By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are excited to start their Rainbow Cup campaign, with Friday night’s trip to Ulster first on the agenda. 

 

After the Westerners’ trip to Belfast, Leinster will travel to the Sportsground on May the 8th with Connacht’s trip to Munster on May 14th completing the initial trio of interprovincial clashes. 

 

Further details of the rounds four, five, and six fixtures — with games against South African teams —  will be released in due course. 

 

Friend said the players are eager to make up for the disappointment of their Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of Leicester Tigers last time out and the mood among the playing personnel is good ahead of Friday’s interprovincial. 

 

“We’re all looking forward to getting stuck into this new Rainbow Cup, whatever it looks like,” the Australian said. 

 

“Ulster on Friday night gives us our next opportunity. The energy around the group has been good, the feeling around the group has been good. We can’t wait to get up there to Kingspan and have a shot.” 

 

Managing the game against Ulster  — who will meet Leicester in the semi finals of the Challenge Cup —  and being strong in defence and at the set-piece will be key to the outcome, Friend believes. 

 

“We know where we’re at when things are on song,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“When our defence is getting out off the line, and we’re managing the game in the right direction and our set-piece is on top. We know exactly what we can produce and the disappointing thing is that — in all little areas — we haven’t been at our best in the last few weeks. 

 

“We know what we can produce and we know when we have produced that, we have made life difficult for Ulster in the past. But when we haven’t, and that happened at the Sportsground earlier in the year, they have managed to get the win. 

 

“We have to make sure we put out our best performance and that’s our intention to go and do that.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham feels that the Rainbow Cup interprovincial contests will provide the opportunity for players to put their hand up for Irish national team selection, as well as being games that they love playing in. 

 

With a scheduled tour of the Pacific Islands this summer, Bealham — who was involved with the Irish squad during the Six Nations — described the trio of all Ireland clashes as Irish trials for players. 

 

With the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa coinciding with Ireland’s summer tour, there may be even more vacancies for players to force their way into the international fold. 

 

“Those Interpro games are where lads put their hands up for national selection,” the 29-year-old said. 

 

“They’re almost like Irish trials, aren’t they? You see the boys in their best form for these games and it has all the ingredients for Friday night to be a great game. We’re really looking forward to it.”

 

On a personal level, Bealham — who was brought in to the Irish camp as cover for their final Six Nations games, against Scotland and England — is keen to force his way back into the national team picture and add to his fourteen caps. 

 

While wearing the Irish green again is an ambition, the prop says that, first and foremost, his concentration is on performing at his best and helping the Connacht cause, starting on Friday night.

 

“Of course it’s always in the back of your mind that the Irish selectors will be watching these performances and they’ll be looking closely and analysing the game. I know it’s a cliche, but I would be worried about doing my best for the team and doing my role, and executing that as best I can. 

 

“It’s about making the lads either side of you look good, whether that’s in the scrum or in the maul and it’s about doing those selfless things that ultimately make a team better. I think when we’re performing well as a team, more boys will get selected, and yeah it’s not about me going out and scoring ten tries and saying ‘pick me’. It’s just doing my job and doing it to the best of my ability. 

 

“Those interpros, I love them, they’re very fiery and very physical.”

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to stick to their own game plan and processes in Saturday’s European Challenge Cup last 16 clash away to Leicester Tigers. 

 

The Tigers are known for their physical approach and boast a massive set of forwards and — with former England forwards coach Steve Borthwick at their coaching helm — possess a strong and consistent set-piece. 

 

Friend, however, is confident that playing with their trademark speed and creativity is the Westerners’ best course of tactical action while warning that the team will need to be disciplined in order to limit the hosts attacking options. 

 

“Work rate is going to be really important, we’re going to have to put move them,” the Australian said of Connacht’s game plan.

 

“Not too dissimilar to what you saw when we beat Leinster at the RDS, we outworked them and we outworked them early and we got some scores on the board and then they had to chase.

 

“Our intent, both with and without the football, we’ll be able to see that. If we don’t have the footy, our desire is to go up and shut down their time and space. When we do have the ball, we’ll have to win those collisions, but if we do we’ll have to be brave enough to play as well. 

