Andy Friend: Fringe Connacht players missed their opportunity

Cardiff Blues 8 Connacht 7

Andy Friend believes his players let themselves down after they missed a golden opportunity to move into the PRO14 play-off places by slipping to a narrow defeat against the Cardiff Blues in Wales.

The 2016 champions are in the unfamiliar position of providing six players to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad, meaning they will have to dig deep into their squad during the Six Nations period. But Friend believes many of his fringe players failed to “take their opportunities”.

“Everyone knew what was at stake here,” said Friend. “Yes, we’ve got some players out but it provided an opportunity for other players to come in and step up. I thought a lot of those players missed their chances today. There were a lot of blokes there who didn’t take their opportunities and we’ll see what happens in terms of selection next time out. We didn’t do the simple things well. We got beaten at the breakdown and couldn’t clear our lines.”

A stunning first-half try from Owen Lane plus three points from the boot of out-half Steven Shingler was enough to secure a win for Cardiff Blues.

A late try from Peter Boyle plus a conversion from Conor Fitzgerald ensured Connacht left the Welsh capital with at least a losing bonus point.

Friend’s side currently lie fourth in Conference A and are level on points with the Ospreys.

Shingler nailed an early 30- metre penalty before Connacht’s driving lineout put the hosts under pressure, forcing them to concede numerous penalties. Finally, the referee lost his patience and opted to send Cardiff loose-head Brad Thyer to the sin bin for his part in illegally bringing down a maul.

Former Munster and Ulster No 8 Nick Williams joined Thyer in the bin for a late hit on Finlay Bealham. But Connacht couldn’t take any sort of advantage and instead it was the Blues who crossed the try line during this period. With an attacking scrum just outside Connacht’s 22 scrum-half Lloyd Williams went blindside before offloading to Lane, who skinned two defenders before diving in at the corner. Connacht had to wait until the last 10 minutes to get on the scoreboard, when Boyle smashed his way over the line, but it was too little, too late as far as the win was concerned.

But despite this setback Friend is confident his side are in a good position to make the end of season play-offs.

He said: “We are confident we can make the play-offs. That’s a shot across our bow here and it’s about how we come back from this.

“We can either step over it or we stay where we are.”

Scorers for Cardiff Blues: Tries: O Lane 26. Penalties: S Shingler 12

Scorers for Connacht: Tries: P Boyle 75. Conversions: S Fitzgerald 76

CARDIFF BLUES: M Morgan (D Fish 13); O Lane, H Millard (G Smith 68), R Lee-Lo, A Summerhill; S Shingler, L Williams; B Thyer (R Carre 51), K Dacey (L Belcher 68), D Arhip (S Andrews 63), G Earle (M Cook 63), R Thornton, S Lewis-Hughes (R Carre 18-28) (J Botham 72), O Robinson, N Williams.

Replacements not used: L Jones.

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Daly, M Healey (S Fitzgerald 63); D Horwitz (C Fitzgerald 45), J Mitchell (A Lloyd 49); D Buckley (M Burke 63), D Heffernan (T McCartney 51), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 63), J Cannon (J Makysymiw 69), C Gallagher, E McKeon (P Boyle 60), C Fainga’a, J Butler.

Replacements not used: D McCoy

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland).

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