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Leicester's Steve Borthwick: 'Jack Carty was incredible. He is a fantastic player'

Eddie Jones’ former sidekick singled out Connacht’s captain for special praise in the aftermath of Saturday’s Champions Cup thriller.

On the ball: Carty was praised by Borthwick.
On the ball: Carty was praised by Borthwick.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THERE WERE TIMES on Saturday, as Steve Borthwick analysed his side’s win over Connacht, when he sounded like a sales rep for Failté Ireland as much as a rugby coach.

Connacht, he said, were a superbly coached side. There was praise for the club’s fans: “They were brilliant, passionate, loud, but respectful.” Praise too for how Andy Friend’s team troubled them for large chunks of this thrilling game.

“We started well, ended well, but in between Connacht played some brilliant rugby,” said the Leicester head coach. “They are an incredibly smart team and I’m always reticent to pick out individuals but Jack Carty, he was incredible. He is a fantastic player and the way he manages a team is just brilliant. It is always difficult against Connacht because they can play in different ways. A couple of weeks ago they won via a maul try against Munster; their maul was strong again today; their kicking game was good and when they opened up, their phase attack was strong. Their strategy is obviously well thought out.”

Asked to elaborate on Carty’s credentials as an international ten – prior to landing the Leicester gig, Borthwick worked under Eddie Jones with England and Japan – the Englishman made a point of saying it wasn’t his business to suggest who should or shouldn’t be in Andy Farrell’s squad.

steve-borthwick-during-the-warm-up Leicester coach, Steve Borthwick. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“From my point of view I think he is a superb player, you can tell how much the other players respect him and when you watch a game, you can learn a lot by that. The players respect him; he is clearly an incredible leader here.”

Despite losing, Connacht were winning. Respect is hard won in English rugby, many Premiership supporters and players looking down their noses at the URC. It is no good, they often say. It lacks depth.

Yet Connacht are eighth in the URC, Leicester top of the Premiership. Only a point separated them after 80 minutes.

“The relative merits of the competitions aren’t anything I’ve dealt with; I’m not really concerned about it,” said Borthwick. “What I will say is that this Connacht team is superb. We have had two good games against them, what seven points separating us over 160 minutes? That shows you have two teams who really went hard and credit must go to both sides.

 “We are delighted with the win, I’m really pleased for the players, even if we had not scored at the end, I’d still have been proud; I’d have thanked the players for their efforts because that was a supreme test.

“Connacht brought some immense pressure onto us. We conceded too many penalties but the reason we did so is because of the pressure they put on us. Yes, there were ones we should not have given away but credit to Connacht. From our point of view, this was a great experience for us.

“Coming and playing rugby here is brilliant. It’s a unique place and I must give a special mention to the supporters, they were incredible.”

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Their team were pretty good, too, save for the final quarter when they panicked and made wrong decision after wrong decision. Still, having picked up two bonus points on Saturday, to add to the six points already chalked onto the board, they’ve given themselves a brilliant shot at making the knock-out stages.

A losing bonus point in Paris next week will guarantee their passage to the round of 16 but they’ll likely have qualified prior to then given that Castres, their nearest challengers, have to beat Harlequins away by a cricket score. That isn’t going to happen.   

“There is belief in this squad, belief in everything we try and do,” said Friend. “Saturday’s defeat will hurt for a few days and then we’ll come back with the aim of doing what we need to do in Paris and try and get a win there.

“We said from the start of the competition that we want to be the first Connacht team to get out of the pool stages and get to the knock out stages and we still have that belief.”

They’re right to. Compare their effort at the weekend to Montpellier’s feeble attempt to play rugby yesterday. One side has enhanced this tournament, the other undermining it. A place in the last 16 will be hard earned. It’s inevitable Connacht will get there.

- Originally published at 07.00

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Garry Doyle

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