Connacht coach Andy Friend believes securing a win against Perpignan at the Sportsground (3pm ) this weekend in the European Challenge Cup is important to continue the momentum the province has built up over their last three matches as they head into one of the busiest times of the season.
Connacht have obtained 14 match points from a possible 15 in their victories over the Dragons, Southern Kings, and Cheetahs, and the Aussie supremo believes a win over the Catalan side is needed as his side have obtained the winning habit.
"Winning can become a habit, as can losing. We talked about that at the front end of the season. We are three on the trot now. We beat the Dragons and [won] those two games [in South Africa] and if we get another win that is four, and then you start to think this is pretty good this winning, it is what we want to do. To have the feeling that we can win, doesn’t matter who we are playing and where we are playing, as long as we do what we are meant to do and we own our performance, [is what we want]."
The province currently sits second in Pool 3, six points behind leaders Sale Sharks after an opening day success against Bordeaux-Begles and a heavy defeat to the aforementioned Gallagher Premiership outfit. Saturday's opponents, Perpignan, have failed to register a win in their 13 games in league and European action but Friend warns against complacency and highlights the two clashes against the Top 14's bottom placed side will go along in determining Connacht's ambitions on the continental stage this season.
"We will know whether [the Challenge Cup] is still alive for us [after these two games] and if we want to keep chasing that dream or if it is dead to us, and we can put our energy into chasing the other competition so it is a really important two weeks for us.
"They are struggling but they are looking for that next win and every game that you do not have that win, it makes [the next game] important to win. We know this French side is coming over here searching for that win so we don’t want to be the one that gives it to them."
Many sides throughout the Challenge Cup, use the tournament to develop and rotate players. Friend has confirmed that changes will be made to Saturday's starting line-up, he looks to integrate players left at home for the South Africa trip as well as welcoming back long term absentees, Eoghan Masterson and Dave Heffernan, however, he says it is a competition that he wants to win even though the top priority for Connacht is a place in the Guinness Pro14 playoffs and a place at Europe's top table, the Heineken Champions Cup for the 2019/20 season.
"What is a more important competition? I don't know. I want to win them both. I think what is important is with every performance we put out there, we are proud of it and that we are getting better and I think we have done that on the whole. You can see our game is building. We have not clicked yet but we are seeing better minutes and better passages of play.
"[Masterson and Heffernan], we are looking to give game time to. We have Bundee [Aki] and Finlay [Bealham] back here at the moment. Quinn Roux and Eoin Griffin are back here. We have got some really good footballers we did not take away for various reasons but it is really important to engage those guys and give them their opportunity."
The squad performed on Saturday as Connacht managed to come away with the points with a hard fought 21-17 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Tries from Tom Farrell and Gavin Thornbury set up the province to become only the third team to complete the South African away sweep after the Glasgow Warriors and Munster did so last season. Again Friend praised his charges for their resilience and the "growth" he has seen since he has taken over in the off-season.
"It was really pleasing trip. Most importantly because we got the two wins and nine points. There was a lot of growth among us as a group of players, coaches, and staff as a whole team. I feel we are where we want to be at this stage of the season.
"[I am] Very pleased with the boys. I thought our game last week there were moments that probably were not as clinical as we wanted, but to get four tries and a bonus point. Talking to the Kings boys [last week] and asking them 'who do they play next week?' and they said, 'we don't know,' so we knew they would come into that game red hot to beat us.
"I thought the boys were outstanding to find a way to back it up six days later. Cheetahs are a good side and I think you can be lulled into a false sense that they are not a good football team but you have to come here and play a certain way so for us to to get two wins, I am delighted."