Connacht head for Bordeaux with nothing but a win in mind
Coach Andy Friend knows that victory in France will secure a quarter-final place
Connacht players in training ahead of their Challenge Cup meeting with Bordeaux. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
One more game to bag a Challenge Cup quarter-final, and Connacht’s Andy Friend refuses to consider any permutation but a win.
Heading to Bordeaux after celebrating a first victory over Sale, Friend insists Connacht’s next task is simply to “do the job”, having joined the English Premiership club at the top of pool three.
“It needs to be a win,” he says. “Honestly, I have not looked at the permutations, all I know is we’ve got to win, and if we win, we are in the quarter-final. And once you get into that eight, does it really matter who you are playing?
“You’d love a home game, and there are a couple of teams you would prefer to meet later on, but if you are going to win it, you have to beat the best that is there. We just know we have to get into that quarter-final, and whoever we face and wherever we face them, we will be ready.”
Friend is blessed with no new injuries, but could be facing selection headaches depending on Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team announcement on Wednesday. The injury crisis at scrumhalf has put the spotlight on Connacht’s Caolan Blade, who has taken over at the Sportsground in the absence of the injured Kieran Marmion.
“There’s a lot of speculation at the moment, but Blade has been outstanding all year, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he does get a call up.
“I’ve only seen his football this year, and to me he’s exactly what you want in a nine. He’s tough, he’s quick, he’s tenacious, he’s got a great step, his pass is very good, there’s a lot to like, so it wouldn’t be a surprise, and if he did, I know he would perform very well for his country,” says Friend.
In addition to Bundee Aki, others Connacht players in the frame are Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, and newcomer Tom Farrell, who has been outstanding for the province this season.
“We’ve got a team in mind certainly, and we will see what happens [with Ireland team selection]. However, there will be changes [from Sale] because there are certain players we want to see, certain players we want to give a vote of confidence, and there are other things bubbling – next week we have to go to Cardiff and that is another big game.”
Friend says outhalf Jack Carty, who was hit with a late tackle in the 20-18 win over Sale, is likely to be rested this weekend, while flanker Sean O’Brien is not ready to return with his shoulder strain.
“Jack has been immense this year, he’s had a lot of game time. He didn’t train today [Tuesday] so we’ll see how he pulls up. It is how we manage loads we have accumulated with certain players, and we’ll be looking to give others opportunities.”
Connacht became the first Irish province to win in France when Warren Gatland’s squad overcame Begles-Bordeaux in 1996, and Friend would add to Connacht’s French legacy with a second win in France this season.
“We know it is a massive game,” he says. “ We want to get the win and secure a quarter-final. Where we finish in the table, I don’t know, don’t care, but I know if we win, we will have a quarter-final spot.”