Connacht set sights on Rainbow Cup clash with Ulster

by Richard Hartmann

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has called on his players to show up with their A-Game this weekend in the provinces inaugural Rainbow Cup match away to Ulster.

Having given up six tries in a demoralising 48-32 loss last time out, prop forward Finlay Bealham said that there had been “proper conversations about where things went wrong” against Leicester in the European Challenge Cup last week.

“It was embarrassing, and we don’t want to be embarrassed again,” said Friend.

“Credit to Leicester, they had a bunch of kids out there. That was the frustrating thing for me. They had a bunch of kids out there that showed a few of our lads that aren’t kids that this is how rugby should be played and that this is the level of aggression and hunger you’ve got to take into the game.

 “That’s hard for us as a province, and for me as a head coach, and hard for individuals to cop that lesson in such a public forum. But that’s the reality of it, we turned up and we didn’t deliver so we all own that,” he said.

The Rainbow Cup is a new competition this year involving the Pro14 teams and the four South African franchises. While Connacht know they will be playing the other three Irish provinces over the next four weeks, it is not yet known how or even if the matches will be organised against the South African sides.

To add to the uncertainty there are new Law Variations being trialled in this competition, so Friend and his coaching team have plenty of planning to do. Despite this, Friend is looking forward to taking on his provincial rivals this weekend.

“We’re all looking forward to getting stuck into this Rainbow cup. Ulster on Friday night gives us our next opportunity. We can’t wait to get up to Kingspan,” said Friend.

With places on a potential Irish summer tour to the Pacific Islands up for grabs, many of the Connacht players will be targeting big performances in these interpro matches over the next few weeks.

“Those interpro games are where lads put their hands up for international selection. They’re almost like Irish trials. It’s always in the back of your mind that the Irish selectors will be watching and analysing the game,” said Bealham.

Connacht are still without their talisman Bundee Aki, who will miss the three interpro games as he serves a suspension. Captain Jared Butler though is available for selection again this week and Friend says he’ll be picking a strong team “to win” in Belfast on Friday.

Ulster v Connacht – KO 8:15pm Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | Host Broadcaster: Premier Sports | Deferred Coverage: 10:25pm TG4

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