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.”

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.”

The Connacht management team have named their squad of 23 for Sunday’s final Heineken Champions Cup pool game away to Stade Francais (k/o 1pm Irish time).
 
While qualification to the knockout stages could be secured before kick-off, Andy Friend and his coaches have still selected a strong side who will be looking for their second win of the campaign.
 
There’s two changes among the forwards from the side that started against Leicester last week, with props Jordan Duggan and Greg McGrath coming into the team. They’re joined in the front row by hooker Shane Delahunt, while Oisin Dowling, Niall Murray, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver and Jarrad Butler make up the rest of the pack.
 
There are four changes in the backs, with Caolin Blade, Mack Hansen, Tom Farrell and Alex Wootton all named in the starting XV. Jack Carty again captains the side from out-half, Sammy Arnold moves from 13 to 12, and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran is retained for his 199th Connacht appearance.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“For us we’re not thinking about results elsewhere. All we’re focused on is going to Paris, take what we learned from last week and hopefully finish our Pool stage on a high. If we can do that then we can celebrate a great achievement of reaching knockout rugby in this competition.
 
With dry weather and their 4G pitch it’s looking like it’ll be a fast-tempo game, so we’ve selected a side that reflects that.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS STADE FRANCAIS
Sunday 23rd January, 13:00 @ Stade Jean-Bouin
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (198)
14. Alex Wootton (26)
13. Tom Farrell (68)
12. Sammy Arnold (27)
11. Mack Hansen (8)
10. Jack Carty (170) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (140)
1. Jordan Duggan (20)
2. Shane Delahunt (111)
3. Greg McGrath (1)
4. Oisín Dowling (15)
5. Niall Murray (25)
6. Cian Prendergast (19)
7. Conor Oliver (31)
8. Jarrad Butler (84)

Replacements
16. Dave Heffernan (154)
17. Charlie Ward *
18. Sam Illo *
19. Leva Fifita (4)
20. Paul Boyle (64)
21. Colm Reilly (6)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (44)
23. Diarmuid Kilgallen (5)

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.”

Connacht have welcomed back a number of Irish internationals for Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup opener away to Racing 92 (k/o 3.15pm Irish time).
 
Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham and Kieran Marmion have all been named in the starting line-up, as well as Ultan Dillane who was released from the Ireland squad last week.
 
Heffernan and Bealham are joined by Denis Buckley in the front row, while Dillane is partnered by Eoghan Masterson to complete the tight five. Jarrad Butler captains the side from openside flanker in a back row that also includes Sean Masterson and Paul Boyle.
 
Jack Carty starts at out-half, while Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold continue to pair-up at centre.
 
In the back three Matt Healy comes on to the wing while Alex Wootton and John Porch are both retained after impressive starts to the season for the duo.
 
There’s also a return to the matchday squad for Tiernan O’Halloran, with the Clifden native recovering from injury to be named among the replacements.
 
Connacht can also confirm that due to a first positive case of Covid-19 within the Pro squad, one player and three others deemed as close contacts have been ruled out of the game. Those close contacts and all other players and management underwent a second round of PCR testing yesterday and produced no further positive results.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Andy Friend says:
 
“Welcoming back a number of our international players is a big boost for us. Sunday is the start of seven very significant games so it’s great to have them re-joining a squad which is already pretty healthy. I know they’ll all to be eager to hit the ground running.
Unfortunately we have been slightly disrupted by a positive case within our bubble, but we appreciate this is the world we are living in right now. I’ve said from the start that the team that adapts the most will be the team to succeed, and we have adapted accordingly.”

 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
 
“There’s arguably no bigger challenge in European rugby than what we’ve got this weekend, but it’s one we’re absolutely relishing. They’re full of talent across the field in an impressive stadium, but in the end of the day we must back ourselves from the get-go and fully believe we can get a result. If we do that and bring the level of energy and physicality that I know we’re capable of, then the result will take care of itself.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY SQUAD VS RACING 92
Sunday 13th December, Paris La Defense Arena, Kick-Off 3.15pm Irish / 4.15pm local time
 
Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (24)
14. Alex Wootton (7)
13. Sammy Arnold (7)
12. Tom Daly (31)
11. Matt Healy (139)
10. Jack Carty (144)
9. Kieran Marmion (170)
1. Denis Buckley (185)
2. Dave Heffernan (132)
3. Finlay Bealham (144)
4. Eoghan Masterson (97)
5. Ultan Dillane (101)
6. Sean Masterson (5)
7. Jarrad Butler (C) (62)
8. Paul Boyle (45)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (83)
17. Jordan Duggan (3)
18. Jack Aungier (7)
19. Cian Prendergast (2)
20. Conor Oliver (7)
21. Caolin Blade (115)
22. Bundee Aki (103)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (184)

Connacht’s final home game of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup is almost upon us, and it’s set to be another memorable European affair.

