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'I believe our game style can do some damage' - Connacht turn focus to Champions Cup

Andy Friend is confident his squad have the tools to compete in Europe this season.

Connacht head coach Andy Friend.
Connacht head coach Andy Friend.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

DISAPPOINTED, BUT NOT disheartened was how Andy Friend summed up his feelings after watching Leinster tear into his Connacht team for seven tries on Friday night.

Connacht had started with real intent at the RDS, only to see Leinster summon a ruthless response in the second period. Yet there were positives in the performance for the Australian, despite the 28-point margin come full time.

Even with the result long beyond doubt, Connacht managed to produce some flashes of the wonderful attacking rugby that has made them such an exciting watch this season – Conor Oliver’s second-half try being the prime example.

Connacht’s attack can cause any team problems, but on Friday Leinster held a clear advantage when it came to physicality, their superiority in that department underlined as Leo Cullen turned to his bench in the second half.

It’s an area that is going to represent a significant challenge over the coming months and weeks for Friend’s squad as they head into the Champions Cup. 

“We definitely got out-muscled there (against Leinster) and one of the reasons we say we want to play fast is we want to move big teams around,” Friend said.

You’re going to have to do that, you’re going to have to stick to our beliefs or identity of being faster and more accurate. That is one way of conquering that but if you get into an arm-wrestle against these big sides, it is going to be tough for you.”

Europe represents an altogether different challenge, and it all starts with a home game against Stade Francais on Sunday – a game which will likely come too soon for the injured Bundee Aki – before Connacht head to Welford Road for a date against Leicester Tigers.

As always, Connacht will put a major emphasis on winning their home games in the competition, and the format of this year’s Champions Cup means two home wins could be enough to see the province through to the knock-out stages.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us, and I think the last two years we’ve been in it (the Champions Cup), we’ve come out saying, ‘We haven’t got out of the pool stage but we belong here’.

“And we’ve got to take another stage now. We’ve got to play it to the next step. Next Sunday is going to be a massive challenge for us but I believe our game style can do some damage and hopefully we get the performance that we know is there.”

Friend will hope Friday’s defeat was no more than a minor blip in what has been an encouraging start the season. 

“Seven games, three wins, four losses, I felt like we’ve grown through that period,” Friend continued.

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“I thought our opening game (in the URC), we didn’t stay in the struggle to the end, a bit like Friday night. Our second game was a really good performance and our worst game of the block by far was the Dragons, and that was our own doing.

“I think we used the phrase, ‘we fell in love with ourselves’, and we didn’t front up but the way we bounced back, Ulster into Ospreys, was really good.

“Friday night (against Leinster) was always going to be a tough ask but we’ll take the really positive elements out of that and reflect on that, we scored some really good tries against a really good side.

“But we’ll also be realistic and I’d give us a pass mark – or just a pass mark. We need to be better, we will be better and we’ve got a great couple of weeks coming up to challenge ourselves.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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