Clash with Stormers not just another game for Connacht

rugby16 May 2024 09:24| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
article image
© Gallo Images

Connacht know all about the passion of Cape Town fans when the DHL Stormers go into a big playoff game after experiencing it in the semifinal last year and on Saturday their opponents are set to feel it in reverse as they face a side provided with extra motivation.

That extra motivation comes by way of the fact that Saturday’s penultimate Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash will be the last time that Connacht, who are anyway treating it as a Cup final as they will be out of the URC race if they lose, play in their home ground of The Sportsground in it’s current configuration.

After the game the bulldozers will move in to start demolishing the part of the ground known as the Clan Stand, something that has been a fixture for Connacht supporters for many generations. Like the Stormers’ home ground of Newlands a few years back, the Connacht venue is bowing to progress and the need to modernise, although in their case they are not vacating the house but just altering it.


Connacht head coach Pete Wilkins has made reference to “the extra noise around this game” and the Stormers have hence been warned - they are playing against a team not only in a desperate battle for survival in the quest for the top eight spot that will put them into the Finals Series, they are also playing a team that wants to perform at this significant juncture of their history.

Add to that the fact Connacht are smarting after a big defeat to their arch-rivals Munster last weekend, and the Cup final narrative almost doesn’t need to be pointed out. It is obvious.

“After such a disappointing performance, a disappointing scoreline in what was an enormous game for us away at Munster, of course it is a blow to morale at this stage,” said Wilkins in a press conference this week.

“And the players need some picking up after that. I don’t think we hide from that. At the same time, the scale of the game this week is key. We’re playing one of the best teams in the URC who are not only one of the most dangerous attacking teams but also one of the most dominant tackling teams. They also beat us in last year’s semifinal.

“They’re coming here with all their Springboks. It’s our last home game of the season. The stadium will be the last time as we have known it. There is so much noise around this game. It will only go right for us if we remain totally present and totally focused.”


Wilkins said that while the defeat to Munster last week was disappointing, the feeling going through the squad afterwards was one of frustration rather than despair. He said the result at Thomond Park in Limerick won’t erode belief because the players know they are better than the performance they delivered.

“It is much harder to generate or maintain belief in a game where you feel you have given a really good version of yourselves, been close to the best you can be, and still been played off the park by the opposition,” he said.

“I feel if you feel you have played all the cards you have to play, and you still get a really bad scoreline against you, that is when you look around the room and start to doubt either your own ability or the way you going about things. That is when you either start to question yourselves as individuals or as a team or you start to question the plan.”

Wilkins said the Munster game was not one of those games, it was just a day where Connacht had let themselves down by not making the most of the situations that could have made a difference when it was a stage of the game where their destiny was still in their own hands.

“What was really important was that when we went through that review (of the Munster game) the players and the coaches, for we are in it too and have to take responsibility, we recognised just how poor we were and the outcome of that,” said the Connacht coach.

“But it is also important to look at those moments when we had greater control over our own destiny than we demonstrated… Like after the kick off when we ended up dropping a ball kicked onto us and ended up tackling when we shouldn’t have been… We surrendered possession too easily and by the 30th minute we had been forced to make 120 tackles.

“That is way too many, you often aren’t asked to make that many tackles over 80 minutes, let alone 30. That fatigued us and we knew it was happening. It was frustrating because we knew how we were fatiguing ourselves but at the same time we were letting opportunities slip.”


Wilkins knows it is now or never for his team.

“Going into this must win game we don’t have time to fix everything, we have to reference what we have done before. We better deliver this week or otherwise time runs out,” he said

Holding onto the ball to set up multi-phase attack is very much the Irish rugby DNA these days and the Stormers are well aware that is what they will be facing at the weekend. And listening to Connacht stalwart and Ireland capped flyhalf Jack Carty, holding onto the ball and limiting mistakes that might give the Stormers opportunities will be very much the home team’s priority.

“We can’t look past the Stormers. That is why it is very much a cup final for us. We need to get a win at home and send the fellas who are finishing up off on a high,” said Carty.

“If you look at what Stormers did to the Dragons, it was a similar sort of game, they punished them when they were loose. That’s where the focus will be for us this week. Being more accurate, set-piece, attack and defence, and be more clinical when we can be.”