Monday 27 January 2020

Friend: Defence tells you all about attitude

CELEBRATES: Bundee Aki. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
CELEBRATES: Bundee Aki. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Connacht head coach Andy Friend was delighted with the defensive solidity and attitude of his players as they registered an opening 23-20 Heineken Champions Cup win over Montpellier at the Sportsground yesterday.

Connacht's ever-growing injury list saw them make three late alterations, including the withdrawal of captain Jarrad Butler, but tries from Paul Boyle, stand-in skipper Tom McCartney and Caolin Blade, coupled with Jack Carty and Conor Fitzgerald place-kicks, saw them prevail in an exciting finish. An Aaron Cruden try had Montpellier leading inside two minutes, while Benoit Paillaugue landed two penalties and also converted full-back Anthony Bouthier's levelling try. Yet, the expensively assembled French side watched Fitzgerald kick the winning points, 12 minutes from the end.

Effusive in his praise of Connacht's grit and determination, Friend said their defensive organisation and bravery was a glowing endorsement of his squad's character and will to win.

"Our defence has been growing under Pete Wilkins. Defence tells you a lot about a team, in terms of their attitude. They didn't stop trying out there today," said the Australian.

"Denis Buckley, a couple of turnovers, and Robin Copeland, a couple of turnovers, it was really important we got those turnovers. It was a great occasion for those men and the team."

MUNSTER head coach Johann Van Graan stressed the importance of his side's last-minute try, from James Cronin, as it secured the Irish province a 32-15 bonus-point win over Ospreys on Saturday.

With reigning European champions Saracens and French giants Racing 92 also in their pool, Van Graan appreciates the importance of getting their European campaign off to a winning start.

"That last try could be vital," said Van Graan.

"It doesn't matter when you score as long as you get four. The last two years we started the Champions Cup with draws away from home so we were happy to get the win."

Sarcens suffered defeat in the opening match of their Champions Cup title defence after going down 30-10 to Racing 92 at the Paris La Defense Arena.

Saracens, who are set to drop their planned appeal against a £5.4million fine and a 35-point penalty for a breach of the salary cap, were comfortably beaten as Racing claimed a bonus-point victory.

The hosts ran in four tries through Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas, Finn Russell and Wenceslas Lauret, with Maxime Machenaud kicking 10 points.

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