Connacht create season blueprint in win over Benetton

Connacht's Kyle Godwin on the attack to score the first try against Benetton Rugby Treviso in action from the Guinness Pro14 game at the Sportsground on Saturday.						 Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht's Kyle Godwin on the attack to score the first try against Benetton Rugby Treviso in action from the Guinness Pro14 game at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht Rugby set an early season standard with a six-try haul last weekend, and the challenge now is to maintain that, even away from home, when they return to Wales to face Dragons in Rodney Parade on Saturday (7.35pm ).

After a poor season opener against Scarlets, Connacht's 41-5 victory over Benetton Treviso at the Sportsground was an impressive response, but coach Andy Friend says consistency of form is now necessary.

"It is now the bluerprint, and we have to make sure we keep doing it," says Friend, who will make his first visit to the Newport venue this weekend.

The Dragons, under new coach Dean Ryan, formerly with Worcester, return to Rodney Parade having grabbed a first away win in 48 matches when they trounced Zebre 52-28. And having beaten Connacht in the previous two seasons, they will not be short of confidence.

Yet, if Connacht want to reach or improve on last year's PRO14 quarter-final, a win is non-negotiable. Against a team that is usually near the bottom of the league, and which Connacht will play only once this season, anything other than a win would be a set-bck.

History, says Friend, also ensures Connacht must get a good start.

"The important thing we have seen in our visits to Wales over the last 15 months, and you go back to Ospreys last year, within 10 minutes they have two tries and we were left chasing the game. Against Scarlets, we nearly clawed it back, so we can't let them get ahead. When Welsh teams get ahead with the crowd behind them, it becomes even more diffiuclt, so the way we start is very important," he says.

"I've been impressed with the Dragons, their change in game style. They've had one loss, one win - a big one against Zebre, and this is their first home game so it is going to be a tough one for us."

Luckily Connacht have no fresh injuries since Darragh Leader was forced to withdraw during the warm-up last weekend. He was due to have a scan on his lower leg during the week. As a result, Friend says he is unlikely to be making too many changes.

"When you get a performance like that [against Benetton], you want to reward them, and with a six day turnaround to keep the momentum going, I can't see too many changes.

"Fair play to Dragons, they have done well, but this is a new week, a new opportunity for us and for them. It's who turns up and the start is going to be so important - that first 20 minutes, who wins those little battles and who gets on top. They are going to be crucial, and that will be a real focus for us."

Weather, of course, will play its part, but lessons have been learnt from the defeat to Scarlets which was played in poor wet conditions. As a result Friend says the team responded last week by ensuring everyone was on the front foot, and the pack not forced to carry an unnecessary load.

"We had a game plan and a game style that worked for us. We found grass in the back of the field, kept the ball in front of our forwards, and our forwards, as they have done every game, delivered. We didn't do that in the Scarlets' game.

"They delivered a solid setpiece platform and a couple of maul tries. Life becomes easy if we do that, so that game has become our blueprint now."

As a result the onus is on the backs, particularly the half backs, to keep the ball in front of the forwards, and in that regard young outhalf Conor Fitzgerald continues to grow, and Caolan Blade is revelling in his starting role this season.

The man of the match against Scarlets, Blade touched down for two tries in the six-try blitz of Benneton.

The weather also played its part for Saturday's season opener at the Sportsground on a rare dry and windless evening.

It helped Andy Friend's side take full advantage of the Italian side missing 16 internationals on World Cup duty.

The home side was 22-0 up at half-time, and within minutes of the restart, on-fire scrumhalf Blade had grabbed his second and Connacht's fourth to wrap up the bonus point.

Connacht had drawn first blood when outhalf Conor Fitzgerald posted a penalty on five minutes, and within five minutes centre Kyle Godwin had claimed the first of Connacht's try tally after spotting a gap in the defence and fending off a last-ditched tackle from fullback Luca Sperandio.

In control, the home side posted two more tries within the next six minutes. Blade caught the cover napping when he cheekily dummied through from the blindside of a scrum 10m out, before Connacht reaped the reward for a classic line-out and drive from a penalty to touch with Tom McCartney bagging try number three.

Outhalf Fitzgerald added both conversions to put Connacht into a 22-0 lead after 24 minutes, while Benetton's only score came on 48 minutes when former Connacht and Munster outhalf Ian Keatley sent fullback Luca Sperandio through.

However Tom McCartney added his second after a super break by centre Peter Robb, while replacement Kieran Marmion also added his name the tally.

Connacht v Treviso : T O'Halloran, S Fitzgerald, K Godwin, P Robb, M Healy, C Fitzgerald, C Blade, P McAllister, T McCartney, F Bealham, G Thornbury, Q Roux, E Masterson, J Butler, P Boyle. Replacements, U Dillane for Roux (47m ),D Buckley for McAllister and D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (both 49m ), S Delahunt for McCartney and K Marmion for Blade (52m ), T Farrell for C Fitzgerald (53m ), S Masterson for E Masterson and J Porch for O'Halloran (65m ).

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