Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are looking to end their season on a high with a win over Zebre Parma at the Sportsground in the United Rugby Championship on Saturday, kick-off at 5 PM. 

 

With several players leaving the province at the end of the season, the Australian is keen for them to feel the appreciation of the fans before they depart for new pastures. 

 

Abraham Papali’i, Eoghan Masterson, Peter Robb, and the retiring Matt Healy – among others – will be leaving Connacht and, given large swathes of the previous season were played in empty stadiums, they will be given their send-off in front of an atmospheric Sportsground crowd. 

 

Despite the game wrapping up the campaign, Friend says that training has been at a high level and the players’ focus is on putting on a good showing and securing the victory. 

 

“It’s a tricky period because you have players exiting,” the head coach said. 

 

“You’ve got the last game, which is still an important game because it’s another chance to play in front of your family and friends and support, as well as putting on the Connacht jersey. 

 

“We know we can’t go any lower or any higher on the ladder(the table) but it is still an important game. In fairness to them all, they have been really good and their heads are definitely on, so let’s bring on Saturday.”

 

Mack Hansen and Cian Prendergast picked up awards at last Friday’s Connacht Rugby awards and Friend is looking forward to not only those players, but everyone in the squad making more strides next season. 

 

The Australian also detailed how pleased he was with individual improvements from players in the Connacht pack and the growth of players across the board will increase the level of competition next season and will complement the qualities brought by the new recruits. 

 

“Yeah, I think there were some great performances this year,” he said. 

 

“The boys you named(Hansen and Prendergast) and others as well. I thought the growth of our second-row stocks rose this year. I thought Matthew Burke and Jordan Duggan, when Denis Buckley was out for so long, had enormous growth throughout the course of the year. Jack Aungier came in and improved again. 

 

“There were some really good performers throughout the course of the year, but what’s important is if you have a poor game there are quality footballers sitting behind you. That’s when players tend not to have a poor game, because the pressure’s there. 

 

And that’s what we’re building here at Connacht Rugby where we’re going to have, I believe, a squad of 44 where there’s genuine competition across all positions and slip up, in terms of performances, next season and you might not get another chance.”

Head coach Andy Friend says Connacht are traveling to South Africa for United Rugby Championship games against Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks with an ambition to win their games. 

 

The Irish province kick-off their first game on South African soil against the Lions at Emirates Airline Park at 3:05 PM Irish time on Saturday coming, April 23rd. Then, the following Saturday, on April 30th Friend’s team will play The Sharks at Hollywoods Bet Kings Park, also kicking off at 3:05 PM. 

 

The Sportsground team have a 2-0 record against South African touring teams this season, boasting victories over the Bulls and the Stormers. 

 

In addition to being excited about locking horns with more high-quality South African teams, Friend says the tour can provide a training environment that can see Connacht build into next season with 28 players chosen to travel. 

 

“Our message coming over here is ‘let’s be the first team to have a clean sweep against the South African sides,” the Australian said. 

 

“I know no one has done it to date. We have had a good win against the Bulls and a good win against the Stormers. It’s going to be very tough because there have been 16 games played over here by the opposition over here and only one has been won. 

 

“It’s a tall task, but we’re not coming over here just to fulfill two fixtures. We need to keep ourselves winning hopefully, its what we always intend to do, to keep ourselves in the hunt. We need to prove to ourselves that we are worthy of victory and the game style that we have got can actually get us wins and we have seen that throughout the course of the season, but not consistently enough. 

 

Friend believes that the two-game tour will also provide the ideal opportunity to work on tactics and ideas ahead of next season, which was his and the coaching staff’s reasoning behind only selecting players who will be at the province next term. 

 

“It’s also about giving other players opportunities. You will see with the touring squad we have brought over here, there are players that we know will be gone next year and we haven’t brought them because we want to invest in our future,” he said. 

 

“We want to invest in the people who are going to be here next year, give them the opportunity. There’s a chunk of other boys I wish I could have brought over as well, the likes of Colm Reilly and Sean Masterson, and Oran McNulty. These boys who have been knocking on the door but haven’t had a great deal of opportunity. 

