Connacht's final PRO14 fixture must tick all boxes ahead of European game

Connacht's Kieran Marmion and Alex Wotton.

Connacht's Kieran Marmion and Alex Wotton.

Connacht will be using Monday's final PRO14 fixture against the Scarlets in Wales (8pm ) as a benchmark for their upcoming European challenge against Leicester.

Having already qualified for Champions Cup rugby as the PRO14 Conference B runners-up, Connacht head to Parc y Scarlets on Monday - with their focus fixed on using it as preparation for the Welford Road meeting on Saturday April 3.

Defence coach Pete Wilkins, who has been leading the squad due to Andy Friend's recent leg surgery, says victory in this final PRO14 game will tick all boxes.

"We know Leicester will be a big physical challenge, bringing that intensity around the contact area, so we will need to make sure whatever we produce against Scarlets at least sets a benchmark to build on going over to Leicester.

"A large part of our Scarlets' preview does feed into the next game - what we are looking to keep, to build on, and need to correct. They also will be key factors in this Scarlets' game that we will look to carry through and get some evidence where we are at and what we need to tweek going into Leicester."

Connacht are facing the possibility of playing both games without captain Jarrad Butler who was red carded in Saturday's 14-15 loss to Edinburgh at the Sportsground, while also waiting on the three players, Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan, who are currently in the Irish camp.

However, Wilkins is hoping Connacht's solid away record will continue in Wales, providing the fillip ahead of European rugby and to conclude their PRO14 campaign with a win after the recent defeat to Edinburgh.

"It is about picking guys who are hungry for opportunity and still have something to prove that don't just see this as a dead rubber buying themselves time for a pretty exciting European game."

Wilkins says the spread of errors against Edinburgh, particularly in the final quarter when Connacht was leading the game, but down to 14 men, was unforgivable.

"We let ourselves down last weekend, so it will add to the determination and internal pressure to make sure we go over there and get a result.

"In terms of going into Europe, in rebounding from the Edinburgh performance, and finishing our domestic season, a win ticks all the boxes."

Wilkins says a spread of errors against Edinburgh, particularly in the final quarter when Connacht were leading the game, but down to 14 men, was unforgivable.

However, he also feels for Butler whose red card came midway through the second half.

"His error came not from over aggressiveness or looking to hurt or damage a player, it has come from being too chesty and too passive. A shorter man would have just been carrying into Jarrad's chest and there would have been no contact, but with a guy who is 6'.5', his head is at your shoulder height.

"It is frustrating for Jarrad. But it's a good reminder to everyone that if you don't get the detail spot on, they can be pretty harsh consequences and we understand why."

Despite the loss to Edinburgh, Wilkins says Connacht will take a similar approach this week with some "youth sprinkled in".

Last week centre Sean O'Brien, Niall Murray, Cian Prendergast, Oran McNulty and Ben O'Donnell enjoyed game time in a match that ultimately went the Scottish side's way as they snatched victory in the last play. With their Champions Cup hopes on the line, their need proved greater and Edinburgh's young outhalf Nathan Chamberlain was the hero when he dotted down under the posts and converted to give Richard Cockerill's side the win.

Connacht looked to have survived the final 22 minutes without Butler, but the concession of two penalties gave Edinburgh a last-gasp chance and they took it well. For Connacht, having already qualified for Champions Cup rugby, it was was another blow in what has been a poor home season, particularly having looked in control for long periods.

Scrumhalf Kieran Marmion supplied debutant O'Brien for the opening try with Jack Carty adding the extras, but Connacht struggled against a hugely physical defence and had nothing more to show for their domination. It provided Edinburgh with real hope as they cranked up their attacking rhythm, and on 32 minutes the hugely experienced Magnus Bradbury scored from a forward drive.

Connacht, however, with the wind at their back, staged one last attack before the break, and on the second attempt, Shane Delahunt touched down from a maul, with Carty's conversion giving them a 14-5 lead. It looked to be enough in a dogged second half. Although failing to add to the score, Connacht produced some huge tackles, led by Alex Wootton, to keep Edinburgh at bay. Eventually, however, Edinburgh closed the gap with a 70th minute penalty from Chamberlain before he became the hero for the Scottish side.

Connacht: A Wootton, B O'Donnell, S O'Brien, T Daly, M Healy, J Carty, Marmion, D Buckley, S Delahunt, J Aungier, N Murray, G Thornbury, C Prendergast, J Butler (cpt ), E Masterson.Replacements, J Murphy for Delahunt (60m ), J Duggan for Buckley and C Kenny for Aungier (both 54m ), A Papali'i for Prendergast (49m ), C Blade for Marmion (62m ), O McNulty for O'Donnell (66m ).

Edinburgh: D Hoyland, J Blain, J Johnstone, G Taylor, E Sau, N Chamberlain, C Shiel, P Schoeman, M Wilmese, L Atalifo, M Bradbury, A Davidson, L Crosbie, A Miller,V Mata.Replacements, B Venter for Schoeman (23m ), J Hodgson for Davidson (57m ), M Kunavalu for Crosbie (60 ), H Pyrgos for Shiel (49m ), M Bennett for Blain and A Williams for Atalifo (67m ).

Referee: Chris Busby.


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