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'If we want to go any further we've got to get two bonus point-wins. That's a no-brainer'

After an astounding comeback, Connacht’s attention will turn to matters closer to home and they will hope to see the ‘inter-pro phenomenon’ show itself again..

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend wasn’t throwing himself into equations,  permutations and potentials to keep hope alive during Connacht’s helter-skelter back-to-back with Gloucester.

For him, the metrics were simple right from round one, bonus points are vital if the western province were going to seal themselves a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final in the spring.

andy-friend-14122019 Friend speaks to his team post-match. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While others were hailing the win over big-money Montpellier in mid-November, Friend was lamenting the lack of a bonus point in the win. And so, after producing an astonishing 14-point turnaround in the closing minutes against Gloucester, the elusive fifth point again troubled him.

Having come up pointless from road trips in round two and three, the bonus was all the more valuable.

“In my head (before Saturday), I felt like we needed to get three wins and three bonus point wins.

“Will that bonus point that we didn’t get there today, that we didn’t get last week and we didn’t get in Toulouse, will that hurt us? Potentially, but I did say we needed a few things to go our way having looked at other results. But we’ll see.”

The visit of this modern iteration of Toulouse, once again European title challengers is not enough of a hurdle to ward this thrilling Connacht attack off a bonus point chase. The trip to Montpellier will be more complicated, but perhaps they could benefit from a Top14 side with nothing to play for.

Even so, a 10-point haul would leave Connacht on 18 points, but in each of the five pools the current second-placed side has a higher points ceiling. Perhaps most crucially, that second place in Connacht’s pool is held by Gloucester.

Before they go back to European calculations, Connacht will hope to copper-fasten their position as play-off challengers in the Pro14, where they sit second in Conference B behind Munster. Niyi Adeolokun will be added to the injury list after he went from being among the walking wounded to a casualty midway through the first half against Gloucester.

Friend was reluctant to put a timeline on Kieran Marmion’s return, but Tom McCartney, Tom Farrell and Quinn Roux (who missed out last weekend after suffering a cold midweek) will be available to bolster Connacht over the festive fixture list.

robin-copeland-scores-the-winning-try-14122019 Copeland dots down the winner. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They will relish the chance to lay down a marker in the three winter-pros. Even though, as Friend noted earlier in the season, the head coach has been trying to take some focus away from the derby matches to make for a more repeatable motivating factor.

“If we want to go any further we’ve got to get two bonus point wins. That’s a no-brainer there. That will be our intention. In the meantime, we have Munster and Ulster and Leinster which is a pretty big ask and something we are looking forward to.

Everyone called it the inter-pro phenomenon last year. Everyone gets up for those. But we are starting to become a team that just gets up when we pull on the jersey. That is what we want to do.”

The phenomenal grandstand finish to claim the province’s first ever win over Gloucester may not prove to be a turning point for their Champions Cup. But the fluid, efficient manner of Connacht’s late attack – brimming with confident handling and accurate breakdown work – was all the positive Friend wanted to see.

“It gets you back into winning ways and reinforces when we do the simple things well, and back ourselves, we can score amazing tries and hold out good teams as well.”

He adds: “As a coaching group we tend to then focus on those positive things that we have done. We tend to reinforce that with messages to these blokes, that we have seen the good things that they are doing. To go into Munster, and those inter-pros, really important that we got that win and we can show that stuff and build on that.”

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Sean Farrell

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