 

“We would have loved to have brought them all, but we are also very conscious of the fact that we’re still in the hunt, definitely, and we’re more about having two performances here and one against Zebre when we go home, that will actually solidify the season we’ve had in terms of wanting to be more respected and making sure that we’re putting our game style out there.”

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.”

Head coach Andy Friend is confident that Connacht will put last weekend’s defeat to Leinster in the United Rugby Championship(URC) behind them when they travel to Benetton Rugby in the URC this coming weekend. 

 

Benetton sit fourteenth in the table this season, but, despite this, Friend is wary of the Italians’ strengths and says that his team will need to be at their best to get what could prove to be a crucial win. 

 

“It’ll be a tough task to go to Bennetton this weekend and we’re licking our wounds again,” the Australian said. 

 

“But I know what this team is capable of and I know if we go over there and do what we can do, we can get a performance and a win.”

 

Friend will have some of his Irish international contingent to call upon in Italy, with Mack Hansen and Finlay Bealham available for selection. However, Bundee Aki – who only arrived back to team training on Tuesday – will not play. 

 

“Bundee only just arrived back today(Tuesday), so he won’t be in the reckoning at this stage. The other two boys(Bealham and Hansen) came back in yesterday and trained well with us and looked fresh and good to go. It’s nice to have that calibre of player coming back in.”

 

Meanwhile, loosehead prop Matthew Burke has praised the work of forwards coach Dewald Senekal at Connacht. 

 

The South African was appointed last summer after years of coaching in the French Top 14, where he coached current Connacht player Leva Fifita at Grenoble. 

 

Senekal has put a particular emphasis on the maul – both in attack and defence – and his friendly nature has made it easy for players to communicate with him, says the Mayo native prop. 

 

“I think one thing about him is he’s a very approachable guy, a very friendly guy,” Burke said of the forwards coach. 

 

“That’s really worked well, in terms of bringing us together as a forward pack. We’re very close. He’s targeted certain focus areas, like our maul defence and maul attack, which has been a been big focus for us this season and not conceding tries. “

 

“Every time we review a match, we ask ‘did we concede a maul try?’ and we kind of give ourselves a little pat on the back if we were particularly good at that. The maul would be the biggest change, in terms of where we have targeted something different.”

 

The coming weeks will bring big games – in Europe and domestically – for Connacht and Burke says that the squad are looking forward to the challenges. 

 

“Obviously we are tremendously disappointed with the way that went,” the Ballinrobe man said of last weekend’s defeat to Leinster at the Sportsground. 

 

“At this stage, we’ve just had to park it. We can’t let that bleed in and affect us this weekend. We have reviewed it yesterday, talked a bit about it today and now we’re really focusing on Bennetton. 

 

“Obviously it’s a big game this weekend. Bennetton are obviously a lot stronger than maybe they would have been a couple of seasons ago. They are playing good rugby and they have a lot of internationals in there.”

 

Burke is confident that Connacht have learned from recent defeats and that they can apply these lessons going forward and turn losses into wins. 

 

“We’ve got a number of games over the next few weeks, both the URC(United Rugby Championship) and those two Leinster games in the Heineken Champions Cup, and we’re targeting every game for a win.

 

“Unfortunately, because of results during the season, we have kinda taken things out of hands in terms of how we qualify for the URC, but we’re really just targeting every game we’re going into as a must-win We’re confident. We know what we’re capable of. 

 

“Some of the losses have been hurtful – that loss versus Leinster and the loss to Edinburgh – but we know what we’re capable of and we know what went wrong and how we can fix it, so we’re still confident going forward that we can do really well and finish the season on a high.”

 

Head coach Andy Friend wants to see his team bring a high intensity and physicality to Saturday’s 7:35 PM United Rugby Championship interprovincial game with Leinster at The Sportsground.

 

After a disappointing defeat to Edinburgh last time out, Friend is keen for his side to make amends this coming Saturday and the key to that – he says – is playing with bravery, on both sides of the ball, and speed, hallmarks of Connacht’s tactical blueprint.

 

“What I want to see when we’re carrying is we’re carrying with real intent and the opposition defenders who are trying to slow our ruck ball – which they will be – removed with real physicality,” the Australian said.

 

Sticking to Connacht’s principles – which have resulted in victories against Leinster before – is what Friend wants from his players and he wants to see those strategies put into practice from the first whistle on Saturday evening.

