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.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says Connacht will need to attack efficiently against the Scarlets if they are to win in Saturday’s 19:35 Guinness PRO14 kick-off at The Sportsground. 

 

The Westerners’ started off last season with a narrow, 18-10 defeat to the Welshmen at Parc y Scarlets, despite creating ample chances to score more often and win the game.

 

Friend believes that his team — whose last two games, at home to Benetton and away to the Dragons were postponed due to COVID cases in the opposition camps — will need to learn from last season’s defeat to the Welsh side and make the most of any scoring opportunities that may arise and adapt to any weather circumstances. 

 

“We hit a wet night at the Scarlets. We didn’t play in the right areas of the field”, the Australian said of the team’s last meeting in September 2019.

 

“We burned a lot of fuel in the wrong areas. The big learning out of that is that you got to be ready for everything that’s thrown at you.”

 

Scarlets, the 2016/2017 PRO14 champions, have had a mixed start to their season, losing three and winning two of the opening five games. Friend has warned, however, that the Glenn Delaney coached outfit — who have been unfortunate in some of their games to date — pose a threat to Connacht. 

 

“I have watched their last two games very closely,” Friend said. 

 

“I thought there were parts of that opening 20 minutes against Zebre (Scarlets won 18-17), where they looked good and I thought ‘here we go’, this is the Zebre of old’. Then things just didn’t seem to go their way. I know the commentators said it a couple of times during the game that they’re just not getting the bounce of the ball. That can happen, so as we prepare for them this week we know what a Scarlets team can do and we are prepping for that team to be turning up here and not the team we have seen in the last couple of weeks.”

 

Friend also praised his compatriot, Jack Birtwhistle, Connacht’s performance skills coach for helping the players retain their focus during a trying season and period of time. With the ongoing pandemic and two postponed games in consecutive weeks, there has been a lot of uncertainty. But the Westerners squad, aided by Birtwhislte’s advice, have kept mentally sharp and prepared for all eventualities.

 

“Jack’s been here since the start of the season and there has been a great uptake — as Paddy (McAllister) would have shared with you — and I think we’re starting to see some of the benefit of it.

 

“We work on the body, the craft, and the mind. The body is pretty much our athletic performance, our nutrition, our physios, our massage. Our craft is what we do out there on the field, and the mind is predominantly an area that has been based on wellbeing, which is really important to us.  But if we could also bring some mental skills and performance skills then that would add value and that’s certainly what it has done.”

 

Meanwhile, prop Paddy McAllister — who recently became a father for the third time, after the birth of his daughter, Elianna — says that the competition for places in the Connacht front row is driving standards and helping the props develop and improve even further. 

 

McAllister, formerly of Ulster and Gloucester, competes for a loosehead berth with Denis Buckley and Jordan Duggan, while Finlay Bealham — who is on the Irish bench for their upcoming Nations League game against Wales — Jack Aungier and Dominic Robertson McCoy means the competition for a starting place on the other side of the scrum remain strong.

 

“Yeah, definitely,” the 31-year-old said when asked whether the front-row competition keeps each player on their toes and focused on improving.

 

“Competition in position, if you’re up to the challenge and you want to play Rugby, is what makes you better. I have come here knowing what Denis(Buckley) brings to the table. He is a quality player and he has been a quality stalwart for Connacht Rugby for so many years. 

 

“And you have got the likes of Jordan Duggan coming up, who is a young player and a big powerful guy. It’s good to see him developing well and he will get his opportunities and when he does, I’m sure he will take them. 

 

“Going over to the tight-head side as well, you’ve got Finlay(Bealham) on the international stage, which we’re all really delighted with. He has put a lot of hard work in and hopefully he gets a few runs out. We have got some good players coming through on the tight-head side. 

 

“We are all pushing each other. We all want to play Rugby, so it’s really healthy. Our job is to make the coaches’ job really tough and the harder we make their job, the more of a good job we’re doing. It’s good, it’s competitive. It’s friendly but it’s competitive and we are all putting our hands up and it’s only a good thing for Connacht.”

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says Connacht will need to improve on their exits and stick more diligently to their game plan in Sunday’s 19:35 Guinness PRO14 kick off away to Edinburgh.

