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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 6 August, 2020
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‘Last year he was the man’: Friend backs Carty to trust his basics and return to peak

The out-half is under increasing pressure from Conor Fitzgerald.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THERE WAS NO mistaking the shepherd’s crook when it came for Jack Carty.

There were 52 minutes on the clock. Just five had passed since the number 10’s error delivered what proved to be the pivotal moment in Connacht’s four-try loss to Gloucester.

The excellent form of Conor Fitzgerald this season helped to hasten along the decision for Andy Friend, but there also appears to be a World Cup hangover dogging Carty.

The Roscommon man displayed some flashes of his very best at Kingsholm, a pin-point touch-finder in behind Louis Rees-Zammit was executed to perfection. His offload to set up John Porch’s first-half try was sublime. But Danny Cipriani’s interception will remain the defining moment of Connacht’s round three. Friend feels for the out-half as he deals with a difficult dip back to provincial rhythm after an excellent season that earned him his Test debut en route to Japan.

“It’s a very different situation for him this year,” said Friend.

“Last year he was the man. He was the bloke. He got himself an Irish cap, he’s gone to the World Cup. He’s come back and there’s a young fella in Conor Fitzgerald who has stepped up. These are just the new challenges.

“For me, when Jack’s going well, he’s built on basics, like any player.

He’s a hell of a footballer. He’s got to have that belief and that trust to go back to the simple things, do the simple things well. He earned an Irish cap doing that. He’s got to find his way. Which he will do, I’m sure.”

The Australian adds: “he’s a strong character. He’s got a lot of resolve and no doubt he’ll work that out.

“When we know we’ve a young bloke like Conor Fitz on the bench who has been going so well, you see a bloke who is struggling a little bit. Bring the other bloke on.”

Obviously, there were frustrations outside of the 10 channel for Friend too. They were good value for the bonus point-win and they will scold themselves for needing more than an hour to score four tries given the chances they managed to create.

“The fact we gave them access into the 22 was the most disappointing thing,” said captain Jarrad Butler.

“Our scramble work was really good and we spoke about it at half-time that we were working really hard on that scramble – you’d prefer not to be scrambling if you can help it.

“But the second-half they controlled territory really well, kicked into the corner really well and turned it into a massive uphill battle and we weren’t able to get back into it.”

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stephen-kerins-dejected Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There’s an uphill battle to be waged on the pool now too as Connacht have failed to add any further points to the four earned on the opening weekend. The Westerners prop up pool 5 now, three points off second-placed Gloucester with Toulouse storming clear on 13 points after yesterday’s win over Montpellier.

“It is frustrating,” says Butler, “you work really hard for this competition, you want to perform in it. And when you have performances like that where you can’t even scrape in that losing bonus point on the back of 40 minutes of good work it’s frustrating.

“There’s not much we can do about it now.”

The back row added: “The season is so short, you really can’t afford to leave with no points – even a losing bonus point to keep it ticking over.

“We didn’t really put ourselves in a good spot, but all we can do now is turn up at the Sportsground and put in a big performance.”

The margin for error has vanished from beneath Connacht. And Friend admits they must now target a best runners-up spot with a ceiling of 19 points to hit.

“We’re going to need a lot of things going our way,” said the head coach, “but we can still come second in that pool. We’ll see how we go with that.”

For starters, they will be more than happy to go back to the home comforts of the Sportsground either side of the Christmas inter-pros. The return fixture against Gloucester this Saturday will call for a much tighter display.

“It’s our execution. We worked so hard, incredibly hard. I’m so proud of that effort but it’s our execution when it matters.

We are gifting too much ball to the opposition and that’s really frustrating. We need to look after that footy and put pressure on the opposition rather than ourselves.”

“It was a real ding-dong battle. I thought we were really set up for a big 40 minute finish.

“That intercept probably changed things.”

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Sean Farrell

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