Andy Friend thrilled with Connacht’s haul after Cardiff win

Coach says side want to go on and repeat their 2016 success in the Pro 14

Connacht head coach Andy Friend in the dressing room after the victory over Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht head coach Andy Friend in the dressing room after the victory over Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Connacht coach Andy Friend has hailed his squad’s achievement in qualifying for both the playoffs of the Guinness Pro 14 and next season’s Heineken Champions Cup in his first season at the helm.

Their rollercoaster 29-22 win over the Cardiff Blues in a dramatic shootout for third place in Conference A and all the trappings that come with it at a capacity Sportsground sealed their dual delight with a haul of 61 points, a year on from finishing sixth in the same table with 39 points.

“Yeah, it’s pretty pleasing,” admitted Friend. “You can probably hear the singing coming from the changing room but I just thought that we knew what was on the line there today. Cardiff knew what was on the line there today. You could see how desperate both teams were to win that, and I thought our second half was very, very good and it was great to get the win.”

An interval lead of 14-7 after a nervy first half had seemed flimsy turning around into a strong wind coming straight down the pitch from the College Road end. The home crowd were also palpably edgy, but Connacht regrouped to up their level of performance in the second period.

“We talked at half-time just about our body language and we felt that Cardiff had probably got the better of us with their body language and their ability to get ahead of the game,” said Friend. “We basically said there’s 40 minutes left, lets empty the tank and I thought the way we started in the second half was outstanding.

“Sometimes you know you’re up against a wind, you know you’re up against an opposition and you’ve got to work a little bit harder. And sometimes when you’ve got that wind behind your back, I don’t think you consciously think about it, but subconsciously you think ‘we’ve got that wind behind our back’ and you dial back a little bit. And in big games like that it probably plays out that way.”

This was Connacht’s fourth Pro 14 win in succession, and 12th of the campaign compared to seven last season, and Friend also believed the performance demonstrated their increased maturity.

“For me the players are playing for each other. You can just see they’re working really hard for each other, they’re finding ways to get those little breaks and to put opposition under pressure.

“We seem to always keep that seven-point margin which was great. If they scored we knew we had to up the ante again and we went harder. So I thought it was a really gutsy performance.”

Friend had stated Connacht’s desire to win the competition they won in 2016, and with a quarter-final away to Ulster looming in three weeks’ time, he wasn’t inclined to shy away from that ambition.

“We said at the start of the season, maybe ambitiously, but believed it, because you can’t enter a competition if you’re not prepared to say we want to win it. So we said we want to win it.

“I believe we’ll have a quarter-final against Ulster but before that we’ve got to go to Munster and we’ve got to play a game there. People will say the result doesn’t matter but it does, because sport is about momentum too, so we want to keep winning which we will aim to do, and so will they.

“They will probably be aiming for a top spot now so that will be a huge game down there in Thomond Park and then Ulster in a quarter-final, which is pretty exciting.”

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