 

Friend maintains that the Challenge Cup, which he describes as chapter two of the Westerners campaign, provides Connacht with the opportunity to win silverware this season and fulfill their ambition of winning a trophy, a goal they set at the beginning of the rugby year. 

 

“This is chapter two of our season, chapter one is finished,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“We didn’t make that final(PRO14), and it was disappointing. We keep talking about it as a squad, winning silverware, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re in the top 16 and if you win five games you win silverware. That would be the intention — certainly, it is my intention — and I know as a group of coaches and players that is our collective intention. We want to go and win it. 

 

“So, there is pressure on the game. We know that Connacht’s form against English sides hasn’t been great over the course of history, so we get an opportunity to go and correct that. We know we’re up against a very formidable side, so it’s no mean feat but we’re going there — and I want us to put pressure on ourselves — to perform because this is the mark of sides that can show the growth that I believe is taking place here.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that Connacht have put a huge focus on their defence heading into the European showdown against Leicester. 

 

In the Westerners last outing — a 41-36 defeat at the Scarlets — Boyle felt their defence let the team down, but the former Irish international said that the players are keen to apply the lessons they’ve learned from that game at Welford Road at 8 pm on Saturday evening. 

 

“I would be very confident to say it’s not going to happen again,” the Gorey native said of Connacht’s defensive prospects against the Premiership team. 

 

“We put a huge focus on it this week and we have trained really well. We’re looking forward to going after them this week defensively.”

 

Boyle — who represented Ireland at under 20’s level — said that the remaining games, both in Europe and the Rainbow Cup, will be a shop window for Connacht players to put their hands up for international selection.

 

“That is obviously one of my main goals at the moment(earning Irish selection),” the 24-year-old said. 

 

“It comes off the back of playing well enough and I am always a big advocate of ‘if you’re playing well enough for your province you’re going to get picked’. I’m working hard and I’m just trying to play my best every week and those games are a good showpiece for yourself and a good showpiece for the team to try and get those international honours.”

 

Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler — two of the Westerners’ most experienced players — will miss the Tigers fixture through suspension, but Boyle says that their presence in training is beneficial to the team. 

 

“Those guys have been brilliant in training. Those guys have been on team two and they’re brilliant players when they’re defending and when they’re attacking and they’re really challenging us. Even in the chats we’ve had, they’re giving us really good insight and they’re really helping us this week. 

 

“They have been brilliant since they’ve come back. Obviously they’re disappointed that they can’t play but they have been really good for the team.”

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend insists that Connacht can finish their season on a positive note, despite last weekend’s narrow defeat to Munster meaning the Westerners cannot win domestic silverware this term. 

 

After the 20-17 reversal at Thomond Park, Connacht now sit 12 points behind their Southern rivals in Conference B in the PRO14, which — with two games remaining — is an unassailable lead. 

 

However, with the Westerners drawn away to Leicester Tigers in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup and the remaining PRO14 fixtures providing the opportunity to nail down second place, Friend believes that the Sportsground team can still have a successful season, starting with Edinburgh at home on Saturday night.

 

“I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for us,” The Australian said of Connacht’s prospects in the Challenge Cup, which will restart on the weekend of April the second, third or fourth.

 

“We started out, at the front end of the year, in The Champions Cup and as the way the year has fallen we’ve moved back into the Challenge Cup. We also now know we won’t be competing for silverware in this initial period of the PRO14.

 

“Silverware and podium finishes is where we want to be, especially looking at this Challenge Cup as a real opportunity for us to go and win something. We have actually broken a few records this year — some good, some not so good — home losses and away wins. If we broke another one and that’s cracking a win in England; fantastic, I would be all for that.”

 

Connacht defeated Edinburgh 37-26 in the reverse fixture in October and Friend insists that the clash with the Scots is a match that the Westerners will look to win. But the game will also see the Sportsground team rotate players who have seen less game time recently given the opportunity to start. 

 

“We’re certainly going to be picking a team that we want to win in this contest, but I think it is a really good opportunity for us to provide a platform to certain individuals. That’s not taking anything away nor disrespecting Edinburgh at all,” the former Australian sevens coach said.

