Connacht planning hit and run on Cardiff Blues

 Peter Sullivan of Connacht makes a break, supported by centres TomFarrell and Bundi Aki, during the Guinness PRO14 match against Glasgow Warriors at The Sportsground in Galway.    
Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Peter Sullivan of Connacht makes a break, supported by centres TomFarrell and Bundi Aki, during the Guinness PRO14 match against Glasgow Warriors at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Connacht head to Wales on Saturday intent on backing up last weekend's solid performance with a win over an always-tricky Cardiff Blues.

The fixture will be played at the Dragon's home Rodney Parade (7.35pm ), due to Cardiff Arms Park being used as a Covid testing station - another change due to the current pandemic.

Yet, it has also provided a rare opportunity for Connacht to take a charter flight from Shannon on Saturday morning, ensuring the team can return immediately after the fixture.

"Through Covid we find ourselves in a situation where we can cut a lot of travel time," says backs coach Nigel Carolan. "It's a short trip to Shannon, we have our own flight, so waiting around time is minimised. It's a short trip over and 15 minutes to the hotel on the other side.

"Maybe it's a privilege, but for us it is something new. The lads are really excited about it because they get to sleep in their own beds and they don't have to hang around the whole day. So we don't see it as a challenge, but as an advantage."

No Connacht player has tested positive, Carolan says, as the province is doing everything it can to minimise the risks.

"It's here, it's alive and it's something players are constantly reminded off. The players are reminded of their interactions with each other, even outside the Sportsground, " he says.

All players have been warned of breaches in protocols as they must follow the same guidelines as everyone else, he says.

"They are not exempt. There is is a protocol in place that any breaches outside the Sportsground will have serious consequences individually or collectively. They will be up in front of HR if there are any breaches, and we hope that is in the forefront of their minds."

Saturday's fixture is all about backing up last weekend's opening win over Glasgow, and securing a win before losing players for the international window. As a result few changes will be made to the starting XV.

"Traditionally games against Cardiff are never simple. They are a tough team to play against, they go really hard at the breakdown, and are always really close affairs, so we don't expect anything different this weekend.

"We've got all the players available to us, and some might be missing after this [for internationals], so for us it's about capitalising on those guys and the energy they bring to make these performances count. To get two wins in a row is what we have targeted and what we are going after."

Another positive is the change of venue from Cardiff's artificial pitch to Newport's turf.

"It is a a bit of a leveller. Cardiff's is not the nicest pitch to play on - its extremely fast and compact - but I expect the same tenacity and the usual suspects will be the same menaces at the breakdown."

Patience pays dividends

Last weekend's 28-24 win over Glasgow came after a poor first-half performance in which Connacht conceded nine penalties, and Carolan says that has been a valuable lesson.

"We learned how ill discipline can how hurt our game. It puts pressure on our defence and it inhibits our attack. We also learned when we play, we need patience and it pays dividends, so with a view to Cardiff, we know they are a big threat at the breakdown, the likes of Ollie Robinson, Josh Navidi etc, who traditionally go hard, so there is a big focus on the breakdown."

Last weekend's victory was a good start - breaking a six-game losing run to the Warriors since winning the PRO12 title - but it came thanks to three tries and another two penalties in a high octane second half.

Although Danny Wilson's charges were never out of sight, Connacht's side's ability to keep the ball alive, work hard for each other, and produce enterprising rugby was ultimately rewarded.

Added to the doggedness of the pack, led by man of the match and captain Jarrad Butler, and the dual composure of Jack Carty and the always energetic Kieran Marmion, Connacht proved their prowess out wide. The new-look back three found their speed in the second half to play a vital role, alongside midfielders Tom Farrell and Bundee Aki. Aki once again supplied the energy and the voice as Connacht gained momentum, and was the finisher for two superb tries.

Training ground work on transition from defence to attack helped with those tries with new-look back three of wings Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan, and fullback John Porch, delivering a superb display.

Wootton produced the perfect kick ahead to set up field position for the opening try, while Tom Farrell was instrumental in breaking the defensive line before releasing to Aki who crossed. Carty's conversion levelled matters, and with the momentum, Connacht's passes started to stick - both wings exploiting space to set up field position. Once again Porch and Aki were involved in the build-up, along with hooker Dave Heffernan and Butler, who supplied Quinn Roux to finish under the posts. Carty conversion put the home side into a 17-10 lead. Glasgow replied immediately with a converted try from Hew Jones and Adam Hastings added the extras to level again. However Connacht were not finished. After a Carty penalty, John Porch, showing electric speed, aided again by Wootton, set up field position for Bundee Aki to bag his second. Glasgow again countered with a try from Tommy Seymour, to come within a point, but a poised Carty slotted a penalty from the 10m line to secure an opening day victory.

Yellow cards: Q Roux (Connacht ) 19m.

Connacht A: J Porch; P O'Sullivan, T Farrell, B Aki, A Wootton ; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, G Thornbury, Q Roux, J Butler ©, C Oliver, P Boyle.Replacements: C Blade for Marmion (58 ), J Duggan for Buckley(70 ), J Aungier for Bealham (53 ), S Masterson for Oliver (54 ), S Arnold for Aki (66 ), N Murray for Thornbury (76 ).

Glasgow: H Jones, T Seymour, N Grigg, S McDowall, R Nairn, A Hastings, A Price, O Kebble, F Brown, D Rae, R Harley, S Cummings, R Wilson, C Fusaro, M Fagerson.Replacements, R Tagive for Nairn (51 ), A Seiuli for Kebble (58 ), F Lokotui for Fagerson and P Horne for McDowell (62 ), R Gray for Cummings and G Horne for Price (70 ), G Turner for Brown(76 ).Referee: C Evans (Wales )

 

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