 

In the Westerners last outing, a 29-7 defeat to Cardiff Blues, mistakes in crucial areas of the pitch hampered a good performance and let the Welshmen capitalize and seal the victory.

 

But Friend is confident that his team has learned from the defeat in Wales and is sure they can apply these lessons in what he expects to be a keenly competitive game against the Scots at Murrayfield.

 

“Edinburgh and Cardiff play a very similar style of game,” the Australian said.

 

“We knew what we needed to do, and we did it on the whole. We did it very well. On the four occasions out of 21 that we chose not(stick to the exit plan) to do what we said we were going to do, we leaked 21 points. The evidence is pretty clear for us: stick to the game plan, stick to task and it will work for us.

 

“When we go off script and try to create things, against those sort of teams, who rely on you giving them opportunities by trying to create stuff in the wrong areas of the field. So, we’re going to cop something very similar this weekend and hopefully we’ve learned our lesson from that,” Friend added.

 

With seven Connacht players called into the Irish squad for the resumption of the Six Nations, there will be plenty of squad rotation in upcoming weeks, but Friend believes — despite being without players of the quality of Bundee Aki, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, Ultane Dillane, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty — that the Western province have the right blend of experience and youth in the squad to win games without their international contingent.

 

“I do, I really do,” the former Australia Sevens coach said when asked whether he thought his squad, short of its Irish capped players, can compete over the course of the upcoming international fixture window.

 

“We’ve copped injuries at the front end of the year, we haven’t had some of our more experienced players available to us. But in time they will come back, the likes of Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy and Paddy McAllister, who we haven’t seen at the front end of the season. They’re three of our more senior players.

 

“In time, they will all come back and they will definitely add some experience and some start’s to the team. But in the meantime, we are going to need the young guys to step up and they know what their role is and i’m sure they’re not going to let us down on Sunday.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row Conor Oliver says that Edinburgh will pose a massive challenge for Connacht but he is eager for the opportunity to right a few wrongs from the Cardiff game in the Scottish capital on Sunday evening.

 

“We will go to Edinburgh with a mindset that we need to get points from this game,” said Oliver, who scored the Westerners solitary try away to Cardiff two weekends ago.

 

“They’re a tough team, they came close against Munster last week. I felt we didn’t exit as well as we wanted to, we had a lot of pressure put onto ourselves from Cardiff. We want to be more efficient when we have the ball and to be able to transfer pressure onto the other team.

 

“We’re an expansive Rugby team, we like to play a nice brand of Rugby. We’ve put a few things in place(plans) that we think will give us the benefit this week, mainly holding onto the ball a bit more and being smarter when we actually want to attack and when we want to put pressure back onto the other team,” the 25-year old said.

 

A recent arrival from Munster, Oliver believes the welcome he received from his team-mates has helped him settle quicker into life with Connacht and in Galway.

 

“Everything was pretty smooth. They were really welcoming(the squad), as usual. I felt it was probably better, the way we kind of started off in smaller groups(due to COVID19 restrictions), that let me know guys on a personal level. I’m getting on with everyone and loving it so far, the experience,” the Dubliner said.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has said that he and his team are relishing the challenge of Cardiff in the Sportsground on February 15th after a two week rest period for the squad.
 
The break came after a 13 week in a row run of games that included six Champions Cup games and four interpros in the Pro14.
 
“We went into the break with a strong performance away to Montpellier and while it ended in defeat, we did take a lot of positives from that game. There’s no doubt, that 13 week block did stretch us but the two week break means that the boys come back fresh and ready to challenge for a top three spot in the Pro14. I know we are all really relishing the challenge”, Friend said.
 
Cardiff were the visitors to the Sportsground last season when Connacht secured Champions Cup qualification with a win in that corresponding fixture back in April.
 
In the first installment of the “final five” home games of the season, Friend knows all too well the importance of winning as many home games as possible, especially against Conference rivals;
 
“We are sitting mid table in our conference and it’s a very tight conference but we still have a lot of work to do there. We still have to play Cardiff and Edinburgh twice and Scarlets at home, as well as Benetton away. With all of those teams in our conference its very much all to play for over the next few weeks”, the Head Coach added.
 
