'We dominated the physicality' says Andy Friend as Connacht kickstart season

The western province came from behind to beat Munster in Galway. 
'We dominated the physicality' says Andy Friend as Connacht kickstart season

TRIBE: Connacht's John Porch and head coach Andy Friend after the win. 

Andy Friend credited Connacht’s superior physicality over Munster for getting them across the line for a first victory of the season following a tense derby at The Sportsground on Friday night.

Connacht came from 11-5 down after 47 minutes to run out 20-11 winners as they returned to Galway after three straight away losses at the start of their BKT United Rugby Championship campaign to open their new 4G artificial pitch with a much-needed interprovincial derby success.

A Paul Boyle try two minutes from time sealed the win while Conor Fitzgerald’s conversion denied Munster a losing bonus point as the Reds slumped to a third defeat in four URC matches under new head coach Graham Rowntree.

The visitors had held an 8-5 interval lead after academy wing Patrick Campbell cancelled out Mack Hansen’s early try and Ben Healy had kicked a penalty just before the break. Healy added another three-pointer seven minutes into the second half but his team failed to build on their six-point lead and instead fell prey to a rousing Connacht comeback sparked by man of the match Finlay Bealham’s 54th-minute try, also converted by full-back Fitzgerald.

“Yeah, happy with that,” Connacht head coach Friend said. “We said coming into the game we needed to win and we’re now talking about the fact that we got a win.

“It wasn’t perfect, we know that, but it was a win, it was an interpro win, it was our first home game on our new pitch and in front of our fans and friends and supporters here. It’s a great way to start the weekend.” 

Asked what was a key factor to Connacht’s strong second-half performance, Friend’s reply will likely hit a nerve with the Munster players.

“I just thought our physicality. I thought our forward pack laid a really good platform for us and I thought for the majority of the game we dominated the physicality.

“That was what we said coming into the game, that it was the team that was going to be the most physical, the most disciplined, and have the least amount of unforced errors, and I think on two of those fronts it was us. I don’t know about the unforced errors yet, I haven’t seen those stats, but I thought we were the team that delivered on that front too.” 

Munster did indeed make more errors, conceding 13 penalties, missing 12 tackles and offering up 12 turnovers, which led Rowntree to admit: “What’s killing us is us.” 

Yet Friend expanded on his theme that his team was not perfect itself.

“It wasn’t, and you could see both teams were nervous because both teams haven’t really clicked at the front end of the season for various reasons.

“But I thought the forward pack as I said just laid the platform for us and got us on the front foot, and going in at 8-5 down at half-time was frustrating because you were scratching your head thinking ‘how are we behind?’” 

“Then they get an early penalty so it’s 11-5.  ‘Jeeze, here we go again.’ Then we get the try but even right to the death there, we came down on their line, give away a penalty and I’m thinking ‘I’ve seen this happen before’ but thankfully it didn’t happen and we managed to get another try ourselves.

“So it’s a great way to finish the game and a nice way to get our season started.” 

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