Connacht Rugby can confirm Director of Rugby Andy Friend will depart the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.
 
Andy Friend has released the following statement:
 
“My wife Kerri and I have made the decision that our time at Connacht Rugby will finish at the end of this season. This was always on the cards when I signed my two-year extension in 2021, and one that I discussed openly with Willie and Connacht Rugby.
 
It’s certainly not an easy decision to make as we have both genuinely loved everything about our time here in the West of Ireland. From the minute we arrived we were welcomed with open arms and made to feel very much a part of the community and the rich history of the Club.
 
I am very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve both on and off the field as a Team since our arrival, and am driven to do everything in my power to ensure this season is the best one yet.”

 
CEO Willie Ruane has paid tribute to Andy and his impact since 2018:
 
“We’ve been fully aware from when Andy signed his last contract extension with us, that this would be his last, and that he would be moving on at the end of this season. While we are sad to see him go and he will be sorely missed across the organisation, we are very thankful for all he has done for the province in the past five seasons, both on and off the field.
 
In that time, he has led us to many successful days, buying into the Connacht ethos and brand of rugby while overseeing significant changes to our Professional player & coaching profiles.
 
He also embraced life in the West of Ireland, engaging fully with our grassroots clubs around the province and all levels of our Player Pathway Programme. That is evident in the number of players that Andy has promoted from our Academy to make their Connacht debuts in recent years.
 
I’d like to wish Andy, his wife Kerri and the rest of their family every health and happiness for the future.”

 
Andy Friend is in his fifth season at Connacht, having spent four seasons as Head Coach before moving to a Director of Rugby role for 2022/23.
 
His first season in charge included a historic win over Ulster in Belfast, the first for the club in 58 years, with Connacht going on to reach the PRO14 playoffs and securing Heineken Champions Cup qualification.
 
The 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons were dominated by the impact of COVID-19 on and off the field. However further Champions Cup qualification was ensured in both years, with 2021 featuring a 2nd place finish in Conference B and a win over Leinster in Dublin for the first time in 18 years.
 
Last season saw the club reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time in our history.
 
In total he has been in charge for 105 games, helping the team to 51 wins while overseeing significant changes to both the playing squad and coaching setup.
 
51 players were handed their Connacht debuts under Friend, with 21 of those having come through the Connacht pathway system.
 
Connacht Rugby will now commence a process to appoint a replacement for Andy and we will make a further announcement on the outcome of that process when we are in a position to do so.

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.”

Ahead of this week’s pre-season friendlies, Connacht Rugby can announce a number of structural changes to the Professional coaching team for 2022/23.
 
Andy Friend, who has served as Head Coach since 2018, has moved to a new position of ‘Director of Rugby’ with overall responsibility for the rugby programme across our professional setup.
 
As part of this restructure Peter Wilkins assumes the role of Head Coach for the season, more closely reflecting his responsibilities in leading on-field preparation of the team as well as primary responsibility for defence.
 
The rest of the coaching team will consist of Colm Tucker who moves to a new role of Scrum & Contact Coach, Mossy Lawler takes over as Attack & Skills Coach, and Forwards Coach Dewald Senekal who has responsibility for Lineout and Maul.
 
CONNACHT PRO COACHING TEAM 2022/23
Andy Friend – Director of Rugby
Peter Wilkins – Head Coach
Dewald Senekal – Forwards (Lineout and Maul)
Colm Tucker – Scrum & Contact
Mossy Lawler – Attack & Skills

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are looking to end their season on a high with a win over Zebre Parma at the Sportsground in the United Rugby Championship on Saturday, kick-off at 5 PM. 

 

With several players leaving the province at the end of the season, the Australian is keen for them to feel the appreciation of the fans before they depart for new pastures. 

 

Abraham Papali’i, Eoghan Masterson, Peter Robb, and the retiring Matt Healy – among others – will be leaving Connacht and, given large swathes of the previous season were played in empty stadiums, they will be given their send-off in front of an atmospheric Sportsground crowd. 

 

Despite the game wrapping up the campaign, Friend says that training has been at a high level and the players’ focus is on putting on a good showing and securing the victory. 

