By John O’Sullivan 

 

Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy says that Connacht will need to be efficient when close to the try line to win away to Zebre in Sunday’s 14:30 Guinness PRO14 kick-off. 

 

In the Westerners’ last outing, a 20-14 defeat at home to The Scarlets, they created ample chances to add to the two tries they scored but couldn’t add the finishing touches to moves, despite crossing the try line on four more occasions.

 

While Duffy is pleased that Connacht were able to create so many opportunities to score, especially in the wild weather that accompanied the clash with the Welshmen at the Sportsground, he said there will need to be greater attacking efficiency on display in Parma. 

 

“It’s something we would put a lot of emphasis on in our club,” the Galway native said when asked whether the rolling maul would be an area of the game where the visitors would look to impose themselves against the Italian’s on Sunday. 

 

“When you get to that zone(close to the line), it’s either that(the rolling maul) or your pick and go game that’s got to be strong. Because of the penalty sanctions around the breakdown, you must be efficient when you get your opportunities. Five metres out or seven metres out, your drive has to be efficient and the same with your close-knit game. They(Zebre) have a good maul as well, so both teams are focusing on those three or four key areas and it’s paying dividends at the moment.”

 

In the Scarlets’ defeat, Connacht’s two tries — dotted down by Abraham Papali’i and Ultan Dillane respectively — came from close confines near the try line after powerful carries from the pack to establish field position. While the loss was disappointing, Duffy was pleased with that, forward-oriented element of the game. 

 

“We work very hard in that area. We just have to keep maintaining the work and the effort in there. We scored two in that phase of play and in that style of play(against Scarlets) and we just knocked one over the line, it was just an individual error. Creation is the hardest part, but we’re creating. Converting is what we want to focus on this weekend,” the former Connacht player said.

 

Elsewhere, centre Tom Farrell says that the mood in the camp is positive ahead of the trip to the Italians, and last weekend’s defeat has been learned from and the players have moved on. 

 

The 27-year-old appeared off the bench in the 20-14 reversal to the Scarlets and says that he — along with the rest of the squad — is keen to make amends on Sunday.

 

“The mood is always positive, it’s an enjoyable place to be. Although we lost on the weekend, we’ll park it, we’ll move on and we’ll stay positive,” the former Bedford Blues man said. 

“We’ll trust our game plan and what the coaches have put in place for us”. 

 

Zebre were defeated heavily by Ulster 14-57 in their last game, but Farrell says the Italians — who may welcome back some of their Italian international contingent after the Fiji versus Italy Nations Cup game was called off — will prove to be tough opposition. 

 

“We’re fully aware of the challenge. They’ve had a mixed bag of results, but I don’t think the Ulster game is a fair reflection of the team they are. They beat the Ospreys and they ran the Scarlets pretty close. They have a really strong team and strong squad to put out, so we’re fully aware going over that this is a massive game for us, considering we lost points last week. We’re going to send a strong team over and look to do a job.”

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Connacht Attack Coach Nigel Carolan, Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy and Defence Coach Peter Wilkins have all signed two year contract extensions to take them up to the end of the 2020-21 season.
 
Making the announcement Friend said: “One of the first things that struck me when I took up the position of Head Coach of Connacht Rugby was the strength of the coaching team that was already in place. They are an exceptional team and one of the best collective groups I have worked with in my coaching career. Obviously a major priority for us has been to retain the services of these guys into the future and I am delighted that we are now in a position to announce this great news. We can now continue to focus on producing an exciting, attacking and ultimately winning brand of rugby for the seasons ahead.
 
Attack Coach Nigel Carolan was Connacht Academy Manager from 2004 to his appointment with the professional team in 2017. He is also former Head Coach of the Ireland Under 20 squad. Commenting on his contract extension, Carolan said: “We have a very clear focus on where we are going as a team and a province, and we are determined to deliver further success in the seasons ahead. We pride ourselves on our attacking style and I am excited about the contribution I can make to that in the coming years.
 
Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy has held his current role since 2015 and was part of the coaching team that won the PRO12 Championship in 2016. He previously worked as Elite Player Development Officer in the Connacht Academy for a four year period. He has also worked with numerous age grade sides within Connacht as Head and Assistant Coach, along with seven seasons with the Ireland Under 18 side. Following his contract signing, Duffy added: “Connacht Rugby is an exciting place to be, both on and off the field. We have made progress this season on all aspects of our game and are continuing to improve. There is even more potential in the squad and I believe that we can maximise that potential in the coming seasons.
 
Also extending his contract is Defence Coach Peter Wilkins who joined Connacht from Edinburgh ahead of the 2017/18 season. He previously worked in Australia with the Queensland Reds Super Rugby side and as Head Coach of Queensland A. Commenting on his contract extension, Wilkins added: “I am extremely honoured to be part of Connacht Rugby and I am delighted to have extended my contract for another 2 years. I am proud of the progression we have made defensively this season and I look forward to working with all of the coaches and the squad to continue that progression in the seasons ahead.

Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has named his starting side to face Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun Stadium on Friday (kick-off 7:35pm).

For the second game in a row flanker Jarrad Butler captains the side. Butler is joined in the back row by blindside Eoghan Masterson and Eoin McKeon at number 8.

Experienced hooker Tom McCartney comes back into the starting team and is included in a front row which includes Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham.

Irish Internationals Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux will continue their partnership in the second row.

Bundee Aki comes back into the Connacht midfield alongside Peter Robb who has shown no ill effects from his return from injury against Ospreys last week.

Darragh Leader comes into the side at full back with Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy continuing on the wings.

Commenting ahead of the game, forwards coach Jimmy Duffy says both sides will be targeting victory after respective losses last weekend.  “We are definitely targeting victory against Glasgow at the weekend. It will be a huge challenge, and after their loss at the weekend, they will be gunning for us, so it’s going to be a competitive fixture,” Duffy said.

“We have been within range of a lot of teams this year which shows we are competitive, but we are looking for continuous improvement and that is the driving factor. We need to express ourselves and realise our potential,” he added.

#GLAvCON

Kick-off 7.35pm:

(15-9) Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Eoin McKeon.

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Gavin Thornbury, John Muldoon, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell, Stacey Ili.

Connacht return to Challenge Cup action this Saturday and ahead of the trip to Sixways, forwards coach Jimmy Duffy and back-rower Jarrad Butler reflected on the recent inter-pros and looked ahead to a potentially crucial clash with the English Premiership outfit. Connacht know that a win away to Pool 5 rivals Worcester Warriors will be enough to ensure progression to the knockout rounds and an all-important home quarter-final.

“The excitement in the group around the three inter-pros was massive,” said Duffy. “As a coach you just try to keep a lid on it and then open the doors and let the players away. They don’t need to be motivated in that period of time. The same applies to Europe for us now.”

Connacht recorded an emphatic home win over Ulster before Christmas but fell just short away to Leinster on New Year’s Day before losing to Munster in Thomond Park last Saturday.

“We were disappointed after the weekend but there was a lot of energy around the dressing room. We got the review out of the way and corrected what we felt needed correcting, and then got our direction for this week. We believe we’re in a good space and we’re looking forward to it,” said Duffy.

Butler, who returned from surgery on his injured knee to play a part in all three inter-pros, said the players will look to take the positives from those performances as they head back into European action this weekend.

“At the end of the day you want to get results, and it was frustrating against Leinster when we had the opportunities and didn’t quite get there. Then against Munster, we knocked off for a little bit and put ourselves in a really tough position. As a group we want to be able to lift it that little bit more and start getting those results and obviously we’re hoping to do that this week,” said he.

The busy schedule and physical intensity of the provincial derbies meant plenty of squad rotation over recent weeks, and Duffy pointed to the performances of a number of young academy graduates as one of the major positives from the period as players like Peter McCabe, Cillian Gallagher and Conan O’Donnell all made positive impacts.

“One thing we’d be really pleased with is the guys who got opportunities over the inter-pros,” stated Duffy. “The majority of guys really took those opportunities. That casts a different light over selection. You’re having longer selection meetings, which is a positive for a coach.

