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Andy Friend: 'I said at half-time that if we get 14 more Conor Olivers we will win this game'

Connacht coach hails his side after their superb victory over Ulster tonight.

Conor Oliver won the player of the match.
Conor Oliver won the player of the match.

ANDY FRIEND, THE Connacht coach, has hailed his team after they ignored the hangover of last week’s defeat to Munster to outplay Ulster this evening.

Five tries ultimately led to five points for Connacht and their ability to deny Ulster a bonus point made it an even better night.

“We needed that,” said Friend afterwards. “It has been an interesting five-week block of games. I said  beforehand that we have been learning in those five weeks. The first game against Cardiff, we learned how we needed to stay in the fight; in our second game (a win against the Bulls) we learned that when we play, we can hurt teams; our third game (a defeat to Dragons), we threw it in the bin. 

“The fourth game we learned that we are better at just concentrating on doing our own stuff. With that, we can beat some of the best teams in Europe. And then it came down to this game and we said, ‘let’s try and put all that together’.

“We were not perfect tonight but to have a scoreline like that against an Ulster team that was undefeated, well that is pleasing.”

The Connacht motto is to be fast, relentless and adaptable. Tonight they were, as they overcame a strong Ulster start to dictate the game on their terms.

“Our style is a style that can possibly will wear teams down in the last 15 or 20 minutes,” said Friend.

“What is pleasing was that at half-time we were frustrated; we had given away 11 penalties and had given them so many pressure releases because we could not look after the footie. And yet we were still 17-6 up.

“I said to the boys, ‘if we keep the pressure on, the floodgates will open’.”

They did. Two tries in the third quarter put Connacht out of sight and while Ulster responded with a score from a maul, Connacht still had the last word, Mack Hansen with their fifth try, his second of the evening. He was good, Conor Oliver even better.

connacht-supporters-cheer-on-the-team-after-the-game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Conor Oliver was brilliant for us,” said Friend. “I said at half-time that if we get 14 more Conor Olivers we will win the game. He was just everywhere. And everything he does, he does it with such intent and desire and effectiveness and energy. I thought he was brilliant but a few blokes sort of followed him in that second half.

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“It is great seeing him do that because when we picked him up from Munster, he was still trying to find his form and find out what he was about. Tonight we saw that he has a real belief.”

Friend too has always had belief. When he first arrived, in 2018, he insisted his plan was to win another Pro14 title. That sounded like the type of thing a coach says because he has to. Friend, however, disagreed with that assessment.

“If I said it, I would have believed it. I actually remember saying it a few times, I did believe it (that we could win a Pro14). We have built a really decent squad. I don’t think we are near where we need to be yet to be honest. Our target this year is to get a home quarter-final and that is why this win is so, so important. The next block of games will matter a lot.

“Today was crucial, to have a two wins from five rather than one from four. And also to deny Ulster a bonus point, given the conference we are in, it is going to be tight. We do not want to be that fourth team, we want to be first, second or third. That win tonight allows us to lead into the break in a better place.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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