 

“It’s a tricky period because you have players exiting,” the head coach said. 

 

“You’ve got the last game, which is still an important game because it’s another chance to play in front of your family and friends and support, as well as putting on the Connacht jersey. 

 

“We know we can’t go any lower or any higher on the ladder(the table) but it is still an important game. In fairness to them all, they have been really good and their heads are definitely on, so let’s bring on Saturday.”

 

Mack Hansen and Cian Prendergast picked up awards at last Friday’s Connacht Rugby awards and Friend is looking forward to not only those players, but everyone in the squad making more strides next season. 

 

The Australian also detailed how pleased he was with individual improvements from players in the Connacht pack and the growth of players across the board will increase the level of competition next season and will complement the qualities brought by the new recruits. 

 

“Yeah, I think there were some great performances this year,” he said. 

 

“The boys you named(Hansen and Prendergast) and others as well. I thought the growth of our second-row stocks rose this year. I thought Matthew Burke and Jordan Duggan, when Denis Buckley was out for so long, had enormous growth throughout the course of the year. Jack Aungier came in and improved again. 

 

“There were some really good performers throughout the course of the year, but what’s important is if you have a poor game there are quality footballers sitting behind you. That’s when players tend not to have a poor game, because the pressure’s there. 

 

And that’s what we’re building here at Connacht Rugby where we’re going to have, I believe, a squad of 44 where there’s genuine competition across all positions and slip up, in terms of performances, next season and you might not get another chance.”

Head coach Andy Friend says Connacht are traveling to South Africa for United Rugby Championship games against Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks with an ambition to win their games. 

 

The Irish province kick-off their first game on South African soil against the Lions at Emirates Airline Park at 3:05 PM Irish time on Saturday coming, April 23rd. Then, the following Saturday, on April 30th Friend’s team will play The Sharks at Hollywoods Bet Kings Park, also kicking off at 3:05 PM. 

 

The Sportsground team have a 2-0 record against South African touring teams this season, boasting victories over the Bulls and the Stormers. 

 

In addition to being excited about locking horns with more high-quality South African teams, Friend says the tour can provide a training environment that can see Connacht build into next season with 28 players chosen to travel. 

 

“Our message coming over here is ‘let’s be the first team to have a clean sweep against the South African sides,” the Australian said. 

 

“I know no one has done it to date. We have had a good win against the Bulls and a good win against the Stormers. It’s going to be very tough because there have been 16 games played over here by the opposition over here and only one has been won. 

 

“It’s a tall task, but we’re not coming over here just to fulfill two fixtures. We need to keep ourselves winning hopefully, its what we always intend to do, to keep ourselves in the hunt. We need to prove to ourselves that we are worthy of victory and the game style that we have got can actually get us wins and we have seen that throughout the course of the season, but not consistently enough. 

 

Friend believes that the two-game tour will also provide the ideal opportunity to work on tactics and ideas ahead of next season, which was his and the coaching staff’s reasoning behind only selecting players who will be at the province next term. 

 

“It’s also about giving other players opportunities. You will see with the touring squad we have brought over here, there are players that we know will be gone next year and we haven’t brought them because we want to invest in our future,” he said. 

 

“We want to invest in the people who are going to be here next year, give them the opportunity. There’s a chunk of other boys I wish I could have brought over as well, the likes of Colm Reilly and Sean Masterson, and Oran McNulty. These boys who have been knocking on the door but haven’t had a great deal of opportunity. 

 

“We would have loved to have brought them all, but we are also very conscious of the fact that we’re still in the hunt, definitely, and we’re more about having two performances here and one against Zebre when we go home, that will actually solidify the season we’ve had in terms of wanting to be more respected and making sure that we’re putting our game style out there.”

Head coach Andy Friend is confident that Connacht can find a new level of performance ahead of Friday night’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 first leg clash with Leinster, kick-off 8PM. 

 

After his team defeated Benetton Rugby away in the United Rugby Championship last weekend, Friend says that elements of that performance can build confidence and be applied to the interprovincial showdown with their eastern rivals. 

