James Crombie/INPHO Connacht head coach Andy Friend.
new faces
Andy Friend 'really excited' for Connacht's future after finalising new coaching team
Last week the province announced Dewald Senekal as their new forwards coach.

ANDY FRIEND SAYS Connacht’s recent recruitment process shows the value the province place on promoting from within.

Connacht are set to lose two long-serving ‘homegrown’ coaches this summer, with backs coach Nigel Carolan and forwards coach Jimmy Duffy both moving on in search of fresh challenges.

A major coaching reshuffle then saw Peter Wilkins move to the role of senior coach, with primary responsibility for attack, while Mossy Lawler was appointed assistant and skills coach with Colm Tucker becoming defence and forwards technical skills coach.

However the most high-profile new appointment came with last week’s announcement that Duffy would be replaced by South African Dewald Senekal.

“He interviewed very well,” Friend said of Senekal.

We asked those who were interviewed for a 20-minute presentation on what they saw and their philosophy in terms of Connacht forward play this year. He was really clear and decisive in what he saw, and what he saw was what we had seen as well in terms of our forward strength, and the areas we need to work on in terms of our pack. And he nailed all of those things.

“His whole demeanour around who he was as a person seemed to be a really good fit for us. We’re really excited about his appointment. We can’t wait to get him here.”

While Connacht place an emphasis on providing a pathway for their own young coaches, Friend said he was conscious of the benefits that can come with bringing in a new face with no previous experience of coaching in Ireland.

“He is a South African who has lived and played in France for over a decade so he has different experiences. He has coached there as well so he comes here with a totally different skill-set.

We’re losing two local men, which is tough too because they bring an energy and a passion for the West of Ireland, a history of the club which is unique. On the one hand you’re bringing freshness in and on the other you’re losing some local knowledge but it all balances out in the end. I think he’s going to bring some real value.”

Friend was asked for his thoughts for on the current pathway provided for Irish coaches across the provinces.

“I’ll start by saying we’ve promoted both Mossie Lawler and Collie Tucker up from the Academy structure. So they are two really promising young Irish coaches and they were the first two appointments we made for next year.

“I think the Irish system with the players that are here and the coaching structures that are here is really healthy, and I want to make sure we support that. 

“What we’ve done though, we’ve added another position in our coaching ranks and that happens now to have gone to a South African. And again, with Dewald coming in, he will add a wealth of knowledge and experience that will only assist both Collie Tucker, Mossie Lawler, Pete Wilkins and myself and all the players, because through that diversity in our upbringings and where we’ve coached and where we’ve played, we’ll get a better product out of it. 

bundee-aki Tommy Dickson / INPHO Connacht train yesterday ahead of Saturday's game with Leinster. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“So I’m actually really excited. I do believe we are supporting Irish coaches, I think it’s really important to do that, as it is with Irish players, but I think we’ve got the right balance here.”

Connacht – who yesterday announced a new contract for Abraham Papali’i – are back in Rainbow Cup action this weekend, having made a positive start to the new competition with a dramatic opening round win in Ulster.

And Friend is confident his squad can build on that momentum when they welcome a wounded Leinster to the Sportsground on Saturday, having recorded an impressive 35-24 win when the teams last met in January.

The province could have Conor Dean (shoulder), Matt Healy (head) and Alex Wootton (hip) available for the game, with the trio set to return to training this week, although Paul Boyle will miss about three weeks with a knee injury and Bundee Aki remains suspended.

“We want to win every game,” Friend said. “It especially gets heightened when you come up against the other Irish provinces. 

“Yeah, to have the win at the Kingspan against Ulster, that was great for us. But literally an hour after that it’s finished and forgotten, so you move on to the next one.

“We’ve got Leinster coming down here on Saturday, so again, they’ve definitely got something to prove because of the victory we had up there at the RDS, so it’s up to us to try and emulate that and go one better, because I’m sure they are going to be better.” 

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