Another tough day at the office for Connacht after a disappointing 28-14 defeat to the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

It’s a third defeat in-a-row for the Western province, having already lost their opening two matches which were both away to Ulster and the defending BKT URC Champions Stormers.

Coming up against the Bulls was always going to be a tough test and the home side looked to show their power early but were denied by the TMO after mauling over the try line where Johan Grobbelaar’s try was ruled out.

Not long after though, Connacht looked to attack and stretch the home sides defence but there was one pass too many when John Porch under pressure by Canan Moodie tried to set Oran McNulty off only for the ball to be misplaced, ending up with Bulls full-back Kurt-Lee Arendse who ran from his own half where no one could catch him from scoring the opening try.

The Bulls widened their advantage on the ten minute mark, second-row Walt Steenkamp powered his way to an inch of the try line where scrum-half Zak Burger finished off to make it Bulls 14-0 Connacht.

As the game went on Connacht started to get their hands more on the ball but couldn’t find a break through with some errors creeping into their game as they looked to claw back the lead.

Nearing 20 minutes on the clock, the Bulls were reduced to 14-men when Marco van Staden was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle. Despite having the extra man Connacht couldn’t make the numbers count.

Connacht showed plenty of glimpses of what they can do but the Bulls defence were ready to suffocate any danger that came their way.

The half came to an end with the Bulls getting their third try of the game, Marcell Coetzee bashing his way over the line, Goosen adding the extra two points to leave it 21-0 at the break.

Connacht showed a lot more promise and composure on the ball in the second forty but it was the Bulls who got the opening score of the half when Connacht were turned over. From the attack, second-row Ruan Nortje punched through a gap in the Connacht defence where he released Burger for his second try of the game. Another conversion by Goosen made it 28-0.

As the half went on the home side saw two further yellow cards, a high tackle from Goosen on Kieran Marmion just after 50mins and then Jan-Hendrick Wessels for a late hit on David Hawkshaw in the 65th minute.

Playing with an extra man Connacht took advantage, tries from Jack Aungier, his second of the season which both came in South Africa. Aungier showed great strength to power over from close range. Hawkshaw converted with ten minutes to go.

Hawkshaw making his first start for the club got his own try when blocking down Chris Smith’s attempted clearance, he gathered the loose ball before going under the posts. The conversion made it 28-14 to the home team which would be the final result.

Up next for Connacht is a massive Interprovincial-derby at home to Munster.

Conor Oliver was one of the late arrivals to South Africa, which meant, missing the game on Saturday against the DHL Stormers. Fit and ready to go the back-rower is available for selection ahead of Friday’s Round 3 BKT United Rugby Championship tie against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria (k/o 5.30pm Irish time).

When on tours like this players know it’s two weeks of hard work in preparation for matches. Being with each other 24/7 this is the longest period of time the whole group will be in each others company, so what is it like to be on a tour like this?

“These tours to South Africa are tough but they are also really helpful for the team to bond more” said Oliver

“Lads get closer and learn a lot more about one another which you probably wouldn’t get in a week’s lead up to another match”

“For the new lads that have come in it gives them a real chance to get to know everyone better and I get the chance to know them better on and off the pitch which is great.

Loftus Versfeld is the venue on Friday, an iconic stadium and which Oliver and the rest of the Connacht players can’t wait to see.

“We discussed about how cool it will be to play there but we also said how cool it would be to get a win there”

“There’s real belief in the camp that we can come away with a win at Loftus and what a venue it would be to win after last weekend’s result”

“I’m buzzing and can’t wait for Friday, hopefully I’ll be named in the starting 15”

“I always want to be playing so missing last week was annoying”

Last weekend Connacht lost to the defending URC champions Stormers and will be hoping to bounce back and get their first win of the season.

“We’ve changed a lot of our attacking shapes with different principles in place compared to what we did last year”

“We know this takes a bit of time to gel but at the same time as players its up to us to put those wheels in motion quickly and get up to speed”

“From the opening two rounds we identified the amount of opportunities we’re creating especially last weekend but we didn’t take them and that’s something we need to change”

“We were a pass or two away from scoring a couple of tries, so that’s one of the main things we’ve noted as we know we’re almost there from what we are trying to do”

“Once we get past the teething stage of this its going to be very exciting”

Another man that joined Conor to South Africa late was club captain Jack Carty. The fly-half has missed the opening two games as he makes his way back to fitness, but, he may be available for Friday’s game in Pretoria.

Oliver spoke about his team mate and how he’s been around the squad since being announced captain.

“It’s his first season and its a bit of a pity that he hasn’t been involved in the first couple of games but he has been around the group for training and meetings making sure his presence is felt”

“Jack is a composed leader who is very calm in the way he delivers messages which I love from a captain”

“We have Jarrad Butler there who will guide Jack into the role and he’s another great man to have in the dressing room”

The Connacht team for Friday’s game against the Bulls will be named tomorrow at 12 midday.

Round three of the BKT United Rugby Championship sees Connacht travel to Pretoria where they take on the Vodacom Bulls, Friday at Loftus Versfeld (k\o 5.30pm Irish time)

Connacht will be hoping it’s third time lucky and get their first win of the season as they come up against a Bulls team who have won their opening two games. One man who knows all about South African rugby in the Connacht setup is forwards coach Dewald Senekal.

Ahead of Friday’s game, Senekal spoke about last Saturday’s defeat to the DHL Stormers in Stellenbosch and what the coaches thought about the performance from the men in green.