 

“We want our physicality to show, a functioning set piece where we’re winning our line out and defending well against their line out,” the former Australian Sevens coach said.

 

“Our kicking game being accurate and doing what we’re meant to be doing on it and our fundamentals, our key principles that we talk about ad nauseam, around attack and defence are being adhered to and we have 15 players connected on the field.

 

“If we see that, it should be a good afternoon.”

 

Meanwhile, Captain Jarrad Butler says that Connacht are focusing on the upcoming United Rugby Championship clash with Leinster at the Sportsground on Saturday as an individual game and not as part of a trilogy of fixtures against the Eastern province.

 

After Andy Friend’s men host Leinster at 7:35 PM on Saturday in the league, they will face the reigning league champions twice more in the Heineken Champions Cup in the following weeks, meaning that three of Connacht’s next four fixtures in all competitions will be interprovincial’s against their eastern rivals.

 

However, Butler knows that taking it each game at a time is the right approach and that is the mentality across the whole squad and coaching staff.

 

“Playing any team three times in four weeks is bizarre, I haven’t been in a situation like that before,” the back-row forward said.

 

“Those other two games, in the Champions Cup, we haven’t really started to focus on those now. We have put ourselves under some pressure with the URC(United Rugby Championship).

 

“I think if you went into this week you could put a lot of pressure on yourself, but I don’t think we can do that. We just have to focus on the game this week and do what we can do to put in a really good performance at home against really good opposition.

 

“I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we thought too long term, we just have to focus on this week.”

 

Butler is excited by the prospect of locking horns with Leinster, a team and squad he rates as among the best in Europe.

 

However, the 30-year-old says that the key to any Connacht win will be focusing on themselves and their own game rather than devising a plan solely based on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.

 

“That Leinster team is just full of so much talent. One of their biggest strengths is their depth,” the former Brumbies man said.

 

“They have got two full teams that they can put out on the pitch and can do a really good job for them. I think you can’t get too caught up in the selection of that team. You kinda have to worry about your own things, because you really don’t know what kind of team they are going to put out on the field.

 

“Regardless, all of them are class, they are littered with international players, really high-quality players. It is what it is, you can’t think too much about it, you just have to focus on your stuff. If you get too worried about the team that’s in front of you, you’re halfway to losing the game already.”

Head coach Andy Friend wants Connacht to be aggressive and physically brave in Saturday’s 1 PM kick-off United Rugby Championship meeting with the DHL Stormers at the Sportsground. 

 

Connacht kept their Champions Cup qualification hopes for next season alive last weekend when they defeated the Scarlets in Wales 29-23.

 

The Stormers will pose a different challenge, but Friend – citing the 34-7 win over their compatriots, The Bulls, last October as an example that should provide confidence – is confident that his team can win if they stick to their tactical blueprint. 

 

“The blueprint is not too dissimilar to the Bulles,” the Australian said. 

 

“We know we’re up against a very physical side, so we’re going to have to front up physically. We have got to not be afraid to put bodies in front defensively. I think probably more so than against the Bulls, they are full of threats in the backfield, so our kicking game has got to be spot on. 

 

“And then similar when we played the Bulls, I thought we made the most out of all our opportunities. We got into the score zone and we executed, so our ability to look after the ball and to take our chances when opportunities present ourselves; if we can do all that, I think we can put ourselves in a very good position. 

 

“And if we don’t, they have enough firepower to really hurt us, so it will be a good contest.”

 

After last weekend’s win away to the Scarlets – the first in the league in Connacht’s history – Friend is keen for his team to find consistency and to knit a run of wins together. 

 

“It’s really important(to gain that consistency). That’s the beauty of this competition. Someone asked me the other day if the season looked like it was dwindling out, but it’s not; we still have eight games to go. 

 

“The teams that we’re playing, they’re either ahead of us or around us so there’s still a lot that can happen. The only thing that we can control is what we do on Saturday. It’s really important that we back that up(the Scarlets win) now and really important that we just don’t leave it.

 

“It was a good performance and a courageous performance, I thought, against a good Scarlets side, but if we leave it there, it won’t have counted for much. We’re very clear in our reckoning that out of the next seven games, we must win five of them. 

