Connacht turn their focus to securing top-eight spot in the URC

Prior to home clash with Zebre, head coach Pete Wilkins confident his squad possess the ability to secure Champions Cup rugby next season

Connacht’s exit from the European Challenge Cup has now turned the focus immediately to securing a top eight spot in the URC.

With little time to lament their cup quarter-final loss to Benetton, Connacht need to return to winning ways when they host another Italian outfit, Zebre, at the Sportsground on Saturday.

“We would much rather be fighting on two fronts, but it does narrow the focus,” says head coach Pete Wilkins. “It means we can be more selective about the use of players. Once we processed some of the elements of the performance in Italy, talk quickly turned to the URC, and the importance to set ourselves up for playing Champions Cup rugby next season.”

However he acknowledges Benetton’s superiority on the day.


“First and foremost we have to give credit to Benetton. They are a good team with a lot of international players, but they managed the game really well in the context of putting us under pressure and they got the rewards. But we also need to grow, so when teams put us under pressure we can still thrive – some is skill execution, then decision making. Ultimately it is not one person’s fault, but it was not our best performance.”

The analysis reveals Connacht’s inaccuracies – 15 turnovers conceded on the back of the opportunities, 145 carries, and superior territory and possession.

Now in a tight midtable position, with only five points separating fifth-placed DHL Stormers and Connacht in 10th place, Wilkins knows there is little wriggle room to qualify for the top tier European competition again. But he is prepared to give some up-and-coming youngsters more playing time – two of whom, Shane Jennings and replacement scrumhalf Matthew Devine were impressive last weekend.

“We’ll play it week by week, but we need to get into the top eight and we think we can. It’s a pressure time of the season and we will be involved in some must-win games, something we have to look at. We can’t brush over it, but in my seven years here, we have never been a team that is a solid seven or eight out of 10 every week, but we need to keep chasing greater consistency.

“It is a good opportunity, particularly playing at home, but we’ve still got to play well enough to take it. In the URC context, we have to win them.”

Connacht will be still without Jack Carty, while Eoin de Buitlear is the latest player from their defeat in Treviso to be sidelined. However Oisín Dowling and hooker Dylan Tierney Martin are fit and available.