Craig Watson/INPHO Connacht were hammered by Edinburgh last time out.
harsh lessons

'It was pretty embarrassing' - Connacht must bounce back to save URC season

Head coach Andy Friend and club captain Jarrad Butler were honest about the defeat in Edinburgh.

CONNACHT GET A shot at redemption in Galway this Saturday night when Leinster come to town for an absolutely pivotal United Rugby Championship [URC] clash.

The western province’s most recent outing, a 56-8 hammering away to Edinburgh three weekends ago, has left them in real danger of missing out on the URC play-offs.

Connacht currently sit 10th in the league and must finish inside the top eight to be in the quarter-finals. With just five regular-season games remaining, the pressure is on.

The home-and-away Champions Cup round-of-16 ties against Leinster next month will be exciting, of course, but the remaining URC games are every bit as crucial for the province.

Leinster home, Benetton away, Lions in South Africa, Sharks in South Africa, Zebre home. This isn’t going to be straightforward.  

“We have put ourselves in this position,” said Connacht head coach Andy Friend this afternoon.

“We definitely need to win four of them. If we can win five, it makes life easier for ourselves, but every game is a Grand Final now.” 

Connacht simply cannot afford any more performances like that dismal one in Edinburgh. 

Club captain Jarrad Butler was honest enough to point out that it’s not the first time this has happened to Connacht this season.

“We were scratching our heads after the game wondering what the hell happened because it was pretty embarrassing, that performance there,” said Butler, who recently had a new two-year contract with Connacht confirmed.

“Edinburgh could do whatever they wanted and by the end of it, you saw 15 blokes not in our jerseys running around having a good time, which sucked.

henry-immelman-celebrates-scoring-a-try Craig Watson / INPHO Edinburgh ran riot three weekends ago. Craig Watson / INPHO / INPHO

“We did have a lot of time to be able to reflect on it and a lot of it came down to ‘controllables’ and stuff we can do ourselves, which I think is important.

“We’ve got all the systems in place but we saw that if you’re not consistent and don’t nail your stuff all the time, you end up putting yourselves in positions like we did against Edinburgh.

“There have been a couple of occasions this year where we haven’t been there 100% and you can see it makes a big difference. That’s three times now this season that’s occurred and we don’t want it to happen again and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

For head coach Friend, an in-depth review of the game underlined that the Connacht players had lost all cohesion in Edinburgh. 

“The way we capitulated there was probably the worst I’ve seen since I’ve been here, so that was disappointing,” said Friend.

“It came down to some simple things. There was an energy to solve things but it became a very single-minded energy to solve things, rather than collectively. When you go back and watch it, you can see people are trying but they’re not trying collectively.

“The game of rugby is about being a team and doing things together. Edinburgh went to another level of doing things together and we went to the other extreme. The scoreline tells that story.

“We’ve had those conversations. They’re not nice conversations, it’s not nice to play in a game like that, certainly not with what we’ve come to expect and coming off the back of reasonable performances and good results against Scarlets and Stormers.

andy-friend James Crombie / INPHO Connacht boss Andy Friend at training in Galway today. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“It was unexpected but it happened, we can’t deny that, we can just move on from it and we get the opportunity to do that this weekend.”

While Connacht will be without Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham, and Mack Hansen against Leinster on Saturday, the visitors to the Sportsground will also be missing a large group of their Ireland internationals. 

The reality is that both teams will look different for next month’s Champions Cup ties, so Friend said Connacht will be treating Saturday’s clash as a completely standalone fixture.

The last time Connacht played Leinster back in December, they were beaten 47-19 in Dublin, so they need to be razor-sharp this weekend.

“We have parked that Edinburgh game but we’re definitely trying to take those lessons forward,” said Butler.

“It’s happened too many times this year where we think, ‘We really let them dictate the game and went away from the key principles we have in place.’

“We don’t want to be dwelling on Edinburgh but we do want to be learning those lessons and not letting them happen again.”

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