apart – and then it’s about the players executing that.

 

“I think, on the whole, the boys have been really good with that, so it’s actually an area as we enter the game, and we’ll respect the fact that Leinster have a very good defence and they’ll try to shut that down, but I’m going to back the fact that the quality of work that’s gone into the launches is going to be good.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Conor Oliver says that the Connacht squad are excited to lock horns with Leinster on Friday night. 

 

Oliver, who has impressed this season – with his work at the breakdown and in defence particularly standing out – says that he and his teammates are playing at the level, the Heineken Champions knockout stages, where they want to be competing. 

 

And despite losing their last game to Leinster, the former Munster man is confident that Connacht can bag a win in front of their home crowd. 

 

“The main mood is excitement,” the 26-year-old said when asked how the camp were feeling ahead of the first of two continental clashes with Leinster.

 

“We’re excited. These European weeks, they’re different and there’s a different buzz around. This is the biggest game of the season, obviously, so everyone is really excited and ready to tear in. 

 

“We’re very confident in our detail and preparation and most of the lads are just raring to get going on Friday.”

 

Oliver, who joined the province in 2020, said that training – where Connacht have 42 fit players available for selection – has been intense with all the squad extremely eager to play this coming Friday. 

 

“These kinds of training sessions are the only opportunity for some to prove yourself and to show that you’re ready. The training sessions here are always tasty and always on that knife-edge and on that boiling point. I think that’s the kind of intensity that we need in training so that we can bring that into the games. 

 

“There’s massive competition in the squad and any professional athlete would tell you that when there’s competition for places, it makes everyone train better because there are lads at your heels every time. It’s a really good environment and we’re delighted to get the lads back out on the pitches as well; no one wants to see your teammates with long-term injuries.

 

“We had two lads come back last week, Dylan Tierney Martin and Gavin Thornbury, who were out for a long time, and it’s great seeing them back in the mix and putting in good performances in as well.”

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