Connacht head to Italy with 'backs against the wall'

Connacht's Jarrad Butler leading the charge in the Sportsground against Leinster.

Connacht's Jarrad Butler leading the charge in the Sportsground against Leinster.

Connacht boss Andy Friend is in no mood to make concessions for his side's collapse against Leinster at the Sportground on Saturday.

Despite losing centre Tom Daly following a red-card for a high tackle after just three minutes, Friend says it was both "unacceptable and embarrassing" to lose by 45-8, particularly having been ahead by 8-7 after 50 minutes.

Now having shipped 101 points in their previous two games against Edinburgh and Leo Cullen's outfit, while only registering eight in each, Connacht are facing the likelihood of failing to qualify for Champions Cup rugby next season through the URC.

Whatever about that scenario, Connacht are in desperate need to post a victory ahead of their back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures against Leinster. And that entails travelling to Italy to face a Benetton side that has its internationals back from Italian duty. And Connacht know just how difficult it can be to overcome the Treviso based side - it was not long ago Benetton advanced to the Rainbow Cup final at the Connacht's expense, having beaten them 20-12.

Friend can expect a response from Connacht on Saturday because not only is Champions Cup rugby at stake, but pride.

"We have worked so hard, but looking at the last two games, it just has not been acceptable - embarrassing to be honest.

"We are all hurting. We had a full house on Saturday night and you want to give people a performance and a spectacle they want to see. We did for 50 minutes and then fell off. Now this season is still at stake, and getting the pride back in the jersey."

Friend says Connacht "need to get back to playing the rugby we can for 80 minutes, not for 28 or 50 minutes".

"I think it is the perfect challenge. We want tough games, but we made that game tougher than it needed to be, and when you go down to 14 men after two minutes, it makes it very, very tough."

When Tom Daly was red carded within three minutes, Connacht were always going to face an uphill battle. It had followed a yellow card to Leinster's Tommy O'Brien in a fractious opening, but with Leinster back to 15 after 10 minutes, Connacht's resources were always going to be stretched. They survived until the second half, when eventually the floodgates opened and Leinster would go on to score six second-half tries.

However Friend insists Connacht need to respond in Treviso, that they must have "belief, never give up the fight, never until the final whistle can you give up".

"We have blokes who can lead, and it's again another area I am looking at, and I have tried to implement different styles of leadership programmes. The fact of the matter is I haven't got it right yet. Have we the right leaders? Yes. Have we given them the tools to do it, the support, and the challenge? No, not yet, and again that rests with me.

"Sometimes it's tough, but you must stand up and you have to call out your peers. That is what life is about, so we have to give them the courage to do that."

Whatever about the back-to-back fixtures with Leinster in the Champions Cup, there is so much riding on Saturday's fixture against a Bennetton outfit that will be looking to close the five-point gap on the URC table.

Connacht still will be without the talismanic Bundee Aki, but internationals Finlay Bealham and Mack Hansen will be available. It is timely also that Leva Fifta and Tietie Tuamauga are fit, while John Porch is awaiting clearance after an HIA. Connacht are also likely to give Gavin Thornbury some game time having returned to training, but ruled out are Denis Buckley (calf ), Alex Wootton (foot ), Shane Delahunt and Dylan Tierney Martin (hamstring ), and Tom Daly (banned for three weeks following the high tackle ).


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