'The west of Ireland should be really proud of these men'

Andy Friend hailed a ‘gutsy’ inter-pro win that means far more than bragging rights for Connacht.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

THE GREEN COATS of Andy Friend’s backroom team rose as one to greet the final whistle in Belfast, the joy writ large in their faces and embraces as Connacht celebrated winning away to Ulster for the first time in 58 years.

The new head coach, however, remained unshakably calm when speaking to the media in the aftermath of the momentous 15-22 victory.

“Extremely proud,” said the Australian in his familiar even tone.

“To come up here and get the win, and the manner in which we got the win was really gutsy. The west of Ireland should be really proud of these men.”

The manner was an almighty forward-led push. Connacht have made their name in recent years for the quality and width of their attack. Tonight was all about the close exchanges.

Time and again, they backed their scrum when points seemed easily kickable, Paul Boyle carried tirelessly and was part of a back row tackling relentlessly. The number eight added 13 tackles, while Sean O’Brien was a monster in 18 hits with captain Jarrad Butler topped the charts with 19.

All that effort signalled a serious intent within Connacht. They could have wilted after losing their first-choice scrum-half, fullback and later centre Tom Farrell in the first half.

Instead, they embraced any adversity thrown their way and doubled down in the effort to, at long last, lay history to rest.

“I thought the manner in which we stuck to our guns was great. Losing Marmo in the first minute of the game, losing Tiernan after the try… but we didn’t drop our heads and that was really pleasing.

“Our pack was outstanding, laid the platform for us. if you’ve got a forward pack moving forward it makes the game very easy.”

Connacht celebrate after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Easy, at least until a touch of nerves and the weight of history began to show a toll after Ulster’s Matty Rea was red-carded for up-ending Cian Kelleher.

“We talked about being clinical all week,” noted Friend, “and I don’t think we were in that second half, we did make it tough for ourselves.”

That shaky period ought to stand to this Connacht side. They kept their heads and come out smiling the other side so that talk of a hoodoo or just plain poor history can now be put aside.

“We didn’t really talk about (the 58-year wait) during the week. We mentioned it down there, of course we did, but it was more about it being the end of a six-game block and at the end we have three wins. It’s a fair reflection of where we are.

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“I don’t think we’re the finished product yet.

“I know we’ve work to do, but I feel like on our day and in our moments we can match it with anyone.”

Moment by moment, Connacht made this their day.

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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Sean Farrell

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