“They’re ones for the future, definitely. They’ve done really well when they’ve come in and we love to see the exuberance of the youth. The occasion didn’t get to the boys and that was a major plus. They’re young and quite inexperienced but they’re keen-as, and you could see the smiles on their faces,” he continued.

Connacht are adding depth the playing squad and increasing competition for places, and even an established senior player like Butler is aware of the need to make his opportunities count.

“With the way the rotations work you never quite know when you’re going to be in the 15 or the 23 so you have to take the opportunities as you get them and play as best you can so that hopefully you’re in again the following week. I know personally I don’t take it as a European game or a Pro14 game, it’s just next week, next week,” he offered.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash with Worcester (kick-off 3pm), Duffy said Connacht are fully aware of the size of the challenge facing them. Worcester are second-from-bottom of the Aviva Premiership table and a win for Connacht would secure top spot in the group with a game to spare, but Duffy insisted that any sign of complacency in the travelling squad would be quickly snuffed out.

“What we’re seeing is a team that, when on form, are very dangerous,” he said of Saturday’s opponents, who made Connacht work hard for a 15-8 victory when the sides met in the Sportsground in October.

“They’ve got some really dangerous threats in (scrum-half, Francois) Hougaard and (full-back, Chris) Pennell and up front they’re massively physical. They’ve got very strong tighthead options, good loosehead options, good stocks in the back row and obviously a number of internationals sprinkled in there as well.”

Among those internationals is Scotland star David Denton, although England and Lions centre Ben Te’o is set to miss out as he recovers from an ankle injury. Former Munster and Ireland lock Donncha O’Callaghan is expected to captain the team, who are under the command of Director of Rugby Alan Solomons.

“They’re a formidable opponent and we’re under no illusions, at home in Sixways, it’s going to be a really tough battle” continued Duffy. “I think they’re going to produce the strongest team they have available and really put it up to us.”

Jimmy Duffy and Matt Healy look ahead to our Challenge Cup clash v Worcester Warriors.

Out-half Andrew Deegan is set to make his debut for Connacht against conference rivals Cardiff Blues in the Guinness PRO14 Championship on Saturday at 3.15pm. Deegan signed for Connacht from Australian side the NSW Warathas ahead of the new season and joined up with the squad two weeks ago. He is among a host of changes from the side that started the defeat away to the Dragons a week ago.

Deegan forms a half back pairing with Irish international Kieran Marmion who returns to the starting XV after coming off the bench against the Dragons. The side includes two other players making their first starts of the season. Dave Heffernan comes in as hooker and Craig Ronaldson forms up a centre partnership with Bundee Aki.

Back in the front five are Ireland internationals Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux while Jarrad Butler is included in the back row for his third start of the season. Ahead of the clash with Cardiff, Butler spoke of the style of play that new Head Coach Kieran Keane is trying to instil in the squad: “There is a big emphasis on players taking ownership for what they do in the game and taking responsibility for what we do on the field. Obviously, KK wants to play an attacking exciting brand of rugby and that is a great environment for us to play in.”

Commenting on the test that Connacht face against Cardiff, Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy said: “Cardiff had a good performance last weekend and they came very close to Glasgow. We are fully aware of the quality in their side and we give them the upmost respect. Every game we have played against Cardiff over the last few years has been in the balance. We are generally close to each other in the table and this year will be no different now that we are in the same conference.”

 Tickets for the game are available here.

#CONvCAR

Kick-off 3.15pm:

(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Rory Scholes, Andrew Deegan, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Denis Coulson, Conor Carey, Gavin Thornbury, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell, Stacey Ili.

Assistant Coach Jimmy Duffy and Jarrad Butler give their thoughts ahead of the big Guinness PRO14 clash against Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground on Saturday (3.15pm)

With three away games coming up, the game on Saturday will be your last chance to see Connacht in action at home for the next month.

Tickets are still available and you save 20% on gate prices by purchasing online here.

Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy and flanker Jarrad Butler spoke to the media ahead of our clash with Conference rivals Cardiff on Saturday.

The game kicks off at 3.15pm and some tickets are still available here.

 

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