Head coach Andy Friend praised his squad’s concentration levels and mentality after last weekend’s 34-7 victory over The Bulls at the Sportsground. 

 

Despite feeling 7-0 behind early on, the hosts stuck to their task and their systems and they eventually worked their way back into the game before producing an excellent performance to score the bonus-point win. 

 

The Australian said that Connacht will need to show a similar mentality when they face off against the Dragons at home this coming Saturday at 5:15 PM. 

 

“The thing that was most pleasing against The Bulls was that we were seven points down after two and half minutes, but we didn’t lose our heads and we stuck to our systems and stuck to the game plan that had been put in place,” Friend said. 

 

“I thought our performance was built upon really solid defence. Our defence was outstanding. Cullie Tucker is our defence coach and we asked for an emotional response and we really got that. We knew that they(The Bulls) had bigger men, but we knew that if we could bring our own physicality to that, that we would be able to stop their momentum going forward. 

 

“Then we just looked to play through them with our fast speed. A 34-7 victory over The Bulls was very pleasing. For us, just to get the win was great. We were happy with that and we certainly enjoyed it that night, but it means nothing if we can’t back it up on Saturday.”

 

Friend also warned that The Dragons — especially their physical back row — will present a new challenge to Connacht. The Welsh team, who are known for their solid kicking game and big pack, were narrowly defeated, 7-6, at home to Leinster last weekend.

 

“They are going to be a different team. They have a very good back row, as we know,” the former Australian sevens coach said about this coming weekend’s visitors. 

 

They have a very solid forward pack, but they play very much a territorial game. The kicking duel, staying in the kicking game is going to be very important to us. 

 

“Sam Davies is a major weapon of theirs, so we’ll have a focus on him and try to nullify both what he tries to do in attack and potentially have a look at how well he tackles in defence. We know they are a side itching for a win. They ran Leinster close, as we all saw. I know they talk about not beating an Irish province in a few years and we know they’ll be targeting us and that’s fine. 

 

“We have to be more about our game and it will be based on our ability to get line speed and double bangs, as we call them, and in attack we want to get that relentless and fast nature about our game and continue to play through them.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham, who starred in the 34-7 win over The Bulls last weekend, said that the Connacht camp are in buoyant form ahead of welcoming The Dragons to the Sportsground. 

 

The Westerners victory against last weekend’s South African visitors was built on a foundation of defensive solidity, mixed with an expansive attacking game and efficient set-piece and Bealham, 29, said the squad enjoy games where their defensive mettle is tested. 

 

The forward also praised the returning Connacht supporters whose presence back in the stadium the academy graduate described as special. 

 

“It was great, firstly, to come out — it was the first game back with supporters in a long time — and get a win against a very tough Bulls side. It was really special and everyone is in good form and we’re ready to tackle the Dragons’ this week. It’s a good camp at the moment,” the Irish international said. 

 

“Yeah, it was a tough slog, that game. They came out fast and got that early score. There was some huge tackle stats from the forwards, like Jordan Duggan making 20 tackles which is pretty outrageous for a sixty-minute shift. The boys really dug in deep and I suppose when you’re in back to back defensive sets and everyone is in the trenches together and you’re celebrating those little victories, that feeling is something we really love. 

 

“We love that feeling where we’re under the pump and we’re defending like our lives depend on it. We came out with a penalty before halftime and that gave everyone a buzz and energy, even though you have just defended for 20 sets or something ridiculous. It was a good place to be. “

 

Dewald Senekal, Connacht’s new forward’s coach, has employed methods that the Westerners’ pack have enjoyed and improved from and Bealham is excited by the further progress they can make under the South African’s watch. 

 

Bealham is keen for the Sportsground men to build on last Friday’s win over The Bulls when The Dragons visit Galway, but warned they will need to be at their best to ensure the level of consistency required.

 

“Dewald is a legend,” the sixteen times capped Irish international said. 

 

“I have really enjoyed working under him thus far and everything he has brought. Everyone, all the players, have enjoyed what he has brought and there’s a real hard edge to what we’re doing. Maul defence was an issue last season, but if we’re in the trenches — like I mentioned with the defence — and we do a really good job, that just picks up the mood and you get a hunger for it and you want to do it again. 

