Senior head coach Pete Wilkins says that Connacht need to remain diligent and confident in their game plan ahead of this Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16-second leg against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

 

The Western province go into the second installment of the tie trailing their eastern rivals 26-21 after a hard-fought encounter at the sell-out Sportsground last Friday.

 

However, despite the loss, Wilkins saw ample evidence that Connacht can cause problems for their opponents and he believes that consistently carrying out their game plan and trusting their processes will be the key to advancing to the quarter-finals.

 

“That first game shows that if we remain diligent in playing our way and taking three points when they come and kicking for field position when we need to and running the ball when we have opportunities, we can have that balance to our game, then actually we can stay with them on the scoreboard,” he said.

 

“It sets us very nicely for that second game and it will be interesting to see how both teams approach it.”

 

With almost a full deck of players to choose from with several injuries having cleared up in recent weeks, Connacht have the ability to make changes to their matchday squad.

 

Wilkins, however, loves having such options to choose from and says that it is an indicator of the depth in the squad, with many quality players not even making the matchday 23 for previous games but keeping the intensity and standard of training high.

 

“It is certainly something that is considered,” the former Queensland Reds coach said when asked whether there will be rotation in the team and squad to face Leinster.

 

“You want to reward the performance of the guys who did well last week. Equally, there were guys who have been banging the doors down who were unlucky to miss out on that 23 last week. There’s a balance to be had in there. Equally, we can’t go around thinking we can roll out exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.

 

“So, whilst we won’t change the fundamentals of how we are trying to play the game in any respect, we can’t just deliver the same thing and hope it will be good enough, we need to go up a level. There has been some really interesting conversations in the selection meetings I have been involved in, in terms of different connotations and pluses and minuses weighed up for different players and different combinations.

 

“The 23 that we have, either way, will be chomping at the bit come Friday.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham says that he is excited for the second leg after describing the first game as being a “test match” quality and physicality.

 

Ireland international Bealham is looking forward to locking horns with his fellow national team colleagues in the Leinster front row.

 

And while the 30-year-old is disappointed with the loss last Friday, he says that he – and the squad as a whole – know that it is only the midway point of the tie and that they are only five points in arrears and are confident in their capability of overturning the deficit.

 

“It felt like a proper test match on Friday, with the physicality and the pace of the game. No doubt there were a lot of sore bodies on Saturday and Sunday morning. But we get to go at it Friday night again at the Aviva and it will be exciting. It is great to be part of it all,” the Connacht academy graduate said.

 

“Losing on Friday was obviously tough to take.”

 

“But then you have to remember it’s half time in it, and we’re only five points down and we’re still in the sheds, and we’re ready to go for round two on Friday. But it was a tremendous effort from both teams last Friday, and we played some really lovely rugby.

 

“We’ve had a good look back at the game over the weekend and done our reviews and everyone is raring to go Friday and hopefully it will be another belter.”

 

Bealham says that playing against top European teams, the likes of Leinster, is the level the Connacht players want to compete at and it makes them lift their performances even further.

 

“Yeah, it was a massive game Friday and obviously the team Leinster sent down was stacked with internationals and a wealth of experience in there as well,” he said.

 

“So we knew all week that we had to be at our very best. Look, obviously, we didn’t win the game and there are areas we were very good in, but there were certain things we were poor at and we definitely need to tidy up come Friday.

 

“But we obviously we took a lot of positives. We had some nice attacking stuff and some good defensive sets, but I suppose – and it’s pretty cliche – it’s about putting it together for 80 minutes and in those big games like that against a Leinster side with loads of experience and internationals, you literally have to be on it every phase or they just find a way to score if you switch off.

 

“We have analyzed the game very thoroughly and looked back at what we could have been better at and lads are buzzing and having those conversations to make sure we’re better and we can bring our game to another level on Friday.”

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