New Connacht defence coach Peter Wilkins believes a first-ever win in Belfast in the professional era tonight can kickstart their season.
But if they are to succeed at Kingspan Stadium they will need to buck a dreadful series of results.
Connacht have lost on all 14 visits to Ulster in the league and their record in the Sportsground is not much better where they have lost nine out of 14.
That equates to 23 losses out of 28, with just four wins and a draw in the professional era, while they have not won at Ravenhill since 1960.
They have made a dreadful start to 2017-18 where they lost four of their five games in the PRO14, but Wilkins is taking encouragement from last weekend.
New coach Kieran Keane has only registered one victory since his summer arrival from Waikato and that came against a poor Southern Kings outfit at the Sportsground in Round 2. Connacht crashed to defeats against Glasgow Warriors, Dragons, Cardiff Blues and Scarlets.
But last weekend’s 36-27 loss at the home of the reigning champions was a marked improvement for Connacht, and they could have had much more than their four-try bonus point. They travel to Ulster having arrested an eight-game losing streak against their interprovincial rivals last year and Wilkins is confident Connacht can get a win in Belfast.
“There is the emotional bit to get through after a game like Cardiff in terms of the disappointment,” said Wilkins.
“And that’s not just the players who played (who are disappointed), it’s the guys that are part of the squad, the coaching staff.
“There is always a bit of a grieving process but you are always thinking about what the solutions are. Within 24 hours you hope you can come up with the solutions. Coming out of the game it was hugely disappointing but the errors we made were controllable. We did improve the following week against Scarlets. You learn lessons from each game and the important thing is you are not having to repeat those lessons. I am confident we are doing that. The results have not changed immediately but they will turn in the coming weeks.”
Cian Kelleher scored two tries when Connacht beat Ulster 30-25 12 months ago for their first win over the Les Kiss’ side since 2011-2012. They have lost on every visit to Ulster but their new defence coach Wilkins thinks the players will play with freedom this evening.
“Speaking as a coaching group. We are aware of the history and legacy in terms of results like the ones we have had against Ulster,” said Wilkins.
“But people are less fazed by it because you have not got the emotional ties to results like that. It becomes more a stat than a burden moving forward for the players. It’s a challenge and it’s exciting but it’s not something we have not dwelt on. We just want to get up there and put in a good performance.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved