Connacht Rugby director of rugby Andy Friend hailed Alex Wootton as “a hell of an athlete” after the wing went over for a hat-trick of tries against CA Brive in the EPCR Challenge Cup on Saturday.
The 28-year-old’s trio of scores helped Connacht thrash the TOP 14 outfit 61-5 at The Sportsground, securing their progression from Pool A with a game to spare.
And with his side crossing the whitewash a total of nine times in Galway, Friend heaped praise on his free-flowing back line, including centre pairing Cathal Forde and Byron Ralston, scrum-half Colm Reilly and Mack Hansen, who lined up at full-back.
“You know when he does that, he’s a hell of an athlete, a powerful, fast man,” Friend said on Wootton. “To pick up three tries was great.
“Some of the work that Mack did was pretty special, but inside of them the nine, 10, 12, 13 were pretty damn good. I loved Colm Reilly’s game; the speed of the ball was excellent.
“Cathal Forde was so calm for a young guy. When he needs to carry, he carries it, when he needs to move it, he moves it, and he makes his tackles too.
Nine tries ✅
Three from three ✅
Round of 16 secured ✅
Watch the extended highlights from @ConnachtRugby's round 3️⃣ #ChallengeCupRugby win👇
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) January 14, 2023
“Byron Ralston had his best game in a Connacht jersey. So, there was a lot to like about it and when all of that’s happening inside you blokes like Wootts tend to be the recipient of good news. You’ve got to finish it, he did that well.”
Friend says Connacht’s win, their third successive triumph in the EPCR Challenge Cup, is another sign of progress after an indifferent start to their United Rugby Championship campaign.
“It’s much easier when you’re playing rugby like that and you’ve got a scoreline like that,” he said. “I’ve said it for a few weeks, I’ve felt like we’ve been building something.
“But to go out there, that first 30 minutes was outstanding. A lot of good rugby, a lot of good attitudes around the way we wanted to play. The overall accuracy was really good.
“We fell into a bit of a hole when we emptied the bench with 20-25 minutes to go, but we worked our way out of that as well. I was really pleased for the lads.”
Connacht round off their EPCR Challenge Cup pool stage next Saturday as they travel to Newcastle Falcons, where will be gunning for top seeding and home advantage in the knockout stage.
“Newcastle will be different again, they put a very big score on Leicester Tigers a few weeks ago,” Friend said. “Let’s hope the momentum keeps going.”