Head coach Andy Friend is confident in Connacht’s preparation ahead of the Westerners’ inaugural United Rugby Championship fixture away to the Cardiff Rugby at 7:35 PM on Friday evening. 

 

Connacht reshuffled their coaching staff over the course of the pre-season, with Dewald Senekal joining the province as a forwards coach, while Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler have both moved to the first team picture from the academy set up. Peter Wilkins, meanwhile, moved from defence coach to attack coach. 

 

Friend insists that the new coaches — most of whom have experience of working with the Westerners — will bring a fresh impetus that will prove beneficial as the new season starts and progresses. 

 

“Yeah, it’s a good feeling and it’s a fresh coaching group,” the Australian, who is going into his fourth season as head coach, said of Connacht’s pre-season preparations. 

 

“Pete(Wilkins) has been moved into that senior coaching role and he’s thriving in that. As you know, he’s done defence for four years here, but he felt he had done enough with the defence and wanted to get his hands onto the attack stuff and I was more than happy to accommodate him there. He has got great knowledge of the attack. He’s thriving in that position. 

 

“Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler, having come through the pathway in our academy which is a nice seamless transition, have come in. Two younger coaches with a lot of energy and a lot of good thought. That’s adding good value. 

 

“Dewald(Senekal) coming from France, played a lot of Rugby in France and South Africa, has added some newness to our forward pack. Across the board, I think it’s been a pretty seamless transition. I suppose the results will tell us in the next few weeks, but I’m really happy with the way the first ten weeks have gone.”

 

Given the structure of the Rugby United tournament, Friend is eager for Connacht to start quickly with a win, but the former Australian Sevens coach is wary of the threat posed by Friday’s opponents in Wales. 

 

The head coach highlighted the Welshmen’s fitness, their fast style of rugby and their familiarity with their 4G pitch as their particular strengths.

 

Last season, the sides finished on a win apiece in their two meetings and the Australian is expecting a similarly tight contest at the Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

“We’ve been guilty in the last few years of maybe not getting the start we wanted, we’re very aware of that,” Friend said. 

 

“We’ve got Cardiff away, as we know, on Friday night. That’s going to be a really tough game. They’re a formidable outfit and they’re very hard to knock over over there. I think we’ve had two successes there in the last ten years, so it’s not an easy game. We’re all aware of that, but our intention is to start well and hopefully — if we’re at our best — it will be a really impressive win for us.”

 

Meanwhile, club captain Jarrad Butler says the players have enjoyed the pre-season schedule and working with the new coaches ahead of the season’s curtain-raiser. 

 

The back row, 30, says that there is an air of positive energy around the training camp and he is confident that it will stand the squad in good stead for the season ahead. 

 

“Even from the start of the pre-season, there was a lot of changes,” the Australian said. 

 

“But I think it’s been pretty refreshing for the group to have some new voices around the place, new drills, new energy. We’ve definitely gotten that from all the coaching staff. D(Dewald Senekal) has come in with a lot of energy and philosophies he’s had from coaching over in France. 

 

“Everyone knows Mossie and Collie, having come through the academy, but they were highly regarded, given the stuff they were with the academy, so there was a real eagerness for them to be involved and work on some of the things we felt we needed to work on, come the end of last season. It’s been good.”

 

With nine new players in the Connacht squad this season, including academy graduates moving to the senior team, the transition isn’t just off the pitch. 

 

Butler, though, says he enjoys the role of being the club captain and helping these new players — whether they are local or from overseas — to adjust to life with the Westerners. However, the former Brumbies back-row says the environment in Connacht allows for all players, whether young or old, to show their leadership credentials. 

 

“A lot of new guys have come into the setup and they have been integrated well. I think having a new coaching set up in there has made that transition a little bit easier because everyone has kind of been on the same page. 

 

“The last couple of years, we have been able to roll onto the following year. This year has been a real change of direction and a real change of style from the coaches, so it’s been new for everybody. 

 

“In saying that, we had a lot of guys who performed really well last year — you think of guys like Paul Boyle, who had a great year and got himself involved with the Irish squad — you think of guys like Tom Daly and Caolin Blade. 

 

“You’ve got these younger guys coming in and stepping up to leadership roles as well. It opens the door for them to have a voice. It opens the door for new guys to come in and have a voice as well and I think it works best for everybody.”

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