 

“We’ll be attempting to win seven of them, so ideally, we’ll target this one on the weekend and see how we go.”

 

Meanwhile, centre Tom Daly is keen to make up for lost time after his recent injury absences. 

 

The Carlow native returned to action last weekend away to the Scarlets after a number weeks out with injury and contributed an excellent performance, capped by providing two try assists for teammates in the victory in Wales. 

 

And now Daly is looking to contribute as much as he can to the Connacht cause between now and the end of the season. 

 

“Yeah, definitely, it’s always frustrating being injured,” he said. 

 

“I think I have been very lucky since I came to Connacht, I hadn’t had an injury since I’ve been here. I was on a nice roll, but unfortunately, injuries are a part of rugby and you’re always going to pick up one here or there and it was tough missing that block because there was a lot of big games in it. 

 

“Obviously the four European games, you want to be part of them and then the big interpros over Christmas as well, so it wasn’t the nicest block to miss but it’s just good to be back out there now and back winning games as well last weekend, which is good.”

 

The Stormers are Connacht’s next opponents when they visit the Sportsground and Saturday and Daly is expecting an exciting and physical affair. 

 

The key to any home win, the former Ireland sevens player said, is to front up in the physical stakes and not allow the visitors to release their talented backline. 

 

“I think you can expect from all South African teams that they are going to have a massive pack with big carriers and a really big back-row who are good over the ball and then some really good individuals in the backs. 

 

“I know one of their wingers, Seabelo Senatla, he is a former sevens player and I played against him at under ’20s and I remember he was electric back then and he’s the same now. Their whole back three looks very dangerous. 

 

“They are pretty similar to the Bulls team we played earlier in the season. A big heavy pack with good individuals in the backs, so it’s about fronting up physically and meeting them head-on, like we did with the Bulls earlier on in the year and then trying to keep their outside backs quiet by taming their forwards a little bit.”

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.”

Head coach Andy Friend is confident that his Connacht squad will show the depth of their character this coming Sunday when they face Stade Francais in Paris at 1 PM in the Heineken Champions Cup.

 

The Westerners know that a win against the French side will see them qualify for the knock-out rounds of the competition for the first time in the club’s history.

 

And, despite the disappointment of losing at home to the Leicester Tigers – 29-28– last weekend, Friend believes that his players will have the correct mentality in order to process the defeat and take the necessary lessons into Sunday’s game and use them to their advantage.

 

“All I do know is that we have learned from that,” the Australian said of the round three game with Leicester at the Sportsground.

 

“Listen, there’s so many learns we get this year in every game and we seem to get good learns out of it. What was really pleasing was we had Sunday and Monday off and there was a lot of conversations going on over the weekend, people owning things, people putting their hand up, so many good things happened.

 

“But, at the end of the day, we let an eighteen-point lead slip, so we bounced back in here on Tuesday and there was no hiding from that: it was put to bed and we’ve got an energized team now looking forward to Stade.”

 

Friend is sure that the route to any Connacht victory will be through the quick attacking game that the Sportsground men always look to operate with – one which he says will suit the Parisians 4G pitch – and takes confidence from how well that approach worked in the Leicester game, despite the result.

 

“All we know is that we need to turn up to Stade in Paris on Sunday and we need to play our best brand of rugby. And if we do that and we put out a really good performance, I truly think we can win over there in France. That’s what we’re going to focus on.

 

“We’re going to be picking a team, it’s a 4G pitch, that’s going to need to be fast. We’re going to need to be strong in our set-piece, so we want to be able to pick a team that will express that and show that and you may well see a few new faces in there(from the Leicester match).”

 

Meanwhile, scrum-half Caolin Blade says the Connacht squad are keen to make amends for last weekend’s defeat to the Leicester Tigers this coming Sunday.

 

A win over Stade Francais would qualify the Westerners for the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time in their history and the Monivea man is eager for the opportunity to play in the later rounds of the tournament.

 

However, the Irish international insists his – and indeed the team’s – first priority is to ensure their performance is at a high level, and then the result, he is confident, will follow.

 

“Yeah, I suppose it’s one day longer to do it. We’d prefer if we were playing on Friday night because everyone is itching to get out there,” he said.