 

“We’ll wait to see what that side is when we put it out there, but I see these last two games as being a really good chance in a year where we haven’t had a lot of rugby for certain people to give people some game time and hopefully we can see a good performance from them as they have been waiting for an opportunity to deliver.”

 

Meanwhile, prop Denis Buckley says that Edinburgh will provide a stern test for the Connacht pack and they will have to be at their physical best to defeat the Scotsmen. 

 

The Roscommon native also highlighted the set-piece as an area where the Scots — who are coached by former England international hooker Richard Cockerill — are particularly strong and the Westerners, he says, will have to come out on top of that battle in order to win.

 

“I know it’s a bit of a cliche to say around rugby games, but they are a pretty, direct physical team, so to match that will be vital. It starts with the forwards.

 

“They have a good set-piece and they play a forward-oriented game. We have to meet fire with fire there and try to get on top in that part of the game will give us a pretty good foundation to get a victory”.

 

Reacting to Connacht’s Challenge Cup draw away to Leicester Tigers, Buckley acknowledged the size of the challenge in facing the Tigers, one of European Rugby’s most storied clubs. 

 

However, the loose-head believes that the Westerners can win the competition, especially with their strong away form this season. Should the Sportsground men progress they will face either Newcastle Falcons or Ospreys at home in the quarter-final.

 

“They’re obviously a really good side. It would have been nice to have a home draw, but this is the card we have been dealt. Look, we have two big games in the league first and we want to tie down that second place. 

 

“But then, it’s a really exciting game to start building towards. Our away form has been really good this year and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be looking to win that competition. It’ll start with a good performance against them, hopefully.”

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that the breakdown will be a key area of battle when Connacht entertain The Cardiff Blues this Saturday at 7:35 PM in the Guinness PRO14. 

 

In the reverse fixture — a 29-7 victory for the Welsh team in Newport last October — Friend believes that the Blues got the upper hand at the breakdown and this prevented the Westerners from turning their territory and possession into more tries. 

 

But the Australian is confident that Connacht have learned from the defeat and they can apply those lessons on Saturday evening. 

 

“The big word for us is being clinical, being clinical when it really matters against a side that’s a very good defensive side,” the head coach said. 

 

“I thought their defence was outstanding(in the first game between the teams), so we are going to have to play a really smart game,  as we always have to do. We have to make sure we’re not running into the blue brick wall, especially close to the ruck where they are really dominant. 

 

“They got four or five blokes who love to jackal over the ball. So, when we do carry we have to carry hard and the speed of that support has got to be really good. If we can come out of that game having lost no turnovers, it would be an amazing game. 

 

“We’re normally guilty of about six or seven turnovers at the breakdown against them. If we can come out with anything less than two I would be really happy with that and we would probably be having a win.”

 

In the Westerner’s last game, a 30-20 win away to the Dragons, Shane Delahunt played a prominent role with a hand in three of Connacht’s four tries in the bonus-point victory. 

 

Friend praised the hookers’ skillset and said that having a multifaceted player like the Offaly native, who is able to assume playmaking and creative responsibilities, is a huge boost to the team. 

 

“It’s really helpful,” the former Australian sevens coach said of the 27-year-old’s ability to play make, and facilitate attacks. 

 

“He is a really creative player and a very clever footballer. He’s probably not your traditional style hooker, although his set-piece is excellent. What he gives you around the park is the capacity to create something out of nothing. 

 

“His performance, in two of those tries in particular — the offload to Abraham(Papali’i) and then the break out of the maul and the pop to Caolin Blade — was really, really special. He’s probably one of the only blokes that can deliver that on a consistent basis.”

 

Meanwhile, winger Alex Wootton praised the positive welcome he has received as a Connacht player and said that the environment around the camp has helped him settle quickly and show his best form. 

 

The 26-year-old, who is on loan at the Sportsground from Munster, has scored eight tries in all competitions this season and finds himself second in the PRO14 top try-scorer list, a solitary try behind Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee. 

 

“Yeah, I am,” Wooton said when he was asked whether he was pleased with how his move to the province has panned out so far. 

