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Dublin: 10°C Friday 7 May 2021

Connacht fight on with bare bones and determined to give Toulouse a rattle

Head coach Andy Friend is keen to bolster his squad with some of the talent floating under the radar in Leinster.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

AS HE CONSIDERED the need to bring in fresh talent to bolster a decimated squad, Andy Friend underlined his wish to fill out the playing group with talent reared west of the Shannon.

Yet while a necessary wait for long-term goals come to fruition so often there comes a need to order in some ready-made sustenance.

With an injury count billowing way into double figure, Friend says he has been working with a senior squad of just 26 for the trilogy of Christmas inter-pros.

Meeting Leinster who fielded their 44th player – including ex-Connacht players Cian Kelleher and Robbie Henshaw plus Mayo-born Caelan Doris – in the same period, they were never likely to hold back the tide.

Connacht already have players from all four provinces in their ranks. And, be it in-season or off, Leinster have supplied reinforcements the western way many times before. Saturday’s starters Paul Boyle, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Daly and Gavin Thornbury are among the many to seek out their opportunity west of the Shannon rather than their native east.

Friend will need more to follow to build his side back up to speed and peak confidence before they return to Pro14 duty in February.

“We’ve got (Munster native) Pete McCabe in who has been with us previously but shy of that it has been a bit tricky. It is hard getting players, it is hard and that is why we have delved into our academy – and they produced some good rugby out there tonight and I’m pleased for them.”

ross-molony-and-paul-boyle Paul Boyle carries into contact against Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Australian, sitting in the RDS after  a 54-7 drubbing, added: “Where are the majority of the rugby-playing population? It’s up here. And there are some very good footballers up here.

“From a Connacht point of view we want home-grown players, we really do. But at the same time, we’re realistic and we know we don’t have the depth that is up here. So if we can get a sprinkling of other players who want to play some football in the Pro14 and Europe, the more that is sort of spread the better it is.”

Three successive inter-pro losses on the trot have nudged Connacht right down the form guide, with the miraculous last-gasp turnaround against Gloucester their only win in five matches. Next up, they host one of the best teams in Europe when Toulouse head for the Sportsground on Saturday. On paper, you might be concerned that matters could get very ugly in front of a packed house.

“I’m not because we have a lot of fight and character in the group,” says Friend.

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“It’s a fine balance because we have to be realistic about the performance we put out there, but be realistic abut us building and being challenged by tough European games and really strong inter-provincial games.

Leinster, Ulster and Munster are very good football sides and I’d suggest Ulster and Leinster are probably the pick of the teams in the Pro14 at the moment. We want to be up there with them, but the performance there tonight says we have a bit of work to do.”

“I’ll always tell you we can win. What will determine that is the opening 15 or 20 minutes. If we deliver an opening 15 or 20 minutes like tonight, we haven’t got a snowball’s chance.

“Let’s hope we don’t see that again this year. They have to come to us, the French travelling team, we know if we kick loosely or don’t make our tackles, they are going to hurt us.

“But if we can front up and do some of the things we have done in other games this season, we have a dead-set chance.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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