 

However, the Australian is also aware that Connacht will need to be at their best against a formidable Leinster outfit. 

 

“As a team searching for the winning ways again, and probably a bit of confidence and belief ourselves, we got that, we got a shot of that,” the Australian said. 

 

“I think yesterday and today, with the way the game has been reviewed, leading into the preview of this game, has added more clarity for everybody and more confidence for everybody. We definitely needed that, but we’re going to need that in spades come Friday night and during the following one.”

 

Leinster’s work rate – especially in their defence and at the breakdown – has stifled many teams attacking ambitions and Friend believes that the route to victory for Connacht is to be efficient with their strike plays. 

 

“I think one of the pluses that came out of our last encounter against them was the way we launched our strike plays. I thought we made yards and got in behind them and a lot of that was with 14 men against 15 men. 

 

“I think our launches have been one of the consistent areas of our game this season. If it’s 15 on 15, I’m comfortable and confident that when we get our detail right – and that’s Mossy Lawler who looks after those, I think he has a brilliant eye for opportunity and a brilliant eye on how to pull opposition defence apart – and then it’s about the players executing that.

 

“I think, on the whole, the boys have been really good with that, so it’s actually an area as we enter the game, and we’ll respect the fact that Leinster have a very good defence and they’ll try to shut that down, but I’m going to back the fact that the quality of work that’s gone into the launches is going to be good.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Conor Oliver says that the Connacht squad are excited to lock horns with Leinster on Friday night. 

 

Oliver, who has impressed this season – with his work at the breakdown and in defence particularly standing out – says that he and his teammates are playing at the level, the Heineken Champions knockout stages, where they want to be competing. 

 

And despite losing their last game to Leinster, the former Munster man is confident that Connacht can bag a win in front of their home crowd. 

 

“The main mood is excitement,” the 26-year-old said when asked how the camp were feeling ahead of the first of two continental clashes with Leinster.

 

“We’re excited. These European weeks, they’re different and there’s a different buzz around. This is the biggest game of the season, obviously, so everyone is really excited and ready to tear in. 

 

“We’re very confident in our detail and preparation and most of the lads are just raring to get going on Friday.”

 

Oliver, who joined the province in 2020, said that training – where Connacht have 42 fit players available for selection – has been intense with all the squad extremely eager to play this coming Friday. 

 

“These kinds of training sessions are the only opportunity for some to prove yourself and to show that you’re ready. The training sessions here are always tasty and always on that knife-edge and on that boiling point. I think that’s the kind of intensity that we need in training so that we can bring that into the games. 

 

“There’s massive competition in the squad and any professional athlete would tell you that when there’s competition for places, it makes everyone train better because there are lads at your heels every time. It’s a really good environment and we’re delighted to get the lads back out on the pitches as well; no one wants to see your teammates with long-term injuries.

 

“We had two lads come back last week, Dylan Tierney Martin and Gavin Thornbury, who were out for a long time, and it’s great seeing them back in the mix and putting in good performances in as well.”

Head coach Andy Friend is confident that Connacht will put last weekend’s defeat to Leinster in the United Rugby Championship(URC) behind them when they travel to Benetton Rugby in the URC this coming weekend. 

 

Benetton sit fourteenth in the table this season, but, despite this, Friend is wary of the Italians’ strengths and says that his team will need to be at their best to get what could prove to be a crucial win. 

 

“It’ll be a tough task to go to Bennetton this weekend and we’re licking our wounds again,” the Australian said. 

 

“But I know what this team is capable of and I know if we go over there and do what we can do, we can get a performance and a win.”

 

Friend will have some of his Irish international contingent to call upon in Italy, with Mack Hansen and Finlay Bealham available for selection. However, Bundee Aki – who only arrived back to team training on Tuesday – will not play. 

 

“Bundee only just arrived back today(Tuesday), so he won’t be in the reckoning at this stage. The other two boys(Bealham and Hansen) came back in yesterday and trained well with us and looked fresh and good to go. It’s nice to have that calibre of player coming back in.”