 

“I think the biggest thing for me is obviously game time. That was the biggest thing coming here, was trying to find a spot in the team and seizing the opportunity. 

 

“But it’s been so much more than I expected, being honest. Everyone here has been so welcoming. I have fitted in relatively well and the guys are second to none. There are definitely no complaints”. 

 

The former Irish sevens player agreed with Friend’s assessment that Connacht need to be efficient in attack against Cardiff, especially given the organisation and strength of the visitors’ defence. 

 

The speedster is sure that Connacht can prize the away team’s stubborn rearguard open and says that any home win will be dependent on their ability to take the try-scoring chances that are presented to them.

 

“Defences are so good nowadays, especially in their own half,” the winger said.

 

“You get one or two opportunities, especially as a back three player, and you have to take those opportunities while you can. That’s really the way the game has gone, whichever opposition you’re playing. But these guys especially, they like to defend. 

 

“There will be a few opportunities like there is in every game, and it will depend on whether or not we take them.”

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to be clinical in order to return to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 away to the Dragons at 7:35 pM on Friday evening. 

 

The Westerners go into the clash at Rodney Parade looking to make amends after a 26-20 reversal at home to the Ospreys two weekends ago.

 

The hosts, meanwhile, were also defeated by the Swansea based team in their last PRO14 game and Friend says that Connacht will need to take the scoring opportunities they create against the Welshmen to seal a win.

 

“For us, it’s going to be about our execution. That’s the area we haven’t been as clinical in as we have needed to be of late. That’s something we have been working to get is to make sure that we nail those opportunities when we get them. That’s going to be paramount,” the Australian said.

 

“It’s about turning up there and when the opportunities we create — which we are creating a lot — and we get into that ‘A zone’ we have to be far more formidable. To win away from home, that’s what you have to do.”

 

Friend recently renewed his contract to stay with the western province for another two years and he said that the decision to extend his deal was easy to make, given his faith in the project at the club.

 

After joining Connacht in the summer of 2018, the former Australian sevens coach said that he is eager to build on the work of the past two and a half years at the Sportsground, especially given the encouraging support from the club and the Irish Rugby Football Union.

 

“I said at the time it was announced that it was a pretty easy decision,” the head coach said.

 

“Once we got our heads around — my wife and I — our family situation and knowing we will be spending time with them soon hopefully.  We’re very keen to see them. That’s not a Connacht issue that’s a world issue.  And also knowing that Connacht were going to give us support — that has been mooted from the IRFU — so once those two things came through, it was a pretty easy decision for us.

 

“I am at a place now where I am very comfortable. It doesn’t mean I have stopped learning, I’m learning all the time. We believe — I say we, my wife and I — we found a place here in Galway, with Connacht, that we really do enjoy and I do believe we’re building something special and I would love to see it through.”

 

Elsewhere, hooker Shane Delahunt says that the mood in the camp is positive ahead of Friday evening’s trip to Wales.

 

After a week off last weekend, the squad, he says, are re-energized and keen to return to winning ways against the Dragons and are looking to bring a consistent performance across the entire 80 minutes.

 

”The mood is good,” the Offaly native noted.

 

“The weather’s obviously not good, we could do with better weather to train in but that’s part and parcel of being here. I think the mood is good. I think the game is a must-win if we have any aspirations of going forward.

 

“Consistency has probably been our problem over the last few weeks. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s probably consistency within games as well. We’ve been really good in parts, but there have been a few minutes here and there where we knocked off and it’s affected us massively in regards to getting a result.

 

“We’re looking forward to this weekend. A week off last week, so we’re happy to get going.”

 

Delahunt, 27, said that Friend’s contract renewal is great news for the club and praised the Australian’s honest man-management style and the impact it has had on his career to date.

 

“It’s great to get some clarity, no matter what way it happened,” the former Lansdowne player said of the head coach’s contract renewal.

 

“It was obviously a no brainer for Connacht to keep him on. His man-management is second to none and he’s a bright person around the place, which is important. What he’s done for me is he’s been honest with me and that’s all I can ask from him because that’s the kind of person I am. I’m straight up and what you see is what you get and I like that in return and that’s the way he’s been with me and I think that’s helped me over the last three years.”

