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Wilkins defends Connacht players after home hammering in Champions Cup

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From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Wilkins defends Connacht players after home hammering in Champions Cup Wilkins defends Connacht players after home hammering in Champions Cup

By JOHN FALLON

CONNACHT head coach Pete Wilkins has hit back at suggestions his men stopped trying against Bordeaux-Bègles last Friday, or that their record 41-5 home defeat in the Champions Cup was embarrassing.

They are currently preparing for a daunting trip to Owen Farrell’s Saracens tomorrow (1pm) where they will hope to secure Connacht’s first win on English soil since December 2009.

But history would suggest this is going to be another difficult trip as they return to a stadium where they suffered their biggest Champions Cup defeat when Sarries thrashed them 64-6 in January of 2015. Connacht’s biggest European defeat came in the Challenge Cup when they lost 75-5 away to London Irish in January 2009.

But both those defeats were damage-limitation exercises gone wrong, whereas Friday’s opening clash with Bordeaux-Bègles was viewed as a chance of Connacht mixing it with the big boys after deservedly earning their place with a superb run to the URC semi-finals last season.

However, Connacht just never got going and there has been considerable criticism of their first game back in Europe’s premier competition, with television pundit and former Irish international Donncha O’Callaghan laying into them at half-time during Friday’s clash at the Sportsground.

By then Connacht were only trailing 12-5 but were blown away after the restart and fell to their biggest ever home defeat in Europe, surpassing the 37-9 loss to Toulouse in Galway ten years ago.

“I absolutely disagree that they stopped competing, absolutely disagree that they switched off,” said Wilkins when asked at his weekly press conference on Tuesday if they had given up. “I think there was a definite shift in momentum that had a big impact on us mentally. So in terms of the first seven minutes we attacked really well, we started really brightly into the game but for Bordeaux to counter-attack and work their way down the field and score, that was a huge moment in the game mentally.

Pictured: Connacht’s Finlay Bealham, who has Cathal Forde in support, tries to evade the tackle of Sipili Falatea of Bordeaux-Begles during Friday’s Champions Cup tie at the Sportsground. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy

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