“As coaches we have been with each other for 15 months now and we have a process whether its a win or loss”

“That process being, have we set out what we looked to do and stick to our key principles”

“We build our house on these key principles so that’s what we look at from games”

“Yes we were frustrated about some stuff, particularly the penalties we gave away but we felt there was a lot of good things, one or two more passes in certain areas and we could have scored a few more tries”

The sending off of Bundee Aki was one of the big talking points coming away from the game. Connacht’s South African coach gave his thoughts on the red card.

“It was a 14 point swing, we had just scored a try but that was ruled out due to the refs call along with the TMO from Bundee’s tackle in the lead up”

“Back in my day you probably would have got away with that but not nowadays”

“Bundee has been extremely apologetic about it”

“He loves Connacht and never wants to disappoint the club or fans but he knows he acted wrongfully towards the officials in that moment”

It’s the Bulls on Friday for Connacht who are considered a very physical side. A clash of two different styles expected at Loftus on Friday but how will Connacht look to cope with the power in which the South Africans will bring?

“One of the frustrations for us in the Ulster game was we weren’t physical enough as a pack of forwards” Senekal said

“I think we need to stop being the nice Connacht Irish boys and start imposing ourselves in games more”

“For me that part of our game is a mindset issue, we did our review from the Ulster game and I think we showed bits of our learnings from it against the Stormers which is a step in the right direction”

“Going up to Loftus is a massive physical battle, even in South Africa Loftus is considered the most physical game of the lot”

“We know the Bulls haven’t forgot what happened last year at The Sportsground and we know what’s coming, so we need to meet this storm that’s coming head on”

Being back in South Africa has given Dewald the chance to meet up with family and friends in his home country but there is an itch to get back to the West of Ireland once Friday’s match is finished.

“My family is still based down in Port Elizabeth so they came down to Cape Town where we hired a house not too far from where we live so I was fortunate enough to see them”

“They came to the game with my cousins along with my brothers children so it was great to catch up with all of them and the energy it gave me seeing them was brilliant”

“As a single man these trips are great but as a married man who is a father I miss my wife and my daughter so I can’t wait to get back to Galway and see my little girl”

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Centre Tom Daly believes that the lessons learned from last weekend’s defeat away to Cardiff Rugby will stand Connacht in good stead as the season progresses. 

 

The Westerners, who scored two tries through Kieran Marmion with the boot of Jack Carty tacked on three penalties and a conversion, lost 33-21 in a quick tempo, entertaining game at Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

Despite the reversal in Wales, Daly believes Connacht can make amends, starting this Friday when they welcome the Vodacom Bulls to the Sportsground at 7:35 PM. 

 

The game was decided by small margins and the centre — who started alongside the returning Tom Farrell in Wales — is relishing the challenge the South Africans will provide and the opportunity it will provide to put the learnings of the Cardiff defeat into action. 

 

“It’s definitely an opportunity lost, from our point of view,” the Carlow native said. 

 

“We always knew it would be tough going away to Cardiff. It always is. Friendy(Andy Friend) said last week that we only won there twice in the last ten years and it’s probably the best position we have put ourselves in there in the last couple of years. We had that line out five metres out with fifteen to go to go ahead. 

 

“Unfortunately, that didn’t go to plan and then a few lapses in discipline and we lose a few players and you’re never really going to close out the game with thirteen men versus fifteen, so it’s maybe those little things like discipline — and that lapse of concentration at the line out — that we need to really learn from that and improve and it’s a big opportunity this weekend back at home at the Sportsground against the Bulls. 

 

“We know what sort of challenge we’re going to face against them, it’s definitely a different challenge to Cardiff, but we’re looking forward to it.”

 

Friday night’s clash will be the first game that Connacht host with a crowd since October 2020 and Daly — as well as the entire squad and coaching staff — is looking forward to welcoming the Westerners’ faithful back to the Sportsground. 

 

“Definitely,” the 28-year old said when asked if he felt the return of the home crowd would give the Westerners a boost. 

 

“Even playing last week, I know we were away to Cardiff, you can just see the kind of effect it has on the game. When they do something and the crowd gets behind them, it really lifts them. 

 

“We’re looking forward to having a few thousand Connacht fans back in the stadium this weekend and it will definitely give us the kind of lift we need. I’m really looking forward to that and it would be great to get as many in as we can in the Sportsground.”

 

Meanwhile, attack coach Peter Wilkins says that Connacht will need to be at their best — in all aspects of the game — to get their first win of the season against the Bulls. 

 

The South Africans were defeated 31-3 away to Leinster last weekend, but Wilkins says the Westerners must be wary of their smarting opposition. 

 

“I think they will certainly be smarting from it(the Leinster loss),” Wilkins said. 

 

“I thought the performance they put in against Leinster was higher energy and it was highly skilled in parts. They have got some very good players and some established internationals, others that are obviously away, but certainly enough quality that they are a real threat. 

 

“We need to frame them as a momentum team. They want to put you on the back foot at the set-piece, whether that’s in the scrum or the maul or whether that’s in the second phase to bring big runners around the corner or big runners back against the grain.’’

 

Counteracting the physicality of the away team will help the Westerners’ cause, the Englishman said, but Connacht can’t just rely on that and will need to focus on their own strengths such as tempo and speed of their passing and angles of running. 

 

“There’s an enormous physical threat there, but I also think it’s too simple to say they’re purely a momentum team and if you front up physically you’ll get the job done. 

 

“I think there is a bit of nuance there in how we need to play, both in attack and defence, to respect the threats they have got.”

 

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