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Dublin: 16°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Connacht and their 'bouncers' out to cause major upset against Racing

Andy Friend’s side are looking for a big performance from their entire matchday 23.

Connacht players at training in Galway yesterday.
Connacht players at training in Galway yesterday.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THEY USED TO be called substitutes or replacements, but now they’re known as finishers, impact players, or even system players depending on which club you’re at.

Connacht call the players who wear jerseys number 16 to 23 their ‘bouncers’.

“It was with the leadership group last year,” explains the western province’s head coach, Andy Friend. “They didn’t want to be called reserves, they didn’t want to be called benchies, so we asked them they wanted to be called.

“They said they wanted to bounce onto the field and give energy so we decided to call them bouncers. It’s as simple as that.

“It’s not the nightclub bouncers, mate, it’s just about giving energy and we use the term ‘bounce’ in defence. We want to see people bounce and we want to have energy. Bounce is not just getting to your feet quickly, it’s noise, it’s loosening, it’s movement, patting boys on the back, all of that stuff.”

Connacht’s bouncers will need to make a major impact on Sunday as the province get their Heineken Champions Cup campaign going with a visit to Paris to take on Racing 92, last season’s runners-up.

The Top 14 side are 20-point favourites, underlining that Connacht will need to be at their very best from numbers one to 23 if they are to compete.

But Friend stresses that there is no inferiority complex within the province.

“This is where I think we belong, to be honest with you, and that was our key message coming out of last year. We had the win against Gloucester, the win against Montpellier, and we pushed Toulouse away from home.

“We all said to each other that this is not something we should get overly excited about. It’s great to be in it but we actually believe we belong in this competition.

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denis-buckley-and-bundee-aki Bundee Aki is set for his Connacht return this weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We’ve got two really big teams to start this season off with Racing and Bristol. We’re focusing purely on Racing at the minute but it’s a great stage and one we’re proud to be on, but one we believe we should be on.”

The westerners have been boosted by the availability of Ireland internationals Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham, Dave Heffernan, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion, and Ultan Dillane – who did feature last weekend against Benetton in the Pro14.

While Aki made four starts for Ireland over their autumn series, the other Connacht men would have hoped for more playing minutes at Test level, but Friend said they have returned to training looking sharp.

“There is part of me that thinks leave the blokes that are there because they have had so much footie,” said Friend in terms of Connacht’s team selection this week.

“There is another part me saying you’ve got international players returning and you’ve need to respect that. They are hungry for games, they’ve been training hard and they will be busting to get out there and get started into a game, so it’s how we find a balance.

“We have just come off the field and in fairness, all of them look great. I went into the session wondering if I’d see some rustiness from those boys and that might sway me, but I didn’t.

“I saw quality in what they were doing and energy about what they were doing and they fell back into the system pretty well. When we announce that team you will see which way we have gone.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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