James Crombie/INPHO Jack Carty celebrates Connacht's win.
On the up
Friend backs Connacht to make the next step as season hots up
The Connacht coach believes his team can get significantly better.

ANDY FRIEND, THE Connacht coach, believes his team have yet to peak, as their season enters a critical stage.

Prior to Saturday’s win over Cardiff, Connacht had lost four times on the spin at The Sportsground. Home is where the heartache is.

Not any more, though. Saturday’s 15-point victory was impressive on a number of fronts, not just in terms of the quality of the four tries but also in the manner with which Connacht overcome a couple of sticky periods in the game. From trailing 10-6, they hit a purple patch before half-time to lead by ten points at the break, and then, after conceding a try midway through the second-half, they responded with 12 unanswered points.

“It is nice to get back to winning ways and stop that streak,” said Friend afterwards. “This is our home; this is where we want to play winning rugby.

“There have been a few things that we have been working on as a team in terms of how we should react when things don’t go our way. It is all about resetting our focus, getting back to doing the simple things.

“I thought Jarrad Butler was fantastic in this regard on Saturday – because he called a couple of those (in-match meetings) where the players come in and get their heads back in the game, focusing on what they have to do. We had that – when it was 20-17 and scored shortly after it.

jarrad-butler-presentes-alex-wootton-with-the-guinness-pro14-player-of-the-match-award James Crombie / INPHO Jarrad Butler presents Alex Wootton with his player of the match prize. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“In training, when we have had sloppy moments, we come together and reset.

“So, seeing that (concept) delivered out on the field (in Saturday’s victory) was really, really powerful.

“As coaches, we work hard to deliver simple messages and also to get them to trust their systems and their skill. We have been guilty over previous months where individuals have come off the page and have tried to do something that is not in our system.

“So, it is really about giving them confidence, saying we are good footballers, that the system does work, so therefore we should back it. If we have 14 or 15 fellas doing that, then we are going to be a pretty tough team to beat. But it is one thing saying that, another showing it.”

Saturday was evidence of how good they can be. The 32-17 win leaves them in a strong position to secure Champions Cup rugby next season and also leaves them with a slim chance of making this year’s Pro14 final. Still, Friend feels there is more to come.

“We have not seen our best performance yet this year. We have seen glimpses of it – some of the rugby we played against Edinburgh at Murrayfield, and then against Leinster in the RDS, was very good.

“That Cardiff win on Saturday was good, but there is so much more growth in us as a team.”

Alex Wootton’s form is another plus point. The winger now has 10 tries from 13 games this season and insists he has international ambitions.

“It is definitely a goal for me. It is something I hope will happen. If I put a few performances together then you never know where it will take you.

“But first and foremost, I want to play well for Connacht because I owe so much to the club. When you look back a year ago, I was in a different situation to where I am now.”

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