Friend: We reached new level against Gloucester

Connacht coach Andy Friend said the precision which saw them conjure up a last-gasp winner against Gloucester last week is the standard they aspire to.

Friend: We reached new level against Gloucester

Connacht coach Andy Friend said the precision which saw them conjure up a last-gasp winner against Gloucester last week is the standard they aspire to.

He knows that hitting those standards again a few times today against Munster will go a long way towards nailing top spot in the table for Christmas, with just a point separating the sides ahead of today’s clash at the Sportsground (5.15pm).

Last week’s winning try -— Robin Copeland’s first for Connacht since moving from Munster last year — came minutes after replacement hooker Shane Delahunt had crossed as they completed a remarkable comeback to win 27-24 from 11 points down.

“That is the first time I have ever seen them, when it needed to happen, we nailed it. And we nailed it, not just for one phase but for 18 phases.

And not just for 60 seconds, for 137 seconds.

“That is a new level for us and that is what we talked about on Monday.

“Nigel Carolan is our attack coach and when we came in on Monday morning what could we say to the lads other than ‘just watch this boys’.

That is our attack right there, there is our shape, there is our reload, there is our depth, there is our skillset, there is patience with it. It is all there in the 18 phases.

“That is our preview hidden in amongst it. We have just shown we can do it, when it mattered the most we have just shown that we can do it.

“It is a brilliant accolade for Nigel and the team that they have managed it under that pressure,” said Friend.

He is boosted by the return of Tiernan O’Halloran from injury and another full-back, Stephen Fitzgerald, has also recovered and is on the bench.

Fitzgerald’s younger brother Conor has held on to the out-half spot ahead of Jack Carty, and will be raring to impress against his native province in what is really turning into his breakaway season having been released from the Munster academy a year and a half ago.

There are four current members of that Munster academy in the squad today with out-half Ben Healy, prop Kenyan Knox and hooker Diarmuid Barron, while Liam Coombes starts on the left wing.

It will be the first time the winger starts in a Munster team with his cousin Gavin Coombes, who is in the back row.

Promising scrum-half Craig Casey starts for Munster for the first time, having made a couple of appearances off the bench, with Munster coach Johann van Graan has making ten changes as he grapples with a festive programme which will see them without most of their internationals next week at home to Leinster.

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