Connacht in talks with IRFU about short-term signings as injury list mounts
The western province now have 16 players out injured.

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend says the province are in talks with the IRFU about possible short-term signings amidst an injury crisis that now extends to 16 players.

A heavily-depleted Connacht produced a stirring performance to beat Montpellier in their opening Champions Cup clash in Galway yesterday, having seen captain Jarrad Butler, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy all ruled out before kick-off.

andy-friend-during-the-post-match-press-conference Tommy Dickson / INPHO Connacht head coach Andy Friend in Galway yesterday. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

That trio of new injuries added to an already lengthy injury list, while second row Cillian Gallagher was forced off with a worrying shoulder issue inside the opening 10 minutes of Connacht’s 23-20 victory.

The western province brought in prop Peter McCabe from Munster last week, while Aussie back three prospect Will Goddard, who is Irish-qualified, joined on a short-term deal until the end of 2019.

However, with more new injuries to worry about, Connacht may need the IRFU to sanction further short-term additions.

“We are talking to them at the minute,” said Friend yesterday in Galway. “We brought Pete McCabe in this week, but we are probably looking at some back three players.

“Of our six back three players, we’ve got four of them out. We have Mattie [Healy] and Niysi [Adeolokun] pulling out before, and Stephen Fitzgerald and Tiernan O’Halloran not available either.

“So, yeah, we are a bit skinny but it is what it is.”

Friend was unable to reveal how serious the latest injuries are, after Butler, Adeolokun, Healy – who was due to make his comeback – and Gallagher joined the likes of O’Halloran, Quinn Roux, Gavin Thornbury, Paddy McAllister, Sean O’Brien, Tom Farrell, and Finlay Bealham on the injury list.

darragh-leader-colby-faingaa-and-eoghan-masterson-celebrate Tommy Dickson / INPHO Connacht beat Montpellier 23-20 in Galway. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ll see,” said Friend. “The shoulder didn’t look real good on Cillian Gallagher out there. Jarrad’s knee, that just came out of nowhere the other day. Again we’ll wait and see, I don’t know, to be honest with you. Shy of that we didn’t take anything else.

“We had a few blokes we could have taken off at the end there but they didn’t want to come off. We’ll wait and see. We have got 16 players out at the moment which is keeping us tight.”

However, Friend was proud of the manner in which his side fronted up in the face of the challenge posed by such extensive injury issues, with a dogged Connacht performance ensuring they came away with four points yesterday.

Connacht scored three tries through man of the match Caolin Blade, Paul Boyle, and Tom McCartney, and Friend admitted he even had thoughts about a bonus-point win at one stage.

“It’s a good question because with about nine to go I said, ‘We have nine minutes to get a bonus point.’ And with three minutes left I said, ‘We’ve still got three minutes to get a bonus point.’

“With 30 seconds to go, I said, “Let’s get the thing off the park!’

“Being a realist in the end, I thought we had opportunities early. I thought we left a couple of tries out there in the first half and we need to be better at executing if you are going to get to the knock-out stages of Europe. You’ve got to execute better on that front.

“But in the wash-up, we’ll look back and say we’re really pleased we got the win with all the disruption we had. I’m just proud of the way they fought.

“I think our defence has been growing under [defence coach] Pete Wilkins. Defence tells you a lot about a team in terms of their attitude. They didn’t stop trying out there today.

robin-copeland-celebrates Tommy Dickson / INPHO Robin Copeland was excellent for Connacht. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“Denis Buckley had a couple of turnovers and Robin Copeland had a couple of turnovers. It was really important that we got those turnovers. They are great occasions for those men and the team.”

Friend and his men are now into a six-day turnaround before facing Toulouse in France this weekend, where the odds will be stacked against them versus the reigning Top 14 champions.

Toulouse opened their Pool 5 campaign with a win away to Gloucester and will now be favourites to top this group, but Friend knows his players have real resilience.

“It is probably the West of Ireland,” said Friend when asked what it is that gives Connacht their fighting qualities. “You look around here – we’ve got functional facilities without a doubt. They’re not flash but they’re functional.

“It’s not what they look like; it’s what you do within it. From the minute I walked into this club, you could see the ambition and the belief that’s here. And you see it amongst all people in Connacht.

“They’re probably not meant to be doing what they do but they do it because they have got massive belief and, as a squad, that’s what we’ve got. We’ve got massive belief. Days like today only allow you to grow that, so it’s pretty special.”

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