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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Connacht forwards coach Dewald Senekal.
# Physicality
'It's not always size... We need to stop being the nice Connacht Irish boys'
Dewald Senekal wants to see his players bringing more of an edge to their game.

CONNACHT FORWARDS COACH Dewald Senekal has challenged the province’s players to bring greater physicality to their game on a consistent basis.

The westerners have had a difficult start to the new season, losing away to Ulster in the first round before slipping to defeat against the Stormers in South Africa last weekend when Bundee Aki was red-carded.

The loss in Ulster saw Connacht coming off second best in the physical contests, which was a continuation of a theme from last season.

With Connacht now preparing to face an ultra-physical Bulls team in Pretoria on Friday, Senekal is calling for his forwards to front up.

“One of the frustrations for us coming out of that Ulster game is that we weren’t physical enough as a pack of forwards,” said Senekal.

“As a team, there was some real opportunities to stamp a mark on that game and show our physicality and we missed some of those. We had a real challenge in our review of the Ulster game as a pack around our physicality.

“We’re in the land of physicality. We need to be present. It’s not always a size thing, it’s intent. We need to stop being the nice Connacht Irish boys that are fair play.

“We need to really try and impose ourselves – have that intent to clean someone to the floor, hit them hard when they’re giving us open ribs or something, within the laws of the game obviously.

“I definitely believe it’s a mindset and that’s where we’ve challenged ourselves. I felt that in stages in the Stormers performances, there were hints of it and we’re getting there. It doesn’t come naturally to our boys but I definitely believe there was a step up there. I did thank them for that this week.

“Now we’re going to Loftus [to play the Bulls]. Even within South African terms, they’re known as a side who want to impose themselves and as bullies. They haven’t forgotten what happened last year at the Sportsground [Connacht won 34-7 there just over a year ago] so they know what’s coming. Now it’s really around us flying through the storm and meeting it head-on.

paul-boyle-tackles-evan-roos Steve Haag / INPHO Paul Boyle makes a tackle against the Stormers. Steve Haag / INPHO / INPHO

“We can’t shy away from it because for me that’s the real part of taking the next step as a team. Even against a tough side, we need to be present on Friday night again and not choose our battles.”

There is a fine line for Connacht when it comes to the physical stuff, of course. Aki’s intent to make a big impact off the bench last weekend saw him red carded for making direct contact with Stormers wing Seabelo Senatla’s head.

Poor discipline has been a big issue for Connacht early on this season, having conceded 30 penalties in their two games so far. Most of those infringements have been technical, Senekal and his fellow coaches are demanding better.

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“For us, the frustration is that there’s a lot of similar types of penalties,” said Senekal.

“We had three penalties for not rolling away, so we needed to quickly adapt to the interpretation of the referee. We knew he was really hot on that. Sometimes you get caught and don’t react fast enough.

“I’ve never coached someone to lift a leg in maul defence in my life but we’ve been penalised three times for that. That’s also something referees are looking for at the moment. So that’s really the frustration and we as a team have to own that, and as coaches as well.

“We need to quickly move on from that because we’re in South Africa, we went up to Ulster and you can’t win a game away from home giving up 15 or 16 penalties. It’s impossible to do that so we have to make better decisions with situational intelligence.

“We didn’t have as many warm-up games as we were hoping to because of a few cancellations and those are little things that you normally make mistakes on in warm-up games but now it’s costing us in the URC.

“So from Friday, we need to be really spot on with that because we know it’s tough to win away from home.”

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