CONNACHT COACH PETE Wilkins was a relieved and proud man after his team showed dogged resilience to keep a determined Sharks team at bay in Durban on Saturday night.
After the 13-12 win, Wilkins said that his team had expected a Sharks team that had lost four in a row overseas to throw the kitchen sink at them on home turf.
“It is an exhausted dressing room after an unbelievable battle,” Wilkins said. “Firstly, it was very warm and humid and then there was the intensity the Sharks brought. They are a terrific side and we had to hang in there with some sustained periods of defence.”
The Sharks played nearly all of the rugby but could not put the visitors away. Connacht refused to go away and cashed in on the few opportunities they got.
“We won several little battles and those add up to give you a chance,” Wilkins said. “It was things like the kick-chases, the guys on the loose ball… You could call them behavourial aspects and they kept us in the game because we always felt that we might get a chance or two in the last 20 minutes.
“We kept working hard off the ball and that kept us in the game. We backed out bench and our fitness as well, plus you have to avoid panicking when they come at you. The composure showed by the lads after the work put in was impressive.”
Winning in South Africa is never easy and Wilkins praised his team’s fortitude when they could not get their hands on the ball and had to defend for their lives.
“To win over here is tough. You have to earn the right to be in the game with 20 minutes to go. We were on the wrong end of the territory and possession in the first 20, and we spent the next 20 scrambling.”
The last time Connacht were in Durban they received a pasting and Wilkins said lessons were learnt.
“You know their big forwards are going to come at you at the start of the game and again just after halftime, and you prepare for the onslaught. We won little moments to stay in the fight and I am very proud of the guys.
“It is important moments off the ball that are typically Connacht. We had to win them because while we like to play possession-based rugby, the Sharks took care of that and we had to find another way.
“It is about work ethic off the ball. We pride ourselves on that. Sometimes you can play ambitious, beautiful rugby and other times you have to win by character. Our backs were against the wall and we fought our way out.”
Wilkins takes his team to Pretoria next week to take on the Bulls. Loftus Versfeld could be even tougher than Kings Park.
“We have a good opportunity to beat the Bulls,” the coach said. “The outside world might be happy with one win in South Africa but we back ourselves to have a game plan and match 23 that can beat the Bulls.”
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