The break has also meant that some players carrying injuries have got valuable recovery time, with a number of players eyeing a return to action in the coming weeks.
 
“We can’t say who will be fully fit and available for the Cardiff game but Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux and Darragh Leader have all been progressing well and will hopefully feature in the next few weeks”.
 
Tickets for the clash with Cardiff on February 15th are available here.
 

Second row Niall Murray is set to make his first start for Connacht as they face Leinster in the Pro14 in the RDS on Saturday (Kick off 5:30pm). The 20 year old Roscommon man came off the bench in Connacht’s recent Champions Cup win over Gloucester, but this will be a first start for his home province.

In a boost to Connacht, Gavin Thornbury has returned from injury to partner Murray in the second row. Thornbury has been out of action since he picked up an arm injury against the Cheetahs at the end of October.

In the front row, prop Denis Buckley also returns to the starting team where he lines up alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson McCoy at tighthead. While in the backrow, Eoghan Masterson is included at blindside with his brother and Academy player Sean, named among the replacements.

Scrum half Caolin Blade captains the side in the absence of Jarrad Butler through injury. Blade continues his half back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald.

There is a new look back three for Connacht with Stephen Fitzgerald named at full back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings. While Tom Daly and the versatile Kyle Godwin make up the midfield.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We are fully aware of the challenge we face away to Leinster in the RDS. They have been impressing week in week out in the Pro14 and the Champions Cup and have set the standard so far this season. We really challenged them in the corresponding fixture last season and the lesson from that game is that to beat them you need to deliver a top class performance over eighty minutes, or they will punish you. That is exactly what we are asking of our boys, a consistent performance over the eighty minutes”.

“I am delighted for Niall Murray who gets his first start in a Connacht jersey and there is no bigger challenge for him than going to the RDS to face Leinster. He has really developed his game and is an exciting prospect for the future. He has a good group of experienced heads around him so that is always a help when you’re making your first start”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Leinster (Sat 5:30pm)

(15-9): Stephen Fitzgerald, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt) (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Tom McCartney, Paddy McAllister, Conor Kenny, Joe Maksymiw, Sean Masterson, Stephen Kerins, David Horwitz, Tiernan O’Halloran

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Irish international scrum half Kieran Marmion has signed a three year contract extension with Connacht up to the end of the 2022/23 season.

The 27 year old joined the Connacht Academy in 2011 and since his arrival in the Sportsground has played over 160 games for the province. Marmion’s outstanding form during his time with Connacht has led to him being capped 27 times for Ireland since making his debut against Argentina in 2014.

His international representation began in his teens when he played for Ireland at Under 18, 19 and 20 level.

Commenting on the signing, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Kieran has been an outstanding player for Connacht and for Ireland. He is a diligent professional and through his hard work he has progressed through the Connacht Academy and on to play for Ireland. His progress demonstrates the support that is available to players through our academy pathway.  Kieran’s commitment to Connacht for a further three seasons demonstrates his ambition to contribute at provincial and international level in the coming years. His signing also ensures that we continue to retain a squad equipped to compete at the highest level of European club rugby”.

Ends

The Connacht head coach and captain have said they can’t wait to get started on their European campaign for the season.
 
For the fifth time Connacht will compete in the Heineken Champions Cup, thanks to a quarter-final finish in last season’s Guinness PRO14.
 
Speaking at last week’s EPCR launch in Cardiff, head coach Andy Friend says the squad will be relishing the occasions which begin this weekend at home to Montpellier.
 
It’s a real opportunity for us. We haven’t been in there for a few years now. We earned the right to get in there this year from last year, with our quarter-final finish in the Pro14, so we’re with the big boys and looking forward to it.
 
It’s always great to have a French team travelling. Montpellier, we know the strength of them, they’re a quality side, they’re having a good season this year, but to welcome them to the Sportsground is going to be good for our fans.
 
Once we got in, people start sending in clips and comments about their greatest memories in a Champions Cup: beating Toulouse, beating Wasps, so they’re two special moments that Connacht fans certainly remember and, hopefully, we can give them a few other ones to remember this year.

