Ultan Dillane dominates a collision with Camille Chat. Dave Winter/INPHO

Connacht hit a new level of collision success in their close-call against Racing

However, the lineout and maul needs to be much better against Bristol this weekend.

THE MOST IMPRESSIVE aspect of Connacht’s performance in nearly defying the odds against Racing 92 last weekend was that it came in a manner no one really expected.

Most would have imagined Connacht flinging the ball from touchline to touchline in their bid to pull off a shock win.

Few would have foreseen Andy Friend’s men dominating the collisions against one of the most powerful teams in Europe but that was the case for long spells of the contest in Paris. 

Last Sunday wasn’t about Connacht ripping it up in attack, rather about physically confronting Racing in the collisions. The try that brought them back to within four points and gave the westerners a late shot at winning was a case in point – a direct, narrow series of carries ending with Conor Oliver smashing his way over.

Ultan Dillane running over Camille Chat, Sammy Arnold busting through Virimi Vakatawa and Kurtley Beale, Sean Masterson hammering Henry Chavancy in a turnover tackle, and young replacements Jack Aungier, Jordan Duggan, and Cian Prendergast bossing the contact were among the highlight moments.

The stats back up the impression Friend’s side made.

Connacht had 142 carries and won 113 of those collisions.

“It’s the highest we have had all year, so we won 80% of our collisions,” said Friend ahead of this Sunday’s Champions Cup clash with Bristol in Galway.

“Our previous highest, I think it was the Edinburgh game [in October], we won 77% of our collisions in that game.

“Then you look at the Scarlets game [a defeat in Galway last month] and we only won 40%, which tells you why we ended up so poor on that scoreboard.”

andy-friend-before-the-game Connacht head coach Andy Friend. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

While outside discussions around Connacht tend to focus on their more expansive attacking strengths, the province themselves put a huge focus on the collision side of the game.

“I think it’s just reward for the players,” said Friend. “They have been working their backsides off. They do a lot of work dragging sleds and using bands in the power work they are doing in the gym with Johnny O’Connor, Dave Howarth, and Barry O’Brien.

“It was an affirmation that it’s working for them. It gives them confidence going into the Bristol game this weekend.

“It’s also worth saying that we missed some of the bigger bodies that we have. Sean O’Brien wasn’t available to us, Quinn Roux, Gavin Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i, so we had some big bodies missing there.

“If we bring them back, all of a sudden we’ve got those big boys as well as everyone else doing it, we become a formidable side.”

Second row Dillane was particularly excellent for Connacht in Paris and was voted players’ player of the day by his team-mates.

“He carried 11 times, he won 11 collisions,” said Friend of Dillane. “That tells you a lot straight off there.

“It was great to be able to reward him with a selection because he has had a foot in both our camp and Ireland camp – neither here nor there. I knew he was excited to get the start and he certainly didn’t let anyone down.

“I couldn’t have been happier with his performance. It was the best I have seen him play since I have been here.” 

a-view-of-a-maul Racing took Connacht apart at maul time. Dave Winter / INPHO Dave Winter / INPHO / INPHO

One area that didn’t go well for Dillane and his team was the lineout – which Dillane was calling – and maul, where Racing gave them a clinic.

The Top 14 side are renowned for their superb lineout defence and Connacht were missing the aforementioned locks as back row Eoghan Masterson filled in once again, but Friend underlined that these areas simply have to be better against Bristol on Sunday.

“The first thing is to compliment Racing on their lineout, both attack and defence, and their maul set-up,” said Friend. “It was very, very good.

“Jimmy Duffy [Connacht's forwards coach] is working miracles here because we haven’t had two locks in our starting 15 or even or 23 for probably five or six weeks now.

“You probably assume at some stage you’re going to get pulled apart and there were some creaks there at the weekend but I know to a man that they were filthy with it. At half time, the conversations we had were around fixing it and it was the same straight after the game.

“It’s happened, it’s more a compliment to Racing than a slight on Connacht, I believe, but I can assure you it’s going to be much better next time.”

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