 

Meanwhile, loosehead prop Matthew Burke has praised the work of forwards coach Dewald Senekal at Connacht. 

 

The South African was appointed last summer after years of coaching in the French Top 14, where he coached current Connacht player Leva Fifita at Grenoble. 

 

Senekal has put a particular emphasis on the maul – both in attack and defence – and his friendly nature has made it easy for players to communicate with him, says the Mayo native prop. 

 

“I think one thing about him is he’s a very approachable guy, a very friendly guy,” Burke said of the forwards coach. 

 

“That’s really worked well, in terms of bringing us together as a forward pack. We’re very close. He’s targeted certain focus areas, like our maul defence and maul attack, which has been a been big focus for us this season and not conceding tries. “

 

“Every time we review a match, we ask ‘did we concede a maul try?’ and we kind of give ourselves a little pat on the back if we were particularly good at that. The maul would be the biggest change, in terms of where we have targeted something different.”

 

The coming weeks will bring big games – in Europe and domestically – for Connacht and Burke says that the squad are looking forward to the challenges. 

 

“Obviously we are tremendously disappointed with the way that went,” the Ballinrobe man said of last weekend’s defeat to Leinster at the Sportsground. 

 

“At this stage, we’ve just had to park it. We can’t let that bleed in and affect us this weekend. We have reviewed it yesterday, talked a bit about it today and now we’re really focusing on Bennetton. 

 

“Obviously it’s a big game this weekend. Bennetton are obviously a lot stronger than maybe they would have been a couple of seasons ago. They are playing good rugby and they have a lot of internationals in there.”

 

Burke is confident that Connacht have learned from recent defeats and that they can apply these lessons going forward and turn losses into wins. 

 

“We’ve got a number of games over the next few weeks, both the URC(United Rugby Championship) and those two Leinster games in the Heineken Champions Cup, and we’re targeting every game for a win.

 

“Unfortunately, because of results during the season, we have kinda taken things out of hands in terms of how we qualify for the URC, but we’re really just targeting every game we’re going into as a must-win We’re confident. We know what we’re capable of. 

 

“Some of the losses have been hurtful – that loss versus Leinster and the loss to Edinburgh – but we know what we’re capable of and we know what went wrong and how we can fix it, so we’re still confident going forward that we can do really well and finish the season on a high.”

 

Head coach Andy Friend wants to see his team bring a high intensity and physicality to Saturday’s 7:35 PM United Rugby Championship interprovincial game with Leinster at The Sportsground.

 

After a disappointing defeat to Edinburgh last time out, Friend is keen for his side to make amends this coming Saturday and the key to that – he says – is playing with bravery, on both sides of the ball, and speed, hallmarks of Connacht’s tactical blueprint.

 

“What I want to see when we’re carrying is we’re carrying with real intent and the opposition defenders who are trying to slow our ruck ball – which they will be – removed with real physicality,” the Australian said.

 

Sticking to Connacht’s principles – which have resulted in victories against Leinster before – is what Friend wants from his players and he wants to see those strategies put into practice from the first whistle on Saturday evening.

 

“We want our physicality to show, a functioning set piece where we’re winning our line out and defending well against their line out,” the former Australian Sevens coach said.

 

“Our kicking game being accurate and doing what we’re meant to be doing on it and our fundamentals, our key principles that we talk about ad nauseam, around attack and defence are being adhered to and we have 15 players connected on the field.

 

“If we see that, it should be a good afternoon.”

 

Meanwhile, Captain Jarrad Butler says that Connacht are focusing on the upcoming United Rugby Championship clash with Leinster at the Sportsground on Saturday as an individual game and not as part of a trilogy of fixtures against the Eastern province.

 

After Andy Friend’s men host Leinster at 7:35 PM on Saturday in the league, they will face the reigning league champions twice more in the Heineken Champions Cup in the following weeks, meaning that three of Connacht’s next four fixtures in all competitions will be interprovincial’s against their eastern rivals.

 

However, Butler knows that taking it each game at a time is the right approach and that is the mentality across the whole squad and coaching staff.

