Connacht prepare for crunch European clash

Andy Friend's Connacht host Leicester Tigers on Saturday

Connacht head coach Andy Friend.

Connacht head coach Andy Friend.

Set piece parity is the essential ingredient if Connacht are to prevail over visiting Leicester Tigers at the Sportsground on Saturday.

Coach Andy Friend says to achieve their stated ambition of being the first from the province to qualify from the European Champions Cup group stages, Connacht must match the English premiership outfit up front.

Tigers remain unbeaten in Europe, and having taken control of their Welford Road meeting with Connacht after an entire front row change in the second half, Friend is conscious of a reccurrence.

"We have to meet fire with fire, and if we get parity in our set piece, we are going to have enough to make life difficult for them," he says." We've put ourselves in a good position, but it means nothing if we do not perform well on Saturday, and hopefully pick up that win."

Forward's coach Dewald Senekal has been working with the forward pack since that last meeting - and Friend believes "some really good learns have been installed" having been left to rue their 29-23 loss in England.

"We do have a different style from Leicester Tigers. It is pretty evident. Both are successful in their own way Leicester's is probably more successful than ours, they have another year and a bit doing it. So it is going to be a great challenge for us and that is the beauty of the game of rugby. You can play it in many different ways, and it is normally down to the team that perfects its game better than the opposition that tends to win it. It was them in Welford Road, hopefully it's us in the Sportsground."

Friend insists Connacht need to play their own game. "We need to be just us," he says. "We need to do better in our the set piece. In terms of the scrum, we cannot give them easy go forward ball, but I do believe we have a pack that can do that for us. I think our bench is going to be important for us this week. If we can go out and play our brand of rugby, we will cause some headaches."

Less of a headache is Connacht's improving injury list. Mack Hansen is the only new player ruled having suffered a low level calf strain in training. However, there is positive news for Denis Buckley, who has returned to team training, with hopes of his availability for selection by the end of January.

Peter Robb (shoulder ) remains out of action until the end of January, while Tom Daly (knee ) expects to integrate into team training at the end of January. However Gavin Thornbury had another surgical procedure on his shoulder last week, ruling out a return to training till early February, while Dylan Tierney Martin will be out of action until mid-April following surgery for a hamstring injury.


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