 

 

Connacht Rugby and the IRFU are delighted to confirm Head Coach Andy Friend has signed a new two-year contract extension, keeping him at The Sportsground until the end of the 2022/23 season.
 
Friend is in his third season at the province, having joined in the summer of 2018 following Head Coach roles in Australia, England and Japan and finally as Head Coach of the Australian Sevens side.
 
In his first campaign Connacht reached the Guinness PRO14 playoffs, ensuring Heineken Champions Cup qualification in the process. Back-to-back Champions Cup qualification was secured during the shortened 2019/20 season, and the side currently sit in 2nd place in Conference B of this season’s campaign.
 
Friend has also fully embraced Connacht Rugby’s commitment to the development of players coming through our grassroots system, handing professional debuts to 15 Connacht Academy players in less than three years.
 
Commenting on today’s announcement, CEO of Connacht Rugby Willie Ruane says Friend’s decision to remain at the club is a big boost for the organisation:
 
“Everyone at Connacht Rugby has been really impressed by what Andy has brought to the province in his three seasons here. He has bought into everything we are trying to achieve and brings a positive culture and ethos to the entire organisation. Whilst Andy has been instrumental in helping our existing players become better players, he has also given our Academy players the opportunities to impress and in doing so enabled us to build the depth we require to succeed”.
 
Andy Friend says he’s thrilled to continue his role with Connacht Rugby:
 
“Ever since my wife and I moved to the West of Ireland I have been blown away by both the welcome we have received from the people here, as well as the pride they have for their province and for Connacht Rugby. It has been a really enjoyable time for both of us and it was an easy decision to commit to a further two years.
 
There’s a hugely exciting few years ahead for Connacht, both on the field with the squad we have and off the field with the redevelopment of The Sportsground. I want to play my part in the next stage of this journey and I will do all I can to build on the progress we have made to-date and ensure we deliver on the real potential that exists within this group.”

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to bring an aggressive line speed and accurate kicking game in order to beat the Ospreys this coming Sunday in the Guinness PRO14.

 

Originally scheduled for November, the clash with the Welshmen will now take place at 3 pM on Sunday at the Sportsground, and Friend, whose team sit second in conference B,  is wary of the offensive threat of the Welsh region.

 

Praising the impact the Ospreys’ coach, Toby Booth, has had on their attack, the Australian believes that the Westerners will have to counteract their potent attacking game with strong defensive line speed.

 

”That line speed for us is really important,” Friend said.

 

“They do have a, with Toby Booth coming in this year, healthy attack. Toby comes from Quins(Harlequins) and London Irish and Bath and I have worked against Toby many years ago and you know he wants to throw that ball around. They’re trying to play, so that line speed is important to us.

 

The head coach also confirmed that Connacht will be looking to get the upper hand at the set-piece, highlighting the excellent work forwards coach Jimmy Duffy has done with the pack and, in particular, the defensive line out and how the Westerners can use it as an attacking weapon.

 

“The other important part to us is the way we kick,” the former Australian sevens coach said.

 

“They have got a pretty dangerous back three, so we reckon an area we’ll be able to get an advantage over them is our line out. Our line out defence has been superb this year, so we won’t be afraid to put the ball off the field,  rather than give it to their back three, and try to challenge their line out from there.”

 

Friend, meanwhile, said that the Connacht squad have benefited from a week off. After narrowly falling to a defeat to Munster two weekends ago, the Sportsgrond team didn’t have a game last weekend and the head coach is optimistic that they can utilize this freshness in the clash with the Ospreys.

 

“I said to a few of the boys that I saw this morning, ‘as much as I like you blokes, it was nice not seeing you for a week’,” the Canberra native joked.

 

”It was the break we probably all needed. I’m not going to say we had a break because there’s still a lot going on, but a change in routine. People bounced back in this morning and there’s a spring in the step and we’re looking forward to what this weekend brings us.”

 

Elsewhere, second row Ultan Dillane says he is enjoying his rugby and he is concentrating on a strong end to the season with Connacht.

