Press Pass: Connacht

Press Pass: Connacht

Hear from Head Coach Richard Cockerill as he spoke with the press ahead of Friday night's Guinness PRO14 match against Connacht at BT Murrayfield.

How pleased were you with the overall performance against Scarlets?

“It was job done, four points and go home. Considering they’re in our conference, we’ve played them twice and taken nine points. It’s a good result for us.

“We saw the forecast, we knew what the weather was going to be like. You just start to mentally prepare - it’s not going to be a game for chucking it about and having fun, it’s going to be a game for defending and having good set piece. It’s about who can cope with the weather the best and it’ll be about tight margins.

There were opportunities for them, especially in the second half, when we managed to not exit very well and we lost the kicking battle a lot of the time. We just defended and stuck it out, and you ride your luck. And that's what we did.

“We’d prepared all week for that - we’d trained here in the wind and the rain and the poor pitch conditions, knowing that if that happens on Saturday then it is what it is, we just roll up our sleeves and get stuck in and see how many points we can get. Which was pretty much our mindset.”

Who will likely return to the squad from Scotland duty for this Friday’s match-up?

"Hopefully one of the tightheads, Matt Scott, Luke Crosbie, Jamie Bhatti - we’ll see what comes. There will be a 24th man who will travel, so we’ll see. We’re missing a forward pack, and some. But we’ve got good depth in our squad, and in our forwards, so we’ll just see what comes.”

It’s looking like the weather will be poor once again this Friday night – do your tactics stay the same?

“It’s going to be wet and windy. It will be a little bit more sheltered, hopefully, at BT Murrayfield, but same as last week - we prepare a game plan to deal with the weather. Most of that is mental. If we chase and tackle and our set piece is good and we embrace the weather we’ll be able to keep ourselves in the contest.

“I don’t care if it’s a 3-0 and it’s the most rubbish game we’ve ever seen: take the points and move on. The shinier days will be down the road in a play-off, hopefully.

“We can’t control the weather. If it’s a nice calm day, and dry, we can play a more expansive game, as we like to. It’s good to have a team that’s capable of going ‘Well, it’s going to be rubbish, and we’re going to chase kicks and make tackles and kick the ball down their end and make them play with it rather than ourselves - and end up with the result’. That’s the reality. In the end, no-one cares. The only important stat is the score.”

You must have been pleased with the two tries your side did score in the win over Scarlets? They were both quality scores.

“The kick-return try, the ability for Nick Haining to get the ball away – and get nice and square to shift the ball – and with the pace that Duhan [Van Der Merwe] has, he’d probably no right to finish it. But, it’s as good of a finish as you’ll see.

“Same with the set piece strike – we knew they race hard off the scrum. Hodgey does a good job around the attack parts, and we saw a slight opportunity there. To be fair, it probably couldn’t have gone any better for us.

“But, Duhan’s got pace and Matt Scott’s support lines were good – looking for second touches. And in those conditions, two relatively soft tries gives you that little bit of a buffer where it’s a really hard game to chase down.”

Having already beaten Munster and Scarlets, and now with Connacht set to visit the Scottish capital, do you believe the top spot is yours to lose?

“Look, the next two weeks will be important for us. There’s still a lot of tough games to come. Munster are no mugs, they’re out of Europe as well, so they’ve got one concentration and that’s the league. So, we’re not concentrating on being top or anything, we’ve just got to make sure that we keep our focus, keep preparing properly, and training well.

“The World Cup for us, inadvertently, has probably been a really good thing because a lot of guys have had an opportunity to do a really good long pre-season. Lots of guys have stood up, and our squad’s been really strong.

“This weekend we’ll be missing probably eight international forwards, but our forward pack is going to be still really strong, combative and we can cope to create a foundation to play the game from.

“So I’m not worried about top spot. And I don’t want the players to worry about, ‘We’re top and we’ve got to stay there’. We’ve just got to keep preparing and performing. There’ll be some bumps in the road. We’ve lost three games in the league, we’ve managed to pick up two losing bonus points, we’ve lost to Leinster and got nothing – but the rest of the time we’ve got points out of games, from wins.

“I’m not going to put the heat on the players about finishing top. If we do, then great, but if we’re second or third, great. We want to be in Europe and we want to be in play-offs – to get to knockouts, we’re good enough to certainly compete.”

Connacht had a good win over Cardiff Blues last weekend – what do you make of them?

“Well look, they lost five on the trot then they’ve had one big win. They played very well – they were at home and they were clearly very motivated. The way they defended, the way they played the game, they were very physical off the line defensively. They were very good on turnovers and very ambitious to play – they were very good last week.

“Whether Cardiff [Blues] were poor or not, I’m not sure, but they made a good Cardiff side look very ordinary. So, we know that they’re missing two or three players maximum, whereas we’ll be in double figures – so we need to be on it.”

Connacht are one team who certainly know how to play in the wind and the rain – do they have an advantage in that sense?

“Yeah, but they’ve got a coaching group that like to play. Andy Friend’s got a team that’s pretty expansive – they play some good stuff. The games that they’ve lost prior to beating Cardiff, they’ve been playing some good sides, haven’t they? Montpellier away, Toulouse at home, Munster – they’re very good teams.

“A bit like ourselves, when teams qualify, the next year when you’re in Europe and playing games every week, it does take it out of your squad, and sometimes you don’t get the positive results. But they’re a good team and if we don’t get it right, they are more than good enough to beat us. They know that and I know that for sure.”

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