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Dublin: 0°C Monday 1 March 2021

'Before coming to South Africa, we said that if we lose both games, we are dead'

Connacht’s South African double leaves them in a strong position to challenge for the Pro14 play-offs.

Connacht: "The boys were outstanding," says coach Andy Friend.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

CONNACHT ANNOUNCED THEMSELVES as serious contenders for the Guinness Pro14 play-offs with a hard-fought 21-17 win over the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The victory made it back-to-back wins on South African soil and, more importantly, it was their sixth of the season, putting the western province in a strong position.

While neither the Southern Kings nor Cheetahs have impressed this season, coach Andy Friend was left delighted with the nine points out of a possible ten on the road.

“I am very, very pleased with the boys,” he said. “I thought that in our game last week there were moments and that we weren’t as clinical as we wanted, but we were still able to get four tries and bonus point.

“I thought that the boys were outstanding, and then to back it up six days later against the Cheetahs. The Cheetahs are a good side and you can be lulled into a false sense that they are not a good side, but you’ve got to come here and play a certain way.

“So, yes, I am delighted to come to South Africa and get two wins.”

The Australian tactician conceded reaching the knockout stage of the competition was the goal from the start but warned that for now they are only still in the hunt, and the South African leg was going to be make-or-break for them.

“We have been thinking about it from the start to be quite honest. When you come into the competition you’ve got to be thinking that you want to make the quarter-finals.

“Before coming to South Africa we said that if we lose both games we are dead. If we win one game, we’re hanging on, and if we win both games we’re definitely in the hunt.

“We can sit here now and be thankful that we won both games, but it doesn’t mean that we are there yet. It just means that we are still in the hunt.”

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Connacht now shift their focus to the Challenge Cup with matches against Perpignan over the next two weeks, with Pro14 inter-pros against both Leinster and Ulster also to come before the end of the year.

Friend feels that it is important for them to ensure that their success of the tour rubs off on the players and staff back at home as soon possible.

“We are only two games into a 10-week block. We have another eight games ahead of us, so it is pretty full-on.

“We’ve got some really good footballers sitting back at home. We brought out a very strong squad. They have been sitting watching this team perform over here. What we’ve got to do is integrate them as quickly as we can. The good learnings that we’ve done over here, we’ve got to make sure that we transfer it onto them.

“They will get their opportunity to show us what they have got in the next few weeks, and so we just keep building. You’ve got to be resilient. These fellows are working really hard to be resilient, and the staff are working hard to keep them resilient. We’ve got a big eight weeks ahead of us.”

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