Andy Friend (file pic). Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Andy Friend laments second-half collapse after Connacht make tame exit

The Irish side bowed out with a disappointing 41-19 loss away to Benetton Rugby.

CONNACHT DIRECTOR of rugby Andy Friend said their failure to ‘fire a shot’ in the second-half cost them dearly as they bowed out of the Challenge Cup with a disappointing 41-19 loss away to Benetton Rugby.

Connacht looked good for a 12th quarter-final spot in the competition when they raced into a 12-0 lead but they were blown away by the Italians after that.

They were unable to match Benetton’s intensity at Stadio di Monigo and made a tame exit from a competition where they were being regarded as potential winners earlier this season when the prospect of remaining in Ireland throughout the entire knockout season was in their control.

A dismal defeat away to a Newcastle Falcons side already eliminated back in January put paid to that prospect and after failing to perform in Treviso the Challenge Cup final will be taking place at Aviva Stadium on 19 May without them.

“It is very frustrating,” said Friend. “I think it was 17 minutes and we were up 12-0 playing the sort of rugby we have been playing where we were just on top of teams and looking after possession, winning our own ball, making tackles, and then all of a sudden that seemed to go out the window and we are now out of the Challenge Cup, which was something we had targeted to go much further on.

“I thought Treviso had done a pretty good scout on us. They looked to want to come back down shortside a few times. It was hot so we probably had some bodies which weren’t moving as quickly as they normally move and some of those early tries from Benetton were as a result of that.”

Friend, whose five-year reign will end in two games if they don’t get something from their remaining matches against Cardiff and Glasgow and reach the knockout stages of the URC, said their second-half collapse was alarming.

“The disappointing thing is at half-time we were a score and a bit behind, we were still very much in the game, but we didn’t come out and fire a shot in the second half and that was probably the most disappointing bit.

“The bottom line is it was not a good performance by us and we have got our tails between our legs now and we are heading home out of the Challenge Cup which is very disappointing, very frustrating.”

Early tries from Conor Oliver and John Porch had Connacht in the driving seat but they fell apart and trailed 21-12 at the break.

Benetton, with their eight Italian internationals impressing after Six Nations duty and Connacht’s Grand Slam pairing Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen struggling to make the expected impact, continued to dominate after the restart and pulled away for an easy win to set up a home quarter-final against Cardiff next weekend.

Connacht will then host Cardiff in a crunch URC game the following season and Friend, who departs this summer, knows they will need to get their house in order if they are to secure a knockout spot.

“We will review all players but for us, as a team, we seemed to be a very different team to the one we were last week against Edinburgh where I thought some of our rugby was exceptional and I thought early on we were touching on those heights again.

“But after the 20th minute, we didn’t seem to be able to continue on with that. We will need to have a look at that,” added Friend.

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