 

The 27-year-old has performed consistently for the Westerners’ this season and has been part of the Irish international squad, where he brought his cap total up to 17.

 

But the Kerry native isn’t focusing on the upcoming Six Nations squad and is keeping his mind on playing as well as he can for the western province, which, he is confident, will lead to him being included in more national squads.

 

“I’m trying to keep my head with Connacht and I think the way it is is if you play well enough then you’ll get your merit after that,” the Connacht academy graduate said.

 

“You can’t be thinking too far ahead, cause that’s what will really wreck you if things don’t go well. I am kinda more focused on what’s in front of me right now and that’s the Ospreys this weekend.”

 

Dillane also praised the leadership qualities of the squad and said that he has been impressed with how the players have dealt with the adversity brought on by covid, especially with the rescheduling of games.

 

Several players, including Eoghan Masterson, Quinn Roux and Paul Boyle, have lead the Westerners out as captain this season and the Irish international feels that the squad, as a whole, have learned from this.

 

“We’ve had numerous different captains this year and everyone has learned a little bit from that. Everyone has had a similar message like that it’s just being moment focused. There are so many leaders in this squad and I feel we don’t panic over anything anymore, because of how weird the year has been and it is kinda refreshing as well.”

 

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to replicate the level of performance shown in their victory over Leinster when they entertain Munster in the Guinness PRO14 this Saturday at 7:35 PM. 

 

The Westerners sealed their 35-24 win at the RDS last weekend — which was their first win away to Leinster since 2002 — through a performance built on intensity on both sides of the ball. The attack yielded four tries, while the defence was organised and aggressive.

 

Friend believes that Connacht will need to produce a similar showing against a Munster team coming to the Sportsground looking to make amends for losing away to Ulster in their last interprovincial clash.

 

“It’s a  crucial game for both”, the Australian said of the upcoming Interpro derby.

 

“I think we’ll get what you always going to get from Munster. They’re going to be physical. When they get a penalty, they’re going to kick to the corner and maul you or they’ll kick three points.  That’s how they get their points, so we’ll have to make sure we’re squeaky clean with our discipline and make sure we don’t give them easy access.

 

“When they do get in(Connacht territory) which they will, no doubt, we’ve gotta make sure that we’re as brave as we were on Saturday, which was really impressive. We know we’re going to have to bring that for 80 minutes. We know exactly what’s coming from Munster. They’re a quality outfit and they’ll have a point to prove.”

 

Friend, meanwhile, praised the leadership characteristics of his squad and that of the several Connacht players who have lead the team out as captains already this season and in the recent past.

 

Quinn Roux — who skippered the team versus Leinster — Paul Boyle, and Jarrad Butler have all captained the team this season and Friend said that their different methods of leadership have helped the squad as a whole.

 

“It’s one of the things we have been trying to build, is our leadership group,” the Australian said.

 

“You will have seen Jarrad’s been our captain, but we’ve also had Caolin Blade, Dave Heffernan, and Paul Boyle as captain and they all bring something different. Eoghan Masterson has stepped in there, too. All those blokes are in our leadership group and they all have a different way of doing it.

 

“It’s just about trying to get a blend of the best bits of their respective leadership qualities and using it at the time. Quinn certainly the way he speaks is, ‘I demand this from you and I want you to deliver for me’, whereas some of the other leaders are ‘follow me, watch what I do and see if you can emulate that.”

 

Elsewhere, centre Tom Daly complimented the culture that Friend and his coaching staff have created at Connacht and says that is has helped him  — and indeed other players — play to the best of their abilities.

 

The 27-year-old continued his impressive run of form with a try versus Leinster — which capped a strong all-round performance against his former club — and he said that the opportunity for game time with the Westerners, coupled with the team spirit at the Sportsground, has helped him acclimatize after his move to the province in December 2018.

 

“The culture is obviously brilliant here,” the Carlow native said.

 

“I think the main thing is getting minutes on the pitch. I’m just really enjoying my time here. I love Galway and I love the lads in the squad. I get on really well with Friendy as well. I think he’s such a good head coach and he’s built such a good culture at this club. I think if you ask anyone in this squad are they happy, they’re all pretty happy whether they’re playing or not.”