 

“The big thing now is we had a good performance on Friday, but it’s about consistency for us and we had a tough mauling session this morning, so we’re definitely not resting on our laurels at all. We’re looking to improve everywhere we can and every little tidy up we can make we will look to make it and keep improving on the things we have done well.”

By John O’Sullivan

 

New forward’s coach Dewald Senekal said the highly committed and professional environment at Connacht Rugby was one of the main factors behind his decision to join the club this summer. 

 

The South African native, a former Bayonne, Toulon, Golden Lions and Agen representative in his playing days, acquired a wealth of coaching experience in the French Top — plying his coaching trade at Bayonne, Grenoble, and Stade Francais — before accepting the offer to take the forward coaching reins at the Sportsground. 

 

The Westerners’ ambition to win and to develop was attractive to Senekal, who says that the players’ mindsets and hunger around improving their games has been a notable and positive aspect of his first few months in situ in his new post. 

 

“Through COVID, there was a lot of talk between coaches and a lot of time spent exchanging ideas. Having those discussions with some really good coaches, including some in Ireland, and having visited Munster a few years back on an upskilling mission, I just thought it was a great time for me to come and experience an Irish environment and an Irish professional environment,” he said. 

 

“It was a very big part of my decision, the profile of the team, and what makes me tick as a coach, which is coaching players, helping them, and seeing them progress. That was a big deciding factor for me. 

 

“My experience in this first eleven or twelve weeks of working with the team has been absolutely amazing. This team is immensely talented. Even our selection meetings at the moment are big headaches because we feel there are some really good players — younger and older — at the club and trying to choose the right players with the right balance is a positive headache. The hunger of the guys and the professionalism of the guys in the squad has been jaw-dropping for me.”

 

The defeat to Cardiff last weekend was disappointing, but Senekal is confident there were ample positives to build upon with his ultimate goal for the season to marry a physically dominant pack with the quick, exciting player of the backs. 

 

“If we just look at the process, and what we were trying to achieve, there was a lot of positives to take from it,” the South African said of the defeat at the Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

“I was really happy with our scrum. It’s been going against much bigger packs so far in our pre-season games and our first games and we’re looking to continuously build with that. Obviously, there was some good stuff from the front-rowers in the absence of Denis(Buckley), who obviously has a lot of experience. 

 

“A big work on for us has been around the maul and there have been some good pictures there that are positive. We feel we have the right path and I am sure we will see the fruits of our labour.

 

“From a team point of view, my goal is to keep growing our players individually and collectively and for us to have a lot of pride in the product that we want to put out there and for people to get excited to see our pack of forwards get rumbling with a really big maul and some big scrums. 

 

“There’s a real, and I feel it from the players, hunger there to produce some really match-winning performances from our forward pack, built on a dangerous, attacking gameplan.”

Connacht Rugby are delighted to confirm Dewald Senekal will join the province as Forwards Coach from the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
 
Senekal arrives with extensive coaching experience, most recently serving as Forwards Coach for Stade Francais in the Top 14 after taking over from Paul O’Connell in the role. From 2017-2019 he was Joint Head Coach of Grenoble, leading them to promotion from Pro D2 to the Top 14 in his first season.
 
The 40 year old South African began his coaching career in 2015 as Forwards Coach of Bayonne where he finished a long playing career. He also played for French sides Toulon and Agen, and South African sides the Cheetahs and Lions.
 
Following today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Following an extensive recruitment process, we are delighted to announce Dewald’s appointment to the Connacht coaching team. He is an extremely impressive individual who will add a lot to the setup, as well as providing a fresh pair of eyes and new ideas. I know the players will really enjoy working with him and the coaches likewise.
 
Our coaching team is now complete with Dewald joining Pete, Mossy, Cullie and myself for the next two years, and we feel very optimistic about what we can achieve both as a group and in the club.”

 
Dewald Senekal says he can’t wait to link up with his new club:
 
“I am thrilled to be joining the Connacht Rugby coaching team. I played against Connacht at The Sportsground during my time at Bayonne and was instantly struck by their loyal, passionate fanbase and, since then, the club’s infectious ambition and drive to succeed.
 
There’s a group of talented young players there which is a testament to the work done at all levels the last few years, and it’s my job now to help them continue their development.
 
I’m very grateful to Andy and the team for giving me this opportunity, and I’m counting down the days before I make the move to the West of Ireland and begin preparations for next season.”

 
ENDS

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