 
Captain Jarrad Butler will be competing in the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time, and he’s equally looking forward to the opportunity of testing themselves against the best.
 
I’m really excited. To qualify for the Champions Cup is a reflection of the previous year and being able to perform at a high level. So, getting to play against some of the best teams in Europe, or the best teams in Europe, is an exciting prospect and I can’t wait.
 
There’s been a serious buzz, you know. I came from New Zealand and Australia, so I didn’t know much about the Champions Cup competition, but you talk to fans, you talk to players and, you know, some of their fondest memories are from playing in the Champions Cup. It’s beating your Toulouses at home, and the amount of fans that have already spoken about, you know, [how] they’ve booked their flights to Toulouse and Montpellier and things like that, you know. For me personally, it’s just cool to see.
 
Everyone talks so highly about it, you can’t help but just kind of get caught up in the buzz, I suppose. Hopefully we can make some more and I can have some good memories for myself in the coming weeks anyway.
 
Montpellier are such a big team, and to have them down at The Sportsground is an exciting prospect, I think, for the fans and for us as a playing group alike, and I’m looking forward to getting the campaign started in good fashion as well.

 
Connacht begin their Heineken Champions Cup campaign at home to Montpellier this Sunday at the Sportsground, and tickets are still available.
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE

Ahead of tomorrow’s vital Guinness PRO14 clash with the Ospreys, Andy Friend and Eoin McKeon spoke to the media at this week’s pre-match press conference.
 
The pair spoke about moving on from the loss to Glasgow, the challenge facing them at The Sportsground on Saturday, and the importance of the fans as we head into a crucial period of the season.
 

Connacht regained 3rd place in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 on Saturday with a narrow but important win over the Toyota Cheetahs at The Sportsground.
 
That result coupled with losses for Ospreys and the Cardiff Blues means Andy Friend’s side have opened up a lead over their playoff rivals ahead of Friday night’s tough trip to the Glasgow Warriors.
 
The head coach along with Jack Carty spoke to the media about the win and the challenge in the week’s ahead at Saturday’s post-match press conference.
 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Connacht Attack Coach Nigel Carolan, Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy and Defence Coach Peter Wilkins have all signed two year contract extensions to take them up to the end of the 2020-21 season.
 
Making the announcement Friend said: “One of the first things that struck me when I took up the position of Head Coach of Connacht Rugby was the strength of the coaching team that was already in place. They are an exceptional team and one of the best collective groups I have worked with in my coaching career. Obviously a major priority for us has been to retain the services of these guys into the future and I am delighted that we are now in a position to announce this great news. We can now continue to focus on producing an exciting, attacking and ultimately winning brand of rugby for the seasons ahead.
 
Attack Coach Nigel Carolan was Connacht Academy Manager from 2004 to his appointment with the professional team in 2017. He is also former Head Coach of the Ireland Under 20 squad. Commenting on his contract extension, Carolan said: “We have a very clear focus on where we are going as a team and a province, and we are determined to deliver further success in the seasons ahead. We pride ourselves on our attacking style and I am excited about the contribution I can make to that in the coming years.
 
Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy has held his current role since 2015 and was part of the coaching team that won the PRO12 Championship in 2016. He previously worked as Elite Player Development Officer in the Connacht Academy for a four year period. He has also worked with numerous age grade sides within Connacht as Head and Assistant Coach, along with seven seasons with the Ireland Under 18 side. Following his contract signing, Duffy added: “Connacht Rugby is an exciting place to be, both on and off the field. We have made progress this season on all aspects of our game and are continuing to improve. There is even more potential in the squad and I believe that we can maximise that potential in the coming seasons.
 
Also extending his contract is Defence Coach Peter Wilkins who joined Connacht from Edinburgh ahead of the 2017/18 season. He previously worked in Australia with the Queensland Reds Super Rugby side and as Head Coach of Queensland A. Commenting on his contract extension, Wilkins added: “I am extremely honoured to be part of Connacht Rugby and I am delighted to have extended my contract for another 2 years. I am proud of the progression we have made defensively this season and I look forward to working with all of the coaches and the squad to continue that progression in the seasons ahead.

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