 

“Playing any team three times in four weeks is bizarre, I haven’t been in a situation like that before,” the back-row forward said.

 

“Those other two games, in the Champions Cup, we haven’t really started to focus on those now. We have put ourselves under some pressure with the URC(United Rugby Championship).

 

“I think if you went into this week you could put a lot of pressure on yourself, but I don’t think we can do that. We just have to focus on the game this week and do what we can do to put in a really good performance at home against really good opposition.

 

“I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we thought too long term, we just have to focus on this week.”

 

Butler is excited by the prospect of locking horns with Leinster, a team and squad he rates as among the best in Europe.

 

However, the 30-year-old says that the key to any Connacht win will be focusing on themselves and their own game rather than devising a plan solely based on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.

 

“That Leinster team is just full of so much talent. One of their biggest strengths is their depth,” the former Brumbies man said.

 

“They have got two full teams that they can put out on the pitch and can do a really good job for them. I think you can’t get too caught up in the selection of that team. You kinda have to worry about your own things, because you really don’t know what kind of team they are going to put out on the field.

 

“Regardless, all of them are class, they are littered with international players, really high-quality players. It is what it is, you can’t think too much about it, you just have to focus on your stuff. If you get too worried about the team that’s in front of you, you’re halfway to losing the game already.”

Head coach Andy Friend wants Connacht to be aggressive and physically brave in Saturday’s 1 PM kick-off United Rugby Championship meeting with the DHL Stormers at the Sportsground. 

 

Connacht kept their Champions Cup qualification hopes for next season alive last weekend when they defeated the Scarlets in Wales 29-23.

 

The Stormers will pose a different challenge, but Friend – citing the 34-7 win over their compatriots, The Bulls, last October as an example that should provide confidence – is confident that his team can win if they stick to their tactical blueprint. 

 

“The blueprint is not too dissimilar to the Bulles,” the Australian said. 

 

“We know we’re up against a very physical side, so we’re going to have to front up physically. We have got to not be afraid to put bodies in front defensively. I think probably more so than against the Bulls, they are full of threats in the backfield, so our kicking game has got to be spot on. 

 

“And then similar when we played the Bulls, I thought we made the most out of all our opportunities. We got into the score zone and we executed, so our ability to look after the ball and to take our chances when opportunities present ourselves; if we can do all that, I think we can put ourselves in a very good position. 

 

“And if we don’t, they have enough firepower to really hurt us, so it will be a good contest.”

 

After last weekend’s win away to the Scarlets – the first in the league in Connacht’s history – Friend is keen for his team to find consistency and to knit a run of wins together. 

 

“It’s really important(to gain that consistency). That’s the beauty of this competition. Someone asked me the other day if the season looked like it was dwindling out, but it’s not; we still have eight games to go. 

 

“The teams that we’re playing, they’re either ahead of us or around us so there’s still a lot that can happen. The only thing that we can control is what we do on Saturday. It’s really important that we back that up(the Scarlets win) now and really important that we just don’t leave it.

 

“It was a good performance and a courageous performance, I thought, against a good Scarlets side, but if we leave it there, it won’t have counted for much. We’re very clear in our reckoning that out of the next seven games, we must win five of them. 

 

“We’ll be attempting to win seven of them, so ideally, we’ll target this one on the weekend and see how we go.”

 

Meanwhile, centre Tom Daly is keen to make up for lost time after his recent injury absences. 

 

The Carlow native returned to action last weekend away to the Scarlets after a number weeks out with injury and contributed an excellent performance, capped by providing two try assists for teammates in the victory in Wales. 

 

And now Daly is looking to contribute as much as he can to the Connacht cause between now and the end of the season. 

 

“Yeah, definitely, it’s always frustrating being injured,” he said. 

 

“I think I have been very lucky since I came to Connacht, I hadn’t had an injury since I’ve been here. I was on a nice roll, but unfortunately, injuries are a part of rugby and you’re always going to pick up one here or there and it was tough missing that block because there was a lot of big games in it. 

 

“Obviously the four European games, you want to be part of them and then the big interpros over Christmas as well, so it wasn’t the nicest block to miss but it’s just good to be back out there now and back winning games as well last weekend, which is good.”

