By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to start well in Saturday’s 19:35 GuinnessPRO14 kick-off against the Ospreys at the Sportsground.

 

In the Westerner’s previous games, a loss at home to Scarlets and a win away to Zebre last weekend, Connacht conceded tries early and saw their opponents open the scoring. 

 

But Friend says his team will need to start better and play in the right areas of the field — taking into consideration any weather conditions —  against a dangerous Ospreys side if they want to make it consecutive league wins. 

 

“What’s really important to us is the start,” the Australian said. 

 

“If we can start well and build on the confidence we took from that Zebre win, that will be really important to us. It’s also really important that we execute. We made 23 errors in the Scarlets game, that got down to ten at the weekend, which is where it needs to be. What we need to be able to do(not commit many errors), and let’s just assume, living in Galway, that there might be some wind and rain. 

 

“If it is doing that(raining), we just have to be more clinical with the way we’re handling the ball. We got to make sure to continue that we get the line speed in our defensive line, with our launch. We have got to make sure we play in the right areas and I think those three things we were much, much better on at the weekend than we were previously. We have got to make sure we keep that up here at the Sportsground,”

 

Friend praised his players for playing “smart” Rugby in last weekend’s 47-12 win in Italy, and he says that Connacht will need to play in the same vein on Saturday night, especially against the visitors exciting back three options. 

 

“Continuing to play that smart kicking game is going to be important to us,” the former Australia Sevens coach said. 

 

“We need to play in the right areas and we need to get off the line and shut them down. If you could give me gold, silver and bronze, the gold would be the way we start, which is really important for us.

 

Elsewhere, loosehead prop Denis Buckley paid tribute to the quality of young players coming through Connacht’s academy. Colm Reilly, a former Connacht academy player, was awarded the man of the match award in the Zebre victory in only his second start.

 

Buckley, a former academy graduate himself, said that Reilly’s performance — given the senior players had seen him in training — wasn’t a surprise and that the Westerners have several players that could follow the Ballinasloe scrum-halves path in the years to come.

 

“We’ve seen him in training for the last while, so it’s not really a surprise to us seeing him perform. It was only his second start, so to get a man of the match was pretty special for him. It wasn’t a surprise for us because we see him do it in training every week. He’s a really good talent and it will be exciting to see how he develops over the next while,” the Roscommon native said. 

 

“There is a lot of young lads coming through. Cian Prendergast is another and he’s played this year. I think he’s another one we’ll see more of as we go on. There is some really exciting young lads coming through and it is great to see.”

 

Meanwhile, Buckley, 30, praised the culture and positive environment Andy Friend and his coaches have built at Connacht and its impact on helping players reach their full potential. 

 

“Yeah, 100%,” Buckley said when asked whether the team culture helped players fulfill their abilities. 

 

“Obviously it’s pretty difficult at the moment with a lot of limits around team meetings. It’s all through Zoom and there’s a lot of rules about whether we can be indoors together, particularly in the last six weeks as we have gone into lockdown. 

 

“But they’ve found ways to keep the culture and keep that team spirit going and it’s coming through in games. I think since the summer, when we came back and played those rearranged fixtures against Ulster, and this season we definitely have taken a step up. We didn’t get that consistency against the Scarlets, but if you take that game out of it then we have had some really good games. 

 

“The Glasgow win, the Edinburgh away win, they’re really good results that we don’t always get. We’ve had a really good start to the season and how the coaching staff have approached the restrictions with covid and with all the limitations that are around, and how we have made the best of all those situations and tried to turn them into advantages. If you can adapt the best to them, it can give you an advantage and I think we’re doing that very well at the moment,” Buckley said.

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