Friend backs Carty after out-half’s masterclass helps Connacht to big win

The Connacht No10 missed out on international selection yet again last week.

Carty celebrates with Connacht fans.
Carty celebrates with Connacht fans.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Updated Oct 25th 2021, 5:02 PM

ONE ANDY RATES HIM, another doesn’t rate him highly enough. And there isn’t much more Jack Carty can do about that.

With his provincial coach, he is flavour of the month, named as captain, trusted ahead of the talented Conor Fitzgerald to run Connacht’s ship. But the other Andy – Ireland head coach, Andy Farrell – has eyes for other No10s.

So yet again, Carty finds himself on the outside looking in. Joey Carbery and Harry Byrne are ahead in the queue now, the promise of what they can deliver in two years-time rated higher than the form they have shown over the last two months.

So no Carty in Ireland’s squad for Japan, New Zealand and Argentina but it is also worth pointing out that there is no Dave Heffernan or Conor Oliver, either. Both players have been good this season but Oliver has shone in a department well stocked with class players while Heffernan has been the most unfortunate Connacht player of the lot.

“I was disappointed for a few blokes (not to be included in the Ireland squad) but at the end of the day everyone has different opinions,” Friend said.

“What I was really pleased about and proud of was the way some of those fellas rocked up there today and put out a performance that no doubt has the Irish selectors continuing to look at. That’s all you can ever do, you just put out your best performance.

“I thought Jack did pretty well (in Connacht’s win over Ulster). He is really growing into the captaincy and seems to like that. He’s taking control as a 10 and as the skipper. I was really proud of his performance.”

jack-carty Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sitting next to Friend, wing Mack Hansen agreed: “He is a guy who can just find space wherever it is – whether it’s us running or his kicking game, which has been unbelievable in the first couple of rounds.

“When you are playing with someone like that, getting you front-foot ball, it just makes it a whole lot easier.”

Saturday’s thumping win makes the next month a whole lot easier for Hansen and Friend. All of a sudden, the play-off places don’t seem so far away, although they must be looking at the table and Edinburgh and Glasgow’s positions in it and wondering how is this structure fair.

As a reminder, the two Scottish sides get to play Benetton and Zebre twice, Connacht just once, whereas Friend’s team have to play the league’s three top sides, Leinster, Munster and Ulster twice, whereas Glasgow and Edinburgh have only one game against the Irish provinces.

It’s a structural flaw within a competition that so far this season has been way more impressive than last year’s programme.

Friend didn’t mention any of this on Saturday, referencing instead his club’s decision to move the game to the Aviva for financial reasons. It paid off, although it wasn’t a universally popular choice in Galway.

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“We all probably knew, just as a footy team, that we needed to have a performance but I’m sure most of us were acutely aware that for the organisation it was a pretty important one,” said Friend.

“What we certainly didn’t talk about was to lump that pressure on the players as well, it would have been unfair. I can sit here now and look at ourselves and say it was a pretty good decision to come up here. The boys are saying it felt like a full house, with a lot of really proud Connacht supporters.

“There’s always going to be disappointment with people, that’s unavoidable in life unfortunately but I think we were justified now in our decision to come here. It’s a one-off and we’re very keen to get back to the Sportsground and play in front of our fans there.”

Friend also confirmed that Bundee Aki, whose knee injury forced him to sit out Saturday’s win, would be available to train with Ireland this week.

First published today at 07.00 

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Garry Doyle

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