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'We don't need four young fellas doing it, we need 23 blokes doing it'

The effort from unheralded prospects was one of very few positives Andy Friend could take from last night’s loss to Leinster.

WITH EIGHT TRIES conceded, a bonus point handed over inside 20 minutes and three more injuries to add to an already daunting pile, Andy Friend wasn’t about to daub lipstick on a pig of a result.

The sight of one of this season’s form players, out-half Conor Fitzgerald, needing a stretcher while Leinster pressed for their final try in a 54-7 rout just about summed it up for the western province.

Fitzgerald ‘heard a crack’ in his ankle, Friend reported post-match. His brother Stephen had earlier departed the field with a knee injury.

“Not a good day for the Fitzgeralds,” said Friend. Not a good day for most in the Connacht family.

With Leinster ringing in the New Year searching for a 16th win on the trot, with a team that contained the beginnings of their front-line XV, it was only ever going to be a tall order for Connacht to run them close. But Friend was disappointed with how the resistance was applied.

“They become more special if we give them opportunity and we gave them opportunities,” said the Australian.

“Some of our kicking first half was poor. Some simple execution was poor. We gave them opportunities and they were good enough to take it.

40-0 at half-time, the game’s dead. I think we had the ball for three minutes in the first half, they had it for 15. We made tackles, but we’re soaking tackles.

“They’re a hell of a footballing side and if you don’t put bodies in front and stop them on the gainline they’ll hurt you. It certainly wasn’t what we came here to do, but that’s what we got.”

As Friend continues, he finds silver linings in the second 40 minutes. With Ultan Dillane among the rested and a host of back rows injured, Connacht have been forced to fast-track some players from their academy into the senior setup. Chief among them was 20-year-old lock Niall Murray.

“If there’s any pluses coming out of it tonight it’s some of the young lads we blooded. Niall Murray, I thought he didn’t stop trying all night.

“Conor Kenny did well. Stevie Kerins came on and sped up the game. Sean Masterson similar. Three of those boys are local Connacht men and it’s good to see those fellas doing good things.

“We don’t need four young fellas doing it, we need 23 blokes doing it and we didn’t get that.”

garry-ringrose-scores-his-sides-7th-try-despite-robin-copeland Ringrose crosses for the seventh Leinster try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Meanwhile, there is no such need for deep soul-searching and calls for reinforcements in  Leinster. Cullen, though, will always have an area for improvement ready to highlight and that came in the comparatively low-scoring second half.

“Not that the game was similar, but there were similar aspects two weeks ago against Ulster,” said Cullen, harking back to the 54-42 win over Ulster, a match that had been 33-14 at half-time.

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The hosts snuffed out the chance of the contest breaking open to a fast and loose back-and-forth battle last night. But with the Champions Cup pool stages entering their endgame in the coming fortnight, Cullen is keen to see the ruthless streak become even more pronounced.

“We talked about trying to keep shape defensively. Second half we were a bit passive, Connacht held onto the ball for long periods and they were good in terms of attack. We held them out for the most part.

“We’re trying to learn the lessons from two weeks ago. We lost the last 20 minutes 28-7 (against Ulster)… Maybe we’re a little bit safe off the back of that. System-wise we looked pretty good, but we lacked that bit of zip or intensity in some of our actions, which was different to the first half.

That’s the challenge for us now, how do we keep that intensity for 80 minutes?

“We’re playing Lyon here next Sunday and the challenge there is we want to maximise every single point in these last two European games.

“You qualify from the pool and then start competing against teams in other pools. That’s what we need to understand — so what are Exeter doing, Racing doing, Clermont etc etc?

“We’re not playing them but we’re competing against them for seeds.

“Big thing to focus on for the next two weeks, how we deliver quality performances where we are maximising everything, not giving up cheap scores or giving teams cheap access into the game where they can build pressure on us and we lose out on building pressure on them.”

The way James Ryan was hobbling around the field for four first-half minutes before being replaced suggested that Cullen and Lancaster may have to do without their talismanic lock when seeking that maximised effort. However, an eight-day turnaround may be enough to allow Ryan shake off the calf issue.

“He thinks he got a kick in the back of (his calf). It’s a bit sore.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell  / reports from The RDS

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