 

“As I said the longer little bit of time kind of gives us time to reflect and then we can start this week fresh.

 

“Look, we’re going over there to win, we’re going over there to, as you said, get higher in the table, but it’s all about the performance and the result will follow after that.”

 

Despite the reversal against the Tigers, Blade insists that Connacht can learn a lot from the 29-28 loss and from the mentality the English Premiership table-toppers showed.

 

The 27-year-old is confident that the lessons learned from the round three clash last Saturday afternoon can be applied successfully by the Westerners in Paris on Sunday.

 

“I think one thing they did really well when I look back at it, is they stuck to exactly what they were doing and their rugby DNA and they stuck to it and they ground out the win.

 

“I think we need to have confidence in ourselves, in our coaches and have confidence in our players and just be an eighty-minute team.”

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.”

Head coach Andy Friend said that the recent postponement of games has only made his squad of players more hungry for Saturday’s 5:15 PM Interprovincial clash against Munster at the Sportsground. 

 

Connacht were due to play Ulster in Belfast on St.Stephens’ Day, but the game was postponed due to positive COVID cases in the Northern provinces squad. 

 

But now the focus shifts to Munster – a team who the Westerners only narrowly last out to, 20-18, in their last meeting at Thomond Park in October – on New Years Day in a game which Friend expects to be physical. 

 

“It wasn’t overly disruptive, it was just more disappointing,” the Australian said of the Ulster postponement. 

 

 

“We all understand it, we understand that people’s wellbeing is at stake here, so we all need to respect that and we do respect that. The hard bit is and the disappointing bit is that you work really hard during the week to get a team and all the detail in the team.”

 

Friend expects the contrast in the style of play between his side and Munster to make for fascinating viewing come 5:15 PM on Saturday. 

 

For Connacht to win, they need to play their own style of Rugby but also match up to the physical credentials of their Southern rivals, he said. 

 

“Yeah, most people that watch the games closely can see the difference between the two styles. That’s our intention, is to try and play our style of Rugby. I have no doubt that Munster will try and play their style of Rugby. 

 

“As Alex(Wootton) says and I agree with him, it’s a great style to play. It does ask a lot of you but at the same time, it gives you a lot of freedom and a lot of opportunities to express yourself. Our intention is to try and continue to play in our way.”

 

Meanwhile, winger Alex Wootton is relishing a run of games for the first team after battling through a spate of injuries this season. 

 

The 27-year-old was a key figure for Connacht last season, running in eleven tries in all competitions and impressing with his all round play. 

 

However, injuries have limited the former Munster player’s involvement to just four games – and one try – this season, and Wootton, who also missed a chunk of pre-season,  is keen to make up for lost time towards the tail end of this campaign and fully acclimate to the on-field strategies brought by the new coaches, Mossy Lawler, Deawald Senekal and Cullie Tucker. 

 

“Yeah, last season was great,” the English-born speedster said. 

 

“A lot has changed since then, I moved up here. Pre-season was fairly tricky with a niggle in my calf and competition for the back three has really stepped up this season. I’m finding it tough to hit my straps or tough to get back to where I was last season, maybe with some of the new stuff that has been put in and just trying to find grips into that. 

 

“I’m doing all I can to get back up there, but normally with a good pre-season you can get back up there fairly easily, but obviously that was a bit tricky, so I’m just putting the effort in, seeing if I can get back up there.”

 

The Westerners have continued to play an expensive, quick brand of attacking rugby this season and Wootton – a former Sevens player – admits it is extremely enjoyable for the players to operate in such a system of play.

 

However, the winger admits that the tweaked game plan is still a work in progress and the players will need to work hard – both in training and in games – to further master it. 

 

The key, he believes, is that the Connacht squad have a common purpose and vision of where they want to go in the future. 

 

“Yeah, it’s one of those game plans that when it’s working, it’s really working,” he said. 

 

“When we’re humming it’s fantastic to watch and it’s about getting that consistency in games and in training where we’re all on the same page and it’s working. 

 

“It’s still a work in progress and we all know where we need to go and that’s something we’ve lacked in the past, not necessarily knowing where we needed to go. We’ve got a clear vision and we’re really happy and we’re all going in the same direction.”

 

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