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'It’s a plus to have intent back... we just have to make sure we’re more clinical'

After last week’s unraveling in Leinster, Andy Friend was pleased with how his side took on another European Cup favourite.

Aki with Rynhardt Elstadt of Toulouse.
Aki with Rynhardt Elstadt of Toulouse.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend had no cause to fault his side for effort despite falling well short of Toulouse at the Sportsground this afternoon.

The western province’s razor-thin chances of advancing to the knockout stages of the Champions Cup were finally dashed by a 7-21 loss to an assured French outfit who underlined their value as one of the tournament favourites as they sealed their quarter-final berth.

A week on from being blown away by Leinster, Friend took heart from the performance his side put in on home turf. Even though their error count and Toulouse’s dominance on the gainline meant the home crowd only had a penalty try to celebrate despite facing 13 men in the game’s closing stages.

“Our intent was really good, we showed a lot of energy, but our just execution was not where we it needs to be to win Champions Cup games,” Friend said post-match.

“That’s where we lost it, but I suppose it’s a plus to have intent back and to have desire back. We just have to make sure we’re more clinical next time.”

eoin-mckeon-dejected-after-the-game Eoin McKeon dejected after the game Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It’s hardly a coincidence that Connacht were at their most threatening when energy levels were highest. Aggressive early defence forced the visitors onto the back foot before Jack Carty charged down Zach Holmes. And that field position led to the opening score as Joe Tekori’s pack had to collapse mauls illegally to slow the home side’s progress.

“We kept fronting up there, kept bouncing up and getting double shots,” Friend said of the defensive effort.

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“We put bodies in front and we challenged the group on that last week. It wasn’t where it needed to be against Leinster. It was much, much better again today. But we just weren’t clinical enough.”

The Australian has not shied away from the long odds his side have faced of progressing in this tournament since losing away in Gloucester. A dramatic win in the return fixture served as a stay of execution, but now that their exit is set in stone, Friend looks back on the campaign with a focus on the flashes of positive play that were never far away.

ugo-mola-celebrates-a-score Ugo Mola celebrates. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We definitely belong here. That’s the most important thing we’ve taken out of it. It’s not a bridge too far for us.

“We definitely belong in the competition, but we need to be better in order to start the push to where we want to get to, which is knockout games.

“Over this last four-week period I’ve learned we need to continue working on our depth. We’ve had a lot of injuries, but that’s fine, that’s an opportunity. But the opportunities we give young men, they’ve got to come out and take full advantage.

We’ve got to look at how we’re challenging them off the training field to make sure they’re able to do it. 

“With all the losses, as painful as they are, you learn from them. It’s important we do learn from them because we’ve got to turn this streak.”

The streak is now a four-game losing run since they pulled a result from the fire at home to Gloucester. Away to Montpellier is hardly the ideal place to go looking for solace, but the French outfit have long lost interest in this tournament.

Perhaps more important for Connacht at this point of the season, however, is that there will be an overdue break following that tie.

An invaluable four-week fallow period to rest, recuperate and recharge before welcoming Cardiff Blues – who sit just a point behind them in Pro14 Conference B – to Galway.

About the author:

Sean Farrell  / Reports from The Sportsground.

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