 

The Stormers are Connacht’s next opponents when they visit the Sportsground and Saturday and Daly is expecting an exciting and physical affair. 

 

The key to any home win, the former Ireland sevens player said, is to front up in the physical stakes and not allow the visitors to release their talented backline. 

 

“I think you can expect from all South African teams that they are going to have a massive pack with big carriers and a really big back-row who are good over the ball and then some really good individuals in the backs. 

 

“I know one of their wingers, Seabelo Senatla, he is a former sevens player and I played against him at under ’20s and I remember he was electric back then and he’s the same now. Their whole back three looks very dangerous. 

 

“They are pretty similar to the Bulls team we played earlier in the season. A big heavy pack with good individuals in the backs, so it’s about fronting up physically and meeting them head-on, like we did with the Bulls earlier on in the year and then trying to keep their outside backs quiet by taming their forwards a little bit.”

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are keen to right the wrongs of last weekend’s defeat to Glasgow Warriors when they face off us against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening.

 

The Australian described last Saturday’s performance in the 42-20 defeat at home to the Scottish team as unacceptable, given the strides the team and squad have made this season and the positive impression they wanted to make in front of a full house at the Sportsground. 

 

However, Friend is confident that Connacht – whose training sessions have been aggressive and intense, with players looking to make amends and put their hands up for selection – can get back to winning ways on Friday, despite acknowledging the many qualities of Ulster.

 

“We actually saw a response yesterday afternoon,” the former Australia Sevens coach said.

 

“We put it to bed yesterday morning. We had a lengthier team meeting yesterday morning. The players were good. They get it and they own it. Things were presented to them and conversations were had, but we parked it as of about 10:30 yesterday morning. 

 

“What we saw today was a much more energized team today like we’re used to seeing and what we thought we were going to see last Saturday.”

 

Friend says that the key to any win for the Westerners will be focusing on their own game and executing to the standard they know they can, rather than shaping their game plan depending on their opponents with the October win over the Westerners’ interprovincial rivals providing the template.

 

“It’s got to be about us. The last time we played Ulster at The Aviva, we had that hunger and physicality about us and we took the game to them and that’s what, unfortunately, you didn’t see last Saturday.

 

“It’s about us taking the game to Ulster. They’re a good team, so they don’t lose at the Kingspan very often. But we have shown, over the last few years, that if we do front up there and if we do play a brand of football with that physical edge to it, we actually can get wins against them. 

 

“So, it’s about us turning up and doing that.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row Jarrad Butler says that the Westerners’ trip to Ulster on Friday evening poses a massive challenge.

 

The Sportsground men won the sides’ last meeting 36-11 in a brilliant performance at The Aviva Stadium last October. 

 

And after three defeats in a row – including in Europe and the league – Butler hopes that the interprovincial in Belfast will spark Connacht back into a winning run of form.

 

“Yeah, it’s a massive challenge,” the former Brumbies flanker said.

 

“I think it’s exactly what we need to try and bounce back from last week and then a couple of close games before that as well. We really need to get ourselves back into the winner’s circle.

 

“I think Ulster are the perfect opposition for that. They have been outstanding for the past few games. They have been consistent, they have been playing really good footy. But like you said, we’ve had some really good results against Ulster. 

 

“I think back to the Aviva and we were able to put them under a lot of pressure, we were able to move forward and assert ourselves and we think if we can do that again, we can definitely get a good result, that’s for sure.”

 

Last weekend’s home defeat to the Glasgow Warriors – coupled with the narrow European reversals against Leicester Tigers and Stade Francais in the previous weekends – have provided lessons for Connacht and Butler believes they are ready to apply them when they lock horns with Ulster.

 

“There was a bit of extra physicality and energy this morning at the training session but it was good and it was warranted because we needed a kick up the rear end, you know what I mean?

 

“I think we have to be able to look back at that and say ‘hey, let’s not put ourselves in a position, sitting in the sheds, scratching our heads and wondering what happened out there for the last 80 minutes. We need to have a reaction.”

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