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Connacht to 'regroup' for huge Pro14 run-in after disappointment against Sale

Andy Friend’s side will fly home with regrets after their Challenge Cup quarter-final.

Murray Kinsella reports from AJ Bell Stadium 

THOUGH THE game ended in fiery fashion, with Dave Heffernan questioning whether referee Mathieu Raynal was going to do his job, Connacht will fly home this afternoon with regrets at failing to fire enough shots against Sale Sharks.

There will also be frustration that the shots they did fire were generally off target.

Connacht players applaud the fans Connacht thank their travelling support at AJ Bell Stadium. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There was a litany of errors in the 20-10 defeat, but one prime example was Kyle Godwin – once again called on at out-half after an injury to Jack Carty – firing a second-half penalty intended for the left corner over the dead-ball line.

“You’ve got to back the boys and we’ve done that all year and will continue to do that,” said Connacht boss Andy Friend afterwards. “I know Kyle’s not trying to miss that kick but he did. That was compounding the errors that crept into the game.

“We had Sale under pressure and we just released it too easily.” 

Friend naming a much-rotated team underlined that the Pro14 is Connacht’s number one priority, but the hope was that even with changes, they could record a statement away win in this Challenge Cup quarter-final and push on for possible silverware.

Instead, they were wholly outplayed in the first half, leaving themselves 20-3 down at the break.

Even with Sale taking their foot off the pedal after the interval, Connacht couldn’t grasp their opportunity to build a comeback.

“We had way too many errors early on and we paid a penalty for 40 minutes,” said Friend. “It definitely wasn’t clinical.

“20-3 at half-time, we knew we had a fight on our hands in the second half and I thought we did fight better in the second half. But in finals football, you can’t make that many errors and expect to win.”

Dave Heffernan and Jono Ross Dave Heffernan squares up to Sale's Jono Ross. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Friend rejected the notion that the 12 changes to his starting team after last weekend’s win over Benetton in the Pro14 had contributed to the high error count, but several players who were handed opportunities will feel they missed them last night.

“We are trying to build a squad as well,” said the Connacht head coach. “Yes, it’s about today and we did want to make a semi-final, we wanted to get to the final, but there’s also a long game there where you’ve got to give players opportunity.

“You’ve got to challenge players, give them their chance.


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“Some take it, some need a bit more time. So that’s something we’ll assess when we sit back and look at that game, but we are building a squad. I love the energy of the players, they never gave up there but, definitely, our skill execution wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Connacht must move on from their European disappointment swiftly, with the Pro14 run-in now occupying all thoughts.

The western province currently sit third in Conference A, therefore in the play-off and Champions Cup qualification spots, but are ahead of Cardiff Blues only on points difference, and six points at that.

Friend’s side face a trip to Zebre next weekend before Cardiff come to the Sportsground a week later and then they conclude their regular season with a visit to Munster on 27 April.

Connacht’s destiny is in their own hands.

Peter McCabe leaves the field injured Connacht's Peter McCabe leaves the pitch last night. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We’re all disappointed with that tonight but I know there were some positives out of it,” said Friend. “Our fight, we didn’t give up. We are a team that’s building and growing. Sometimes you’ve got to take losses, it can’t always be forward momentum.

“You get knocked, you’ve got to make sure you learn from that and step up. That’s happened to us throughout this year. We had that disappointing loss to Glasgow and the next week we played one of our better games of football, so there’s resilience within the team, which is good.

“We’ve got to make sure we lean on that this week and come out ready for Zebre.

“Next weekend is a huge one for us away from home, so we need to regroup after this loss and make sure we get to Parma with a team that can win.”

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Murray Kinsella

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