Friend hails belief after Carty completes comeback mission
Bordeaux Begles 27 Connacht 33
Andy Friend was proud of the way Connacht refused to panic when they found themselves eight points adrift heading into the final ten minutes at Stade Chaban Delmas on Saturday, where only victory would suffice to send them into the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup for the tenth time.
The Westerners duly produced the goods when it mattered most to set up a quarter-final clash away to pool opponents Sale Sharks, with Jack Carty crowning his inclusion in the Six Nations squad for the first time with the match-winning try.
"We didn't think it was gone from us at any stage because we know we are good enough," said Friend, after Connacht won in France for the 15th time in the competition.
"You have to look after the football and when we did look after the football, pressure was mounted and tries came.
"But too many times we had them under pressure and we released them either through a simple error or a penalty against us, and we have to be a better side than that if we want to go further.
"All three of their tries came from our errors and their points early on came from scrum penalties.
"We don't give up hope and we don't give up fighting because there is a lot of self-belief within the group, but we make it so stressful on the poor old coaches! In the end it will go down as a good win for us but not without a bit of stress."
Connacht scored three tries in the opening half from Matt Healy, captain Quinn Roux and Tiernan O'Halloran, but still trailed 20-19 at the break after conceding a couple of sloppy tries.
And when France scrum-half Baptiste Serin pushed that out to 27-19 and Connacht failed to make the most of their chances, not least when they opted for a scrum under the posts with a penalty and then turned over the ball, it looked like they would bow out of the competition. But Healy finished an end-to-end move after 71 minutes for his second try and then Carty seized the moment and sealed the win when he intercepted and ran in from 30 metres.
O'Halloran said that the win was the perfect way to crown a glorious week for Connacht. The full-back said the call-up by Joe Schmidt of the uncapped Carty, Tom Farrell and Caolin Blade was a huge boost, with the trio joining Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane in the Six Nations squad.
"There was a huge buzz around the place all week, everyone sending texts to each other, all thrilled that the three lads got called up," said O'Halloran.
"For Ultan and Bundee it's brilliant, they're involved a lot, but the three new caps, everyone is delighted for them, the hard work they've put in week in week out.
"We know well what they're capable of and hopefully we'll see that on the international stage. It just lifts everybody around us. You saw Bladey and Jack and the introduction they brought off the bench, and for Jack to get that intercept try at the end was just brilliant.
"It's great for the lads to get that experience with Ireland, and the more guys we can get up in camp to lift the standards is huge for us.
"We're all rooting for them now and hopefully they can get involved in the next few weeks."
The win keeps Connacht in the hunt for glory on two fronts; they face a crucial Guinness PRO14 clash next Saturday away to Cardiff Blues in their battle to secure Champions Cup qualification.
Bordeaux - D Domvo; N Plazy, S Tamanivalu, U Seuteni (S Desaubies 40), G Cros;L Meret, B Serin (J Gimbert 54); L Delboulbes (J Poirot 29); M Lamothe, V Afatia (V Cobilas 54), M Galarza, C Cazeaux (N Decron 61); C Woki (A Pelissié 54), A Roumat (A Amosa 20-31), L Houston.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, B Aki (E Griffin 70), M Healy; D Horwitz (J Carty 50), S Kerins (C Blade 47); P McCabe (M Burke 62), S Delahunt (J Murphy 63), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 55); G Thornbury, Q Roux; P Boyle, J Connolly (E Masterson 59), E McKeon.
Ref - M Mitrea (Italy).