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.”

Connacht get ready for their final game of the season this Saturday as they take on Zebre in the URC at The Sportsground, kick-off is 5pm

 

With the curtain closing on the 2021/22 season this weekend, it’s a chance for Andy Friend to potentially look at younger players and give them game time in front of home supporters. One of those players hoping to get a chance is Dylan Tierney-Martin who has had his injury issues this season along with battling for the number two jersey.

 

The 22-year old spoke about how he’s developed as a player this season with the Connacht senior squad.

 

“I’ve got some great hookers ahead of me since joining the senior side and I’ve enjoyed my journey with this being my first season as a pro”

 

“I’ve learned a lot from Shane Delahunt, Dave Heffernan and Jonny Murphy who have kept themselves right and performed very well”

 

“I found it tough to break that barrier and get some opportunities because of how well the boys were doing but near the end of the season I have had chances to show what I can do”

 

The step up from the academy or underage setup to the professional senior squad can take a bit of adjusting and Dylan explains what he’s found to be the biggest difference.

 

“The biggest jump I found was the consistency and detail of preparation”

 

“I think once you get to that level in terms of being a pro player it does come down to the level of preparation and doing things over and over again and not get bored of it”

 

“The coaches have been great and Andy (Friend) has been very good to me in terms of building my character and as a person as well so not just the player and I do feel I’ve matured a lot this year”

 

Recent rumours around the URC have been the potential inclusion of an U23 grade. Dylan was asked if this new U23 grade could benefit younger players more compared to the AIL.

 

“It’s a tough question because I know there’s merit in both”

 

“I know the AIL traditionally has been the path way for younger players the whole way through but there is merit in that U23 league so it could be beneficial for a lot of players”

 

“If the URC could work with the AIL to align the two tournaments where they don’t clash, have them in the drop weeks or the Champions Cup week where there is no AIL I think it could be something to look at”

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