Dragons next up after Connacht crush Bulls

Linley MacKenzie

Connacht's consistency will be tested on Saturday when they aim to secure a win over the Dragons at the Galway Sportsground (5.15pm ).

Having provided the first home crowd since Covid restrictions were lifted with a stunning 34-7 victory over the Bulls, Connacht coach Andy Friend knows "it means nothing if we don't back it up on Saturday".

The Welsh side has improved immeasurably over the last couple of seasons under Dean Ryan, as demonstrated by their one-point loss to Leinster last weekend, and they have always proved tricky opponents for Connacht.

"They are a tough outfit, and they should have beaten Leinster," Friend says."They have recruited well, they are a good team, so we need to respect them and we will.

"The big thing for us is we've been poor at backing up good performances, so it's really important to to do it this week - to confirm in our minds that we are on the right track and give something for our fans to to cheer about."

Those fans were in full voice last weekend when they made their first appearance at the ground for some 18 monhts. And it was extra special for two players, Abraham Papali'i and Jordan Duggan, who had never played before a crowd since coming to Galway.

"We did talk about the fact that we had some players in the changing room, the likes of Jordie Duggan and certainly Abraham Papali'i. He's been here for about 14 months and he had never played in front of his wife, while Jordie Duggan had never played in front of a big crowd here.

"You could see the energy out there, and it definitely helps when a ref hears a crowd jeer or applaud, and it has an effect on the players. The fans give enormous energy to everybody."

That spirit was necessary last weekend when Connacht were stung by an early Bulls' try, but their voices were soon in full flight as Friend's squad produced a relentless performance in both attack and defence that stunned Jake White's team.

By half time they were only 10-7 up, but that opening try displayed Connacht's attacking best after Cian Prendergast secured the line-out and Jack Carty, Tom Daly, and John Porch attacked the Bulls' defence before fullback Tiernan O'Halloran finished. Despite spurning two try-scoring chances, they had the Bulls by the horns, helped by Abraham Papali'i who led several charges, along with the hardworking Dave Heffernan.

The high tempo and some swift service from Kieran Marmion certainly paid off as Tom Daly broke two tackles to score, before new recruit Mack Hansen set the Sportsground alight. Securing a high ball in his own half, he set off at pace before beating 10 defenders to score. At 22-7, there was no stampeding response from the Bulls. Instead it was midfield partners Tom Farrell and Tom Daly who deservedly rounded off a superb Connacht performance with a try each.

Winners with pride and respect

After earlier dismissive comments from the Vodacom Bulls boss Jack White, it was the perfect riposte, and Friend says it is now up to his squad to change such views "with a performance, on and off the field".

To change that perception, he says Connacht need to be a winner - not just on the scoreboard, but in how the players conduct themselves and play the game.

It is a refreshing approach that is paying dividends for his squad, which has always been an amalgam of players from Connacht and Ireland, with a sprinkling of overseas recruits.

"We talk about being proud, proud of who we are working for and who we are representing. We are representing all players. The club started in 1885 so there are a lot of players who have gone before us and a lot people who are going to come after us, and a lot of people in this building who aren't involved with the PRO rugby team who make our lives happen."

And, he says, Connacht players must also be respectful.

"Hopefully you will never hear me make a comment like that. I wouldn't do that, because I feel it is disrespectful. So we talk about being respectful and treating people the way we would like to be treated. If we can do those three things - be winners, be proud, be respectful - I think we will gain the respect I believe we deserve, but it is up to us to do that."

Connacht, who have no fresh injuries this week, announced the signing of a new front row forward, Tietie Tuimauga, from New Zealand. The 28-year-old prop, who also plays for Samoa, moved to Manawatu from Wellington to play for club side Feilding Yellows before being selected for the Manawatu Turbos.

Connacht v Bulls: TO’Halloran, J Porch, T Farrell, T Daly, M Hansen, J Carty, K Marmion; J Duggan, D Heffernan, F Bealham, O Dowling, U Dillane, C Prendergast, J Butler (C ), A Papali’i.Replacements: S Delahunt for Heffernan (65 ) M Burke for Duggan (62 ), J Aungier for Bealham (63 ), L Fifita for Dowling (52 ), C Oliver for Butler (60 ), P Boyle for Papali'i (46 ), S Arnold for Prendergast (68m

Vodacom Bulls: R Combrinck, C Hendricks, L Mapoe, H Vorster, S Jacobs, J Goosen, Z Burger; L Gqoboka, J van Zyl, J van Rooyen, W Steenkamp, R Nortje, M Coetzee (C ), A Botha, E Louw.Replacements: B du Plessis for van Zyl andJ du Plessis for Louw (both 50mins ), S Matanzima for M Smith(56 ), J Swanepoel for Smith(62 ), J du Plessis E Papier for Goosen (62 ), Z Burger for Gqoboka (56 ), C Smith for Goosen (71m ) S Gans for Jacobs (71 ).


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