Thursday 22 February 2018

'Fantastic' Connacht must follow up in Basque country – McCarthy

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

CONNACHT know that one-off wins can fill the pages in the history books, but if they want to write a new chapter in their story then they need to go on a bona fide European run.

Earlier this year they appeared to have a watershed moment when beating Leinster 34-6, but a week later they went to Ravenhill and were comfortably second best in a 25-0 defeat to Ulster.

On Friday night, the Westerners broke new ground, brushing aside Biarritz on a wonderfully still night in Galway, doing it with a team with an average age of 25 and shorn of a number of leaders.

In doing so, Connacht gave themselves a shot at making the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, but if they are to fulfil that promise, they must win the return in the Basque country at the weekend to keep in touch with group leaders Harlequins, who gained the bonus point in hammering Zebre 57-14 in Parma on Saturday.

Biarritz may want revenge, but their chances of reaching the last eight look slim, and they take on Stade Francais in the Top 14 a week later; Europe may no longer be a priority

Friday's Man of the Match Mike McCarthy wants his side to take the next step and give themselves a real shot at glory.

"It is going to be massive next week. We really want to back it up and not just talk about this game, but it is going to be double the task over there," he said.

"It is a massive challenge. We'll go over there with full belief that we can get the victory after beating Zebre away and coming close to beating Quins and Gloucester (away).

"If we had lost on Friday, we couldn't progress any further. We want to stay in it for as long as we can."

Last year's home victory over Harlequins will go down in Connacht history as their first win in Europe's top competition. But, given they were already out of the competition after five straight defeats, and the weather was atrocious, it had nothing on Friday's piece of glory.

"I think it (the Biarritz win) probably was better," McCarthy said. "It was a great night, great weather. I think a few teams come out with the excuse, when they come here and are beaten, that it is down to the weather.

"To do this in dry conditions, it was fantastic. Everyone involved stepped up for the full 80 minutes. That's what we spoke about: we can't just play for one half, you have to play for the full 80 minutes. Lads put their bodies on the line for the whole game and thankfully we came away with the result."

The Ireland second-row, who carried his international form into Friday's win and led from the front with a series of thundering tackles and a crucial turnover late in the game, was – along with Dan Parks – one of just two players over 30 in the Connacht team.

The likes of second-row Mick Kearney (21), No 8 Eoin McKeon (25), scrum-half Kieran Marmion (20) and full-back Robbie Henshaw (19) all stepped up to the plate.

"They were fantastic," McCarthy said. "Last week as well we were missing a lot of guys, but the young lads stepped up. I really felt we should have beaten Edinburgh (in the Pro12) as well. They pulled all of their internationals back in and we were missing a lot. We should have won last week. We came off firing against Biarritz."

Now it is all about winning in France and setting up a shot at Harlequins at the Stoop in the pool's penultimate game.

"It is something we are working on, we know we can pull out the big results but we want to be doing it every week," McCarthy concluded.

Irish Independent

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