Ahead of Saturday's URC opener against Ulster (k/o 7.35pm), Director of Rugby Andy Friend has explained the reasoning behind the restructured coaching ticket announced this summer.
After four years as Head Coach, Friend moves to a new DOR role while Pete Wilkins - now in his sixth season at the club - becomes Head Coach after a year as Senior Coach.
There are changes among the rest of the coaches too. After assisting Wilkins in attack last season, Mossy Lawler now takes primary responsibility for Attack & Skills. With Wilkins focussing more on defence, Colm Tucker is now coaching the scrum & contact skills. Forwards coach Dewald Senekal remains responsible for the lineout and maul.
Speaking ahead of this weekend's game, Andy Friend went into detail on what brought about the changes.
“When I first came into this job, one of my messages to the players was ‘know what your weapon is and focus on your weapon, which is your strength’. I’ve been a big believer in that", he explained.
“For lots of different reasons, I probably went away from that last year. When we got the new coaching structure in last year, we were fitting the coaching structure around the people that we had in it.
“Upon reflection of it, we paused and went ‘is that actually our weapon? Is that all of our strengths?’ The longer I go with my coaching, I know what my strength is. My strength is working one-on-one with people. Giving people support and challenging them. To give them an opportunity to try and grow."
Friend says both the coaches and players are already seeing the benefits.
“I moved into a Director of Rugby role and I did that knowing that I’ve got four really good coaches alongside me, who I need to open up space to. It was just sitting down saying ‘you know what, we did this for a reason last year. We can be better again if we all just zone in on what we’re really good at’.
“After nine weeks, I can tell you it’s a really happy coaching group. People are doing what they love doing and I think that’s going to pay real dividends for us going forward.”
With Connacht playing Challenge Cup rugby this year, the Director of Rugby says the squad have a simple aim for both competitions.
“It’s simple, we want to make the play-offs in both, that’s our target. URC has to be our bread and butter because if we can make URC play-offs we know we are in Champions Cup next year.
“That’s a challenge that we get into, that’s the competition that we want to get into. We weren’t successful last year in getting into that so we want to make sure we make the play-offs of the URC. And if we can go further than that we will wait until we get to that time, we can discuss that. That is just the minimum there.
“Then for Challenge Cup last year was our first year making it to the knockout stages of Champions Cup, we want to do the same this year in the Challenge Cup and go from there.”