Claims of underhand tactics levelled at Connacht in wake of Ellis Park win
Connacht coach Andy Friend was the picture of innocence, claiming in his post-match media briefing that every injury stoppage was legitimate.
However, the Lions’ coaching staff and players were frustrated with what they felt were ‘clear and obvious’ delaying tactics to minimise the impact of altitude.
Connacht became only the second Northern Hemisphere team to win in South Africa in the United Rugby Championship this season, after a late penalty by flyhalf Jack Carty sealed a hard-earned 33-30 win over the Lions at Ellis Park.
The Lions, the only South African team to taste defeat in Round 16, were made to pay for a slow start and unnecessary errors – allowing Connacht to record their third victory over South African opposition in the URC this season.
Their other two victories were both at The Sportsground in Galway – against the Stormers (19-17) and the Bulls (34-7).
The Lions were not amused by the Irish province’s tactics at Ellis Park at the weekend – with a multitude of injury stoppages before set pieces and lengthy conferences before every line-out turning the game in a drawn-out stop-start affair.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen felt there was a clear theme in the Irish team’s tactics, slowing down play at every set piece.
“They got away with it,” Van Rooyen told a post-match media debrief.
“I felt there were a couple of times when the game could have continued,” he said, adding: “Obviously if it is a front row [forward] the scrum can’t continue.
“However, if it is a general forward – on their ball or our ball – the game should probably continue.”
He admitted they got “quite excited” in the coaching box about the obvious delaying tactics, because the stop-start nature of the game suited the Irish side at the 1,750-metre (5742 feet) altitude of Ellis Park.
“We wanted to build pressure and maintain that pressure,” the Lions coach said, adding that his own team’s error count also allowed the visitors additional “rest”.
Connacht coach Andy Friend was adamant the ‘injuries’ were all genuine and not part of some elaborate scheme to slow the game down.
“We had two HIAs [head injuries],” he said, adding that one player returned to the playing field and another failed his sideline head injury assessment.
“One of our loosehead props copped a knock to his eye in the warm-up and his eye closed over.
“We had our battles out there to keep 15 fit players on the park and it was more coming our of our forwards.”
He described it as part of the game.
“It is a physical game, as you know,” Friend told @rugby365com. “Sometimes you pick up injuries and we had a few in this game.”
Star flank Cian Prendergast admitted altitude was a factor, but praised his teammates for “staying in the fight” and having the “last burst to win the game”.
The Lions coach said it is something they will address in their ‘review meeting’, while they will again touch on the subject during their ‘preview meeting’ with match officials on a Thursday.
Van Rooyen said New Zealand and Australian teams used similar tactics during Super Rugby – manipulating the ‘time off’ period around set-pieces.
“It is a clear tactic coming here [to Ellis Park],” he said, adding: “I can’t go against a medical doctor, but when you see two or three [players] falling down simultaneously you will always ask questions.
“If they get away with it and match officials allow it, then kudos to them.
“In our review process, we will look at that and get feedback and share the feedback with the team – learn from it and be better prepared.”
Lions skipper Burger Odendaal admitted the delaying tactics “frustrated” him, while the referee’s constant warnings to both teams never resulted in any action.
“They got under our skins as well,” Odendaal said, adding: “Our disciplinary record in the competition has been good, but in this match, our discipline let us down.
“However, I felt there were no consequences for them [their tactics] and one or two calls that may have gone our way.”
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