Connacht are moving in the right direction, but need to wise up

Connacht No 8 Robin Copeland is a likely starter against the Scarlets after playing for the Eagles last weekend.

Connacht No 8 Robin Copeland is a likely starter against the Scarlets after playing for the Eagles last weekend.

Connacht Rugby coach Andy Friend is targeting the team's discipline this week after suffering a lop-sided penalty count in their 17-10 defeat to Edinburgh.

When Scarlets visit the Galway Sportsground for Saturday evening's Pro14 fourth round (5.15pm ), Friend says Connacht "need to be better with the rugby ball in possession, and definitely better with discipline".

"It's bigger than Scarlets or Leigh Halfpenny, it's about us, and making sure we have the discipline to trust our systems, trust our fitness. I am quite happy to push to the edge, but we have to make sure we are not giving the referee easy decisions," he says.

Although Edinburgh's Richard Cockerill criticised referee Ian Davies for not issuing more yellow cards to Connacht, Friend accepts his players must be "smarter".

"We have to look at our own discipline, and we need to be smarter there. I got 16 against us - 11 in the first half. You can't play the opposition and the referee, so we need to be smarter with that. There is a simple offside, there's the simple hands in the ruck, a simple kicking the ball out of rucks - the obvious stuff which we just can't do, and we were guilty of being a little bit naive and need to be better at that."

And after a "good chat" with Welsh referee Davies, Friend says Connacht were to blame.

"Referees are human beings, there will be some errors, but we were more at fault. We presented too many simple pitches for him to make a decision.

"We need to focus on how we can develop as a team and make sure we are working with the referees and not against them."

Worked backsides off

Friend says on-field management is part of Connacht's development. "It is just how you manage the day - to get in sync with the referee, what he is allowing, what he is not allowing, and to get away from the red penalities - what I call the dumb penalties - when there is no option for the referee but to give a penalty, and we leaked too many of those on Friday night."

However, he says, the pleasing aspect of Connacht's bonus-point defeat was their character.

"To eke out a point showed a lot of character. We worked our backsides off, loved our defence, our attitude is good, and we stayed in the fight and managed to get a bonus point.

"It has been a great litmus test for us. I think with every performance we have learned more about ourselves, looked at positives and made sure we have highlighted those to the players and those areas we need to work on."

Connacht's defence, on the money against Edinburgh, will get another work-out by a Scarlets outfit that likes to run, with Leigh Halfpenny Johnny McNicholl, Tom Prydie, Hadleigh Parks, etc, always ready to exploit space, and up front Connacht will face some more wily characters in Samson Lee and Keith Owens.

The home side has no fresh injuries, and will welcome the return to fitness of prop Denis Buckley, who was a late withdrawal last weekend with a rib injury. Hooker Tom McCartney and No 8 Robin Copeland both featured in the Eagles' loss to Dragons A, while Tom Farrell has recovered from a virus.

"What was good was seeing Robin [Copeland] play in the Eagles game. He was really impressive in the pre-season - on and off the field - his energy, maturity, a lighthearted bloke who put smiles on people's faces. So we have been frustrated for him with these little niggles that have stopped him playing, but it was great for him to get 40 minutes, and he will be putting his hand up this week."

Also involved in Connacht's training session yesterday was Ireland's skills and kicking coach, who was working with outhalf Jack Carty.

Ireland coaches

"Jack has been gaining in confidence each week, and has a tremendous skill set, so to give him the confidence to play, be able to express that and show that skillset off, will add value to us. It is good for Jack and the squad that the Ireland coaches are keeping an eyes on the boys here."

However they may not have been impressed with Connacht's first-half display against Edinburgh last weekend. Back at the venue which provided the most jubilant scenes three seasons ago with a Pro12 title, Connacht found Murrayfield less accommodating, particularly from an experienced Edinburgh pack.

Dominating possession and territory, the hosts carved two clear scoring opportunities, but were only held out by some sterling defence from Andy Friend's side. However the hosts made it count in the 26th minute when taking advantage of a sinbinning to captain Jarrad Butler. From a penalty at the scrum in front of the posts, they moved the ball wide for left wing Duhan van deer Merwe to cross, and outhalf Yaco van der Walt, a late replacement for Simon Hickey, added the extras for a 7-0 lead.

Connacht No 8 Paul Boyle continued where he left off last week, blazing a path through the cover from a line-out to set up possession inside the 22, but it was an all too brief moment as Connacht turned over possession.

More dynamic at the breakdown and on top in the scrums, Edinburgh continued to force penalties - outhalf van der Walt adding three points for a 10-0 half time lead, and the signs were ominous when Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman touched down from an unstoppable rolling maul after 55 minutes.

However Connacht got themselves back in the game with a 62nd minute try from Niyi Adeolokun, and Jack Carty tacked on the difficult touchline conversion. Finally with some momentum, Connacht added a penalty to bring them within seven, but that was as close as they could get.

Connacht v Edinburgh: T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, E Griffin, K Godwin, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, C O’Donnell, D Heffernan, F Bealham, G Thornbury, U Dillane, S O’Brien, J Butler, P Boyle. Replacements: P McCabe for O'Donnell (36 ), S Delahunt for Delahunt and C Fainga'a for O'Brien (47m ), B Aki for Godwin (50m ), C Blade for Marmion (51m ), J Canon for Dillane 56 ), D Roberton-McCoy for Bealham (60 ).


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