 

Daly said that he has enjoyed forming a midfield pairing with Sammy Arnold and that the Irish international’s work rate is helping the team, both in attack and defence. The pair have been regular partners in the centre this season and the former Irish Sevens player said that Arnold’s defensive work has allowed him to express himself in an attacking sense.

 

“I’m enjoying playing with Sammy, to be honest,” the former Lansdowne player said of his centre partner.

 

“He’s a bit of a dog on the pitch and I think and some of the work he does goes unnoticed. He brings really good line speed outside me and that gives me confidence. He does a lot of the unseen work that frees me up to carry a little bit more.

 

“We share the load quite well and we’re kinda building a bit of a combination now. He’s really easy to play with and he talks loads outside me and I’m really enjoying it and I think the move has worked out well for him coming down from Munster. I think he’s played every game this year and he’s covered a few positions, so he’s a real valuable member of that squad and he’s playing very well.”

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that dominance in tackles and making the most of attacking opportunities will be key for Connacht in Saturday’s 7:35 PM kick off Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash away to Leinster. 

 

After a 32-19 reversal at home to Ulster last time out, the Westerners will look to make amends against the defending champions in the second of the Christmas interprovincials.

 

Friend said that Connacht’s 33-29 defeat to the eastern province in December 2018 — a game in which the Sportsground men lead 29-12 with 11 minutes remaining — gives his squad belief that they can compete with, and defeat, Leinster. 

 

Executing the basics of the game well, in a manner similar to their interprovincial rivals, is, according to the Canberra native, will be the bedrock of any Connacht win in Dublin.

 

“First and foremost, you have to try and get your tackle right,” the Australian said of Connacht’s defensive approach for the game in the Irish capital. 

 

“You have to make sure that when you go in to tackle that your body is in the right position and that you are trying to make the most dominant tackle you can. That’s where they get their nose through just slightly and then they’re off. 

 

“That’s no big secret, there’s nothing special to that. Just with every tackle you make, get yourself in the best position to make the most dominant tackle you can. 

 

“Secondly, from an attack point of view, we are going to try a couple of things a little different,” the former Australia Sevens coach said of the Westerners attacking strategy for the derby at the RDS. 

 

“We need to be adaptable, but at the same time, we need to make sure that when those key opportunities and moments come that we’re good enough to take them because you’re not going to get many against Leinster. I don’t see it as a magic formula. They’re(Leinster) very good at doing the basics really well and they tend to do them better than every team they play. 

 

“So, it’s for the teams that can rock up there with a gameplan — which we will have — but also it’s about being as brilliant  at the basics as we can and putting ourselves in the best position to win it.”

 

Meanwhile, captain Jarrad Butler says that Connacht will need to bring an 80-minute performance against the unbeaten Leinster to earn a win on Saturday. 

 

Referencing the December 2018 defeat away to Leinster — where the Sportsground team were in front as late as the 69th minute — Butler is confident the western province can cause Leo Cullen’s team issues but they cannot afford to play in fits and starts and must be consistent across the game as a whole. 

 

“They’re an extremely good team and anything less than an 80-minute performance and you’re not going to be able to beat Leinster. We’ve seen it before. We’ve been over there and played 69 minutes of good footy and not come away with a win,” the Australian said. 

 

“And against Ulster, we played well for 40 minutes. It’s about consistency, it’s about taking the game to Leinster. They are a very good team when they have things on their terms and if you’re going to let them play and just try and counter everything then you’re going to have a hard day at the office. 

 

“Going up there and playing with confidence is going to be really important. Playing on top of them and trying to be aggressive because — like I said — you see so many teams go up there and try and weather the storm, but it’s an 80-minute storm if you let it be.”

 

Despite three consecutive defeats in two competitions for Connacht, the 29-year-old says that he — as well as the other squad members — expect a bounce back and to bring an increased level of aggression and energy for a game that will require no extra motivation.

 

Being proactive in attack and looking to make things happen, as opposed to just attempting to shackle Leinster, is an approach Butler says Connacht will take and he is confident that they can successfully pull it off. 

