Belfast Telegraph

Disappointed Friend happy with Connacht's 'serious depth'

Toulouse 32 Connacht 17

Young talent: Conor Fitzgerald impressed for Connacht
Young talent: Conor Fitzgerald impressed for Connacht

By John Fallon

Connacht have never made it out of a Champions Cup pool in their four attempts, but head coach Andy Friend is not giving up on this squad after a seriously understrength side came close to repeating their shock 2013 win at Stade Ernest-Wallon.

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They left empty-handed, with Toulouse coming from behind in the final quarter to deny them a bonus point, and in a final twist former Connacht centre Pita Ahki snatched a try bonus point at the death for the French champions.

It was a cruel outcome for a brave Connacht display and a 4-1 split on the match points would have been a fairer reflection and also tightened the pool heading into the back-to-back matches.

Friend will now turn his attention to those games with Gloucester knowing he has some serious depth in his squad after so many stepped up during an injury crisis.

"That is a crucial double-header. You have got to win your home games and you have got to definitely get a win away from home, if not two," said Friend.

Nothing pleases a coach more than a youngster coming from the back of the field to snatch his opportunity and Conor Fitzgerald has done that in spades since being released from the Munster academy 18 months ago.

He followed his brother Stephen up the road and joined the Connacht academy and Friend was brave enough to throw him into Challenge Cup action a year ago.

The former Limerick minor hurler has revelled.

Jack Carty's World Cup absence presented further opportunity and he dazzled in his sixth start of the season in Toulouse on Saturday with a display than rivalled Jerome Kaino for man of the match.

"We have been talking about him all year," added Friend.

"He has been a brilliant find for Connacht, coming through the academy and he has got his opportunities. He is going very, very well. We know how special Jack Carty is."

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