Wilkins believes next stage for Connacht is to impose themselves

Senior coach believes change of mindset can help close out tight games in future

 Senior coach Peter Wilkins believes  Connacht have to move on and become a team that dominates games from the start. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Senior coach Peter Wilkins believes Connacht have to move on and become a team that dominates games from the start. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

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The return of United Rugby Championship (URC) will provide Connacht with the chance to “move to its next developmental stage” following two near-wins on the European stage.

Senior coach Pete Wilkins says a maturing Connacht now need to come out on the right side of close games, starting with Saturday’s visit of Glasgow Warriors to the Sportsground.

“It is important because it demonstrates the next stage we are at, the challenge now of putting ourselves in a good position and seeing that home.”

Against both Leicester at home and Stade Francais in Paris, Connacht were unable to turn the screw when in the ascendancy, and were forced to content themselves with bonus points, which ensured their progression to the next stage. But Wilkins believes Connacht now need to progress.

“In my first few seasons we were probably a team that came alive when there were lower expectations, so either when games were already lost, or perhaps even in the interpros when we were not given too much of a chance going into some of those games.

It is a fair reflection of the progress in the last couple of seasons, but this group is not prepared to sit there too long, to be the team that wants credit but not the wins

“From where the group was at that stage, it was liberating, and the guys had confidence and were able to express themselves on the field and back themselves to prove other people wrong. But in the last couple of weeks we have moved into different stage of our development, which is actually, that from the get-go we are taking the game to other teams and looking to impose our identity in terms of attack and defence.”

The challenge now, he says, is after putting Connacht in the position to win, they need to “see that home”.

“We don’t want to be at that stage for long. You have to learn the lessons, apply them, and make sure we then get to the point where we are the team that sets the pace, imposes ourselves on opposition, and gets the job done.”

Connacht is no longer a team that wants to be gallant losers, he says.

“It is a fair reflection of the progress in the last couple of seasons, but this group is not prepared to sit there too long, to be the team that wants credit but not the wins, so we are addressing that and we use that as fuel to hopefully kick on to the next stage.”

Connacht prop Denis Buckley has returned after his nine-month recovery from a cruciate injury. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht prop Denis Buckley has returned after his nine-month recovery from a cruciate injury. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

That will be tested as Connacht return to URC action and the visit of Glasgow to the Sportsground on Saturday, but prop Tietie Tuimauiga is available, and also the hugely experienced Denis Buckley after his nine-month recovery from a cruciate injury.

It is a timely boost for the 31-year-old Connacht player after Andy Friend’s side was forced to take on Stade Francais with six props unavailable.

It’s a testament to the work that Denis has done, but also the medical and support staff behind the scenes

“A massive boost,”“ says Wilkins. “We were stretched on the weekend, but we managed to get 23 out there and get the game played which was important for all sorts of reasons, but we will have some reinforcements this week.

“Certainly, in terms of personnel you want on the field, there are merits to having the young guys come in for the last 20 minutes with the enthusiasm and energy they bring, but also you’re grateful if you have some experienced heads out there.

“It’s a testament to the work that Denis has done, but also the medical and support staff behind the scenes,” said Wilkins. “You never like to see someone with long-term injuries, and it’s always a great challenge for them – not just from the physical perspective – but how they manage that time and state of mind when they work back to being available for selection.”

While criticism has been levelled at Connacht for their failure to see out games when in the ascendency, Wilkins says mistakes were compounded.

“We showed an enormous amount of confidence, self belief and the ability to put ourselves in that position and we did that with those guys who were available there and then, but six errors were punished.

“Of those six errors in contact, five of those resulted directly in scrum penalties. It’s not just giving up ball in their half in an attacking position, it’s the result of the scrum went to a penalty where they were able to kick to touch, get field position and the chance to maul. So six errors became five scrum penalties and one of those became a maul penalty, so the errors were double or triple compounded.”

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