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Friend left frustrated as Connacht run out of time

Connacht 10 Munster 16

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Final joy: Munster’s Peter O’Mahony and Billy Holland celebrate at the final whistle

Final joy: Munster’s Peter O’Mahony and Billy Holland celebrate at the final whistle

�INPHO/James Crombie

Andy Friend

Andy Friend

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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Final joy: Munster’s Peter O’Mahony and Billy Holland celebrate at the final whistle

Andy Friend is no enemy of straight-talking. "It's tough to work it out and b****r it up at the end," said the Australian, understandably stunned after his side tossed away a gilt-edged chance of a second successive scalp of Irish rugby's dominant provinces.

But a shambolic decision from his side to opt for a 'pick and jam' from a scrum five, with eight against seven in the push and another man advantage in the back-line - panicked Munster having been reduced to 13 men - saw the chance disappear as Man of the Match Tadhg Beirne forced his umpteenth turnover of the night.

And yet that late opportunity had seemed beyond them for oh, only 78 minutes of a stroppy, scrappy encounter which had predominantly featured Munster mauling and thievery on the floor (both legal and illegal) to thwart the home side.

After compiling a 10-3 half-time lead, which at once seemed unflattering yet also offered the feeling it laid a foundation for much, much more, Johann van Graan's full-strength side lost their way.

Belatedly, Connacht found theirs. Except they ran out of time.

"It shouldn't take so long for us to work out we can win a game of football," said Friend.

"Jack Carty gets that intercept and the belief just sky-rockets after about five minutes. There tonight, you're watching and thinking there is some belief but a few blokes are thinking 'I'll do it my own little way.'

"We keep talking about sticking to the system, trusting the system, and working as a collective, not as individuals.

Unstoppable

"The power of that, when you get 15 or 23 blokes on the same page, it can be unstoppable. There tonight, it took us too long to get there I felt. When we unlock that power of the mind, we'll be formidable."

Their minds were elsewhere from the start. Carty's early snatched penalty attempt offered a stark contrast to their heroics in Dublin and Munster gratefully seized the initiative, mauling their way to a comfortable half-time lead but some scrummaging difficulties and over-elaboration left the door slightly ajar.

Connacht kept walking into the door instead of seeking a way through the gap, however.

And yet Munster's policy of conservative containment - aside from a few Stephen Larkham-esque flashes when the game occasionally reached either 22 - always seemed like a risky policy. Especially so when their indiscipline sky-rocketed and the errors entered the arena of self-flagellation, be it JJ Hanrahan missing a touch-finder or Shane Daly doing an impression of a Fijian winger on his own 22 and flinging possession away.

Johann van Graan refused invitations to criticise his side's lack of control - in mitigation this side hadn't featured together since the remarkable events in Clermont - and was prosaic in his reflections.

"We tried to play, we had some good attacking sets, some good decisions and I felt our maul went very well. I felt it was a good scrum battle and on the floor, defensively we were very good. So a lot of good things and always things to work on."

But, characteristically, his captain was less complementary.

Peter O'Mahony knew how close they were to defeat; had Paul Boyle not picked from that last scrum and found traffic instead of seeking wider prairies, his side would have been staring down the barrel of an almost incomprehensible implosion.

"We were probably very lucky in the end to be honest with you," huffed O'Mahony.

"Indiscipline was top of the list of reasons for putting us under so much pressure and them playing some excellent rugby.

"So in the scheme of things we're probably lucky to come out of there with the win in the end."

Belfast Telegraph


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