Connacht and Bulls seeking to bounce back in URC clash

‘If we can be more clinical at crucial times I know we’ll be tough to beat whoever we face’

Blue Bulls’ Marcell Coetzee against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in the United Rugby Championship. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Blue Bulls’ Marcell Coetzee against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in the United Rugby Championship. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Connacht v Bulls, Sportsground, 7.35pm (live on TG4, Premier Sports 1)

The match in Galway represents a clash of two teams looking to put aside the disappointment of defeat on the opening weekend of the United Rugby Championship (URC) and record a first victory in the new tournament.

Jake White’s Bulls went down 31-3 to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium, a scoreline that is perhaps a little harsh on the South African club on the basis that they spurned a couple of good try-scoring opportunities. It’s an obvious area for improvement but there are others, including a better directed kicking game with more pace and width to their patterns.

There are five changes to the team that lost in Dublin, a new frontrow in Lizo Gqoboka, Joe van Zyl and Jacques van Rooyen, while left-wing Stravino Jacobs and fullback Ruan Combrinck come into the backline.

Marcell Coetzee (13 carries, 17 tackles against Leinster) and Arno Botha will be familiar to the Sportsground faithful from their time at Ulster and Munster respectively.

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has made three alterations to the side that lost in Cardiff, all in the pack, with Naas-born prop Jordan Duggan, Irish international hooker Shane Delahunt and number eight Abraham Papali’i the new faces.

There is a six-two split on the bench with Tongan international Leva Fifita set to make his debut for the home side after recovering from a hand injury. A fit again Caolin Blade, who made his Irish debut against the USA during the summer, and Sammy Arnold offer backline cover.

Defence

A priority for Connacht will be to improve on their defence from the last day as the passing and vision of Cardiff centres Rey LeeLo and Willis Halaholo caused them problems.

Friend is also hoping that Connacht can be more ruthless in exploiting opportunities.

“Last week’s result was disappointing, but we as a coaching group saw enough to firmly believe we’re on the right track. If we can be more clinical at the crucial times I know we’ll be tough to beat whoever we face, so we hope to see more of that against a very formidable Bulls outfit.

“Bringing the likes of [Abraham] Papali’i and [Leva] Fifita into our 23 gives us a lot of physicality, but we’ll need to throw the ball around a lot as well.”

That sense of adventure would give players like Australian-born, Irish-qualified wing Mack Hansen – he beat five players in what was a fine performance last week – and the rest of the three-quarter line the chance to ask questions of the visitors.

The home side will need to be a great deal more resolute on both sides of the ball to eke out a win.

CONNACHT: T O’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, A Papali’i. Replacements: S Delahunt, M Burke, J Aungier, L Fifita, C Oliver, C Blade, P Boyle, S Arnold.

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, A Botha, E Louw. Replacements: B du Plessis, S Matanzima, M Smith, J Swanepoel, J du Plessis, E Papier, C Smith, S Gans.

Referee: B Blain (Scotland)

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