Not for the first time, French Top 14 champions Toulouse visit The Sportsground as the two sides continue their rivalry on Europe’s biggest stage.

It’s win-or-bust for Connacht in the competition, so here’s all you need to know about the tie.
 
When’s the game?

Kick-off is at 3.15pm this Saturday 11th January at The Sportsground.
 
What’s the state of play so far?

Long story short, only a win will do if Connacht are to keep their hopes of a first qualification into the Champions Cup quarter-finals alive.

With Toulouse already nearly assured of top spot, Connacht are one of a number of teams aiming for one of the three best runners-up spots that would send them into the last 8 with the five pool winners.

One of those spots is likely to be filled by Ulster (17 points) or Clermont (16) in Pool 3, while in Pool 4 Munster (11) and Saracens (10) will be hoping to join them if they’re unable to catch Racing 92.

Second place in Pools 1 and 2 are filled by Northampton and Glasgow who are both on 9 points. With Connacht on 8 points there is work to be done, but a bonus-point win on Saturday would ensure a grandstand finish ahead of next weekend’s trip to an already eliminated Montpellier.
 
How’s our recent record against them?

Connacht have played Toulouse more than any other team in the Heineken Champions Cup, with Saturday’s game the eight time the two sides have met in Europe’s premiere competition.

The Western province have won two of those previous meetings. The first was that famous win in the Stade Ernest-Wallon in December 2013, and Connacht then repeated the feat in the opening game of the 2016/17 competition.

Toulouse were 32-17 victors when the sides met in November, so Andy Friend’s side will be looking to return the favour this weekend.

 
How will the two teams line up?

The Connacht squad for the game will be announced on all our channels and website shortly before midday this Friday.
 
Are tickets still available?

Yes tickets are available in both the Bohermore and College Road Ends, with all other parts of the ground now sold out. Due to the importance of the fixture, the opponents and the kick-off time we are expecting another massive crowd, so the sooner you secure your spot the better.
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE
 
What if I can’t make the game?

The game will be shown live on BT Sport 3 with radio commentary on Galway Bay FM. As with all our Heineken Champions Cup games it will not be shown on free-to-air TV, so the best way to experience it is at the ground.
 
How can I get there?

There is plenty of car parks within walking distance to The Sportsground, all of which are listed below. Please note that local restrictions will be in place so please respect our neighbours at all times.


 
Anything else I should know?

🗓 The official Connacht Rugby 2020 calendar will be on sale in reception, the Heineken Rugby Clubhouse and the Clan Bar. The calendar costs just €10 and this is your last chance to pick one up.
🚪 Gates open from 1.45pm.
❌ No smoking is allowed in any of our stands at The Sportsground. Thank you for your co-operation.

It’s win-or-bust for Connacht who welcome Gloucester to The Sportsground this Saturday in Round 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages.

The loss at Kingsholm last Sunday means Andy Friend’s side will be looking for a bonus point win that will propel them back into quarter-final contention.

Here’s all you need to know.
 
When’s the game?

Kick-off is at 12.45pm this Saturday 14th December at The Sportsground.
 
What’s the state of play so far?

Despite a strong start, Connacht will have ground to make up if they’re to reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time.

They sit on 4 points after 3 games, with a win at home to Montpellier followed by disappointing defeats away to Toulouse and Gloucester.

A bonus-point win this weekend will go a long way to ensuring Connacht are right back in contention.
 
How’s our recent record against them?

It’s fair to say Gloucester have turned into a bogey team for Connacht in recent years. As well as their win last weekend, Gloucester also come out on top in the the 2014/15 and 2017/18 Challenge Cup quarter-finals as well as their Champions Cup playoff in 2015.

 
How will the two teams line up?

The Connacht squad for the game will be announced on all our channels and website shortly before midday this Friday.
 
Are tickets still available?

Yes there are a number of options available for those looking to come to the game. General admission tickets are available in the Bohermore and College Road Ends, while a Clubhouse Hospitality ticket will give you access to the Main Stand. You can also enjoy a Premium Hospitality package which, along with a Clan Stand ticket, includes a pre-match brunch with prosecco and wine.


 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE
 
What if I can’t make the game?

The game will be shown live on BT Sport 2 with radio commentary on Galway Bay FM. As with all our Heineken Champions Cup games it will not be shown on free-to-air TV, so the best way to experience it is at the ground.
 
How can I get there?

There is plenty of car parks within walking distance to The Sportsground, all of which are listed below. Please note that local restrictions will be in place so please respect our neighbours at all times.


 
Anything else I should know?

✅ Gates open from 11.15am.
❌ No smoking is allowed in any of our stands at The Sportsground. Thank you for your co-operation.

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