Friend wants to bottle Connacht’s family vibe

A raucous Sportsground welcomed Connacht’s progression into the play-off stages of the PRO14 as their team turned in a bonus point performance in their most important game of the season so far.

Friend wants to bottle Connacht’s family vibe

[team1]Connacht[/team1][score1]29[/score1][team2]Cardiff Blues[/team2][score2]22[/score2][/score]

A raucous Sportsground welcomed Connacht’s progression into the play-off stages of the PRO14 as their team turned in a bonus point performance in their most important game of the season so far.

Against their only rivals for the last quarter-final spot from Conference A, Connacht tamed the brutal wind and won with two tries in each half. Caolin Blade, Gavin Thornbury, Jack Carty, and Matt Healy were the try scorers as the home side set up a clash with Ulster at Ravenhill in the quarter-finals.

Cardiff played their part too, and would have worried Connacht more only for a couple of tight TMO calls that went against them. Jason Harries had a try ruled out when he placed his hand on the dead ball line a millisecond before he touched down, while Healy’s winning try was allowed despite doubts about a knock-on in the build-up.

Afterwards the celebrations started on the pitch and in the stands, and after the venue waved goodbye to their departing players, Connacht coach Andy Friend says he wants to bottle the familial vibe in the province.

“That’s what I want to keep, I want to keep that family atmosphere that we’ve built and that camaraderie and make sure we march into that quarter-final with our heads held high and give it everything we’ve got,” said Friend, who has had an impressive first season.

“Ulster’s form has been good. We’ve had success against them this year, breaking the hoodoo in Belfast and then beating them here at the Sportsground, but that counts for nothing now. We’re in knockout football, they’re playing good football at the right end of the season and so are we.”

With the wind behind them in the first half, Connacht may have felt their 14-7 interval lead was not sufficient. Owen Lane ghosted in under the posts in between Connacht’s two tries as Gareth Anscombe marshalled his side well against the wind, but after the restart, Connacht and Carty turned the screw.

A penalty from the Athlone man was followed by one of the tries of the season finished off brilliantly by Carty when he chased down his own chip through. The first lengthy TMO stoppage fell in Connacht’s favour, but after Olly Robinson crossed, Healy made sure of the Connacht win.

“I think you can see from the response of the crowd that it means a hell of a lot. We’ve had great support this year, I’ve had great support this year in my first year. I think it’s just reward for the work that has gone in, and it’s just the start,” said Friend.

Scorers for Connacht: Tries: C Blade, G Thornbury, J Carty, M Healy. Cons: J Carty (3). Pens: J Carty.

Scorers for Cardiff: Tries: O Lane, O Robinson, J Harries. Conversions: G Anscombe (2)

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy; U Dillane, G Thornbury; P Boyle, C Fainga’a, J Butler

Replacements: C Carey for Robertson McCoy (44), C Kelleher for Leader (50), K Marmion for Blade (58), C Blade for Marmion (60), S Delahunt for Heffernan (64), R Copeland for Butler (64), T Daly for O’Halloran (78).

CARDIFF: M Morgan; O Lane, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, J Harries; G Anscombe, T Williams; R Gill, E Lewis, D Lewis; D Earle, R Thornton; J Turnbull, O Robinson, S Davies

Replacements: L Belcher for Lewis (50), R Carre for Gill (50), D Arhip for Lewis (50), S Lewis Hughes for Earle (50), G Smith for Halaholo (65), L Williams for T Williams (65), J Evans for M Morgan (56), E Lewis for L Belcher (80).

Referee: M Adamson (SRU).

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