 

“You got to go there and throw caution to the wind and try things because you know that you can’t play conservative. You have to go for it and try things. We’ve lost the last three weeks in a row, so I expect — and so the group as a whole — us to bounce back and bring some energy. If you can’t get up for an Interpro versus Leinster then what can you get up for?”

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht head coach Andy Friend says that defensive stability and attacking set-piece efficiency will be key in Sunday’s 7:35 PM Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash with Ulster at the Sportsground. 

 

After consecutive defeats in the Heineken Champions Cup, the Westerners will look to get back to winning ways in the PRO14 where they sit second in Conference B.

 

Ulster — who Connacht defeated in August at the Aviva Stadium — will come into the game after a pair of Champions Cup defeats and Friend believes the Northerners will prove to be difficult opponents and the hosts will need to be at their best to register an Interpro win.

 

“They’re a team who plays with a lot of confidence. John Cooney has been on song for them again, so we are very conscious of the momentum that he brings to their game. We think they have a very good kicking game. They get a lot of results out of the box kick, so we need to be strong under that and we need to be sure that we win the race back there,” the Australian said of Ulster’s strengths as a team.

 

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t give them the front foot ball they are after. They have some good finishers who can get you in the wide channels and they can finish you off there. It comes down to how we nullify that and how we put pressure on them. A lot of that comes down to our defence, making sure we’re that team who continues to bounce quicker, make sure we work harder off the ball and win those 50/50’s.

 

“From our own attacking point of view, we have to make sure — which we’ve done previously — we can get some real payout out of our set-piece and that’s what we intend to do on Sunday night.”

 

Meanwhile, forward Eoghan Masterson says he is enjoying the challenge of playing in the second row and is happy to have helped the team out during a run of injury and unavailability in the area.

 

With Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux missing games due to Ireland national team selection, and Gavin Thornbury, Cillian Gallagher and Niall Murray picking up injuries, Masterson — usually a back row —  has filled in as a lock this season. The 27-year-old has flourished in the new on-field role and leads the PRO14 for lineout steals, six.

 

“Yeah, I have enjoyed it to be perfectly honest,” the Portlaoise native said of playing in the second row.

 

“Obviously with Quinn(Roux) and Ulty(Dillane) going into Irish camp, which is great for them, it took them away from our set up and our training for a long time. It provided me with an opportunity, obviously with injuries to Niall Murray and Cillian Gallagher hasn’t been available. It was something that I had filled the gap in previous years, off the bench and what not.

 

“I was pretty excited by that opportunity to play there consistently. I found myself getting my hands on the ball a good bit, being involved in the defensive passages as well. I have really enjoyed it.”

 

Masterson, who sits on 99 caps Connacht caps, will become a centurion for the Westerners if selected for the Ulster game and he says that making his 100th appearance for the province which he considers home will be a massive honour for him and for his family.

 

“It would be nice to be involved for my 100th cap,” the former Ireland underage international said.

 

“It’s a massive honour and hopefully it comes and I stay injury-free. I suppose a few years ago when I blew out my knee — and I didn’t have 50 caps at the time — to come back and have a good injury-free run is a big honour. I love this place, I consider it home. Mam and Dad are in Westport and I’m living here with my fiance in Galway and it’s very much home for us.

 

“I just love the place and I’m very proud to hopefully get there someday.”

 

Masterson, whose brother, back row Sean, has started regularly for Connacht this season, said it is a hugely proud moment for him and for his family to have two brothers involved in the Westerners squad but he doesn’t approach it any differently to playing with any other player.

 

“I don’t approach it any differently. It’s a massive honour and we’re really proud of him. Mam and Dad are obviously really proud to see us both play together and I suppose my move to second row has helped that as opposed to us vying for a back-row slot.

 

“It’s great. Obviously we played rugby in our back yard together from a young age and we always dreamed of playing pro rugby together, so it’s kinda special and I’m trying to enjoy the moments we have together on the pitch as much as we can. I think Zebre away was our first start together and you can see how well he’s going, how well he’s fitting in and what he’s adding to the team. I think it’s really good.”

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