Connacht ‘not the finished product,’ but Friend delighted with array of threats on show

CONNACHT WERE FAR from perfect in their Friday night win in Ravenhill, but in a way, that was part of the beauty of it.

This weekend they can celebrate a landmark result, the banishment of a hoodoo and a third win of the season. But the 15-22 victory will also deliver areas of their game to hone in on for the season ahead.

Fortunately, the positive aspects of their game were enough to break a 58-year winless run in the northern province. Their scrum, having flexed on the Scarlets a fortnight ago, was comfortably dominant and the defensive effort continually frustrated Ulster – whose two crossed-off tries were the result of chaotic kick-chases.

There was a certain irony in the fact that, early Tiernan O’Halloran try aside, Connacht’s trademark high-tempo wide attacking game was the element that didn’t function on Friday. Fortunately, they are fast becoming a more rounded force.

“I thought (the forward pack) were brilliant. I thought they laid a platform for us,” said Friend.

“To have the ability to strike from any of those areas is pleasing. But we’ll keep working on it.”

The breakdown will rank high on the Australian’s work-on list, after being outscored 10-8 in a second half against 14 men.

“Ulster are a very proud team. Down to 14 men, down to 13 men for a period, they challenged our breakdown. We talked about our groundwork, talked about our shield getting close early but they were probably too quick for us there.

“Credit to them, but we’ve to learn from that and learn how to make it easier on ourselves.”

In fairness to the western province, they were dealt a trio of injury blows in the first-half that would have derailed many sides.

The experience and class of Kieran Marmion was lost in the opening minutes, soon followed to the treatment room by O’Halloran (Achilles) and Tom Farrell (HIA). With all three backs off the bench, the makeshift back-line did well to stand strong on what has proven such a very unhappy hunting ground since 1960.

The key man in that back seven remained, of course, and Bundee Aki’s defensive intensity finally put the game beyond Ulster as he picked off Johnny McPhillips’ pass before Jacob Stockdale.