Friend’s western warriors display steel ahead of Leicester battle

Andy Friend described this one as a season-defining game and his Connacht side will now attempt to reap the benefits when they return here for their next encounter, a potentially even more significant tussle in Europe against the formidable Leicester Tigers.

wo defeats against European giants, away to Leinster and Leicester, had seemingly exposed a weak underbelly but a defiant pre half-time defensive set on their own line, game-defining in its significance, may signpost a steelier substance to add to the avowed commitment to style.

Munster would have had justifiable arguments that Connacht deserved to lose two players, rather than just one, after the concession of almost a quarter of the game’s 29 penalties repelled the unimaginative power plays from the men in red, who steadfastly refused to add wit and width to their scoring options.

“We had opportunities and didn’t take them,” muttered Johann van Graan.

“That was a big moment and opportunity from five yards out. You back the leadership to make decisions. They saw the momentum and multiple penalties. There was a yellow card and then three more penalties. They decided the referee would give another yellow card and that didn’t happen.”

Friend had expected it to; he missed much of the Alamo while heading to the dressing-room, half expecting another binning before hearing the roar acclaiming a massive turnover, which sucked the life out of Munster’s challenge and breathed new life into Connacht’s.

A tunnel schemozzle would contribute another Connacht man to the bin, so too a Munster player; albeit many might argue that Chris Farrell’s departure should later have been permanent had not the refereeing team offered leniency for his obviously head-high second-half tackle.

Cian Prendergast, Connacht’s breakout star this season, emphasised that Connacht can not only thrive on trying to play the ball to the edge, but also find an edge when they don’t have the ball, even while heading for the half-time oranges.

“There was an idea maybe a while back (that) we just want to play fluid rugby, edge to edge and don’t want to play the confrontational side,” he remarked.

“But we want to impose our physical mark on the game. And that comes with the territory of a push and shove, nothing really, it’s a contact sport with high emotion.

“If you’re a unit like we are, nobody is going to back off when you see one of your mates are getting some treatment. We don’t look to do it, it’s just the way things unfold in front of you.”

Friend termed it as handbags at dusk, instead seeking solace in how his side dug deep to navigate a different route to success.

“Our intent was there and will remain there but to score a maul try was good against a team who pride themselves on that and then also to not to let them score one.

“We won in a different manner. The ability to hold them out at half-time showed outstanding belief in each other and commitment. And then to score from a forward maul, and to manage the ending, it’s different but just as pleasing.”

Munster must wait on Jean Kleyn’s fitness update ahead of an Ulster game they hope goes ahead next weekend but their quest for coherence may remain elusive as their team is likely to show more than half as many changes again.

Carty should be fit enough to feature against Leicester as there wasn’t enough time to stitch a facial wound before the break.

Connacht – T O’Halloran; J Porch (J Murphy 47-50, Farrell 54, 6), S Arnold, B Aki, M Hansen; J Carty (C Fitzgerald 40), K Marmion; M Burke (T Tuimauga 73), S Delahunt (J Murphy 66), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 63); U Dillane (E Masterson 66), O Dowling; C Prendergast (A Papali’i 70), C Oliver, J Butler

Munster – M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, D de Allende, S Daly; B Healy, C Casey (N Cronin 67); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 59), N Scannell (D Barron 65), S Archer (K Knox 59); J Kleyn (T Ahern 46), F Wycherley; J O’Donoghue, A Kendellen (J Daly 54), G Coombes.

Ref – C Busby (IRFU)

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