Friend and Dobson emerge as contenders for Connacht head coach job
The Australian and South African have both built up strong CVs.

CONNACHT’S SEARCH FOR a new head coach to replace the sacked Kieran Keane is continuing, with Andy Friend and John Dobson emerging as strong contenders.

The western province confirmed the decision to part ways with Keane last week after a disappointing first season under the Kiwi boss, who had signed a three-year deal when joining in the summer of 2017.

Connacht are naturally keen to have their new man in place in advance of pre-season and the 2018/19 campaign, and The42 understands that Friend and Dobson are on the province’s shortlist.

World Rugby Sevens series - Allianz Stadium AAP / PA Images Andy Friend was recently close to securing the Ulster job. AAP / PA Images / PA Images

Australian coach Friend was recently among the final few names Ulster considered for their head coach position, although the northern province agreed a deal with Dan McFarland in the end.

49-year-old Friend has built up significant experience as a coach.

The Australian, a former fullback, made his first forays into coaching as an assistant at the Waratahs and the Brumbies and also worked with Wallabies boss Eddie Jones on an advisory basis before and during the 2003 World Cup.

Having also led the Australia U21 team to the final of the 2005 World Championship, Friend’s maiden head coaching role in the club game came with Harlequins in 2005.

Working alongside director of rugby Dean Richards, Friend helped to guide Quins to promotion back into the Premiership and then established them as a competitive force in the top tier.

Friend was appointed head coach of the Brumbies in Australia ahead of the 2009 season and completed two full Super Rugby campaigns in charge before being sacked two games into the 2011 season amid reports of discontent among senior players.

He subsequently held head coach positions at Japanese clubs Canon Eagles and Suntory Goliath, before taking on a role as Australia’s men’s 7s coach in 2016.

Friend held that position until April of this year but left after the Commonwealth Games as the Australian Rugby Union opted against renewing his contract in favour of appointing Tim Walsh.

Friend is, therefore, available immediately and it’s understood that he is well-regarded by the IRFU’s Australian performance director David Nucifora, both of them having worked with the Brumbies in the past.

While Connacht are in charge of securing their own new head coach, Nucifora is required to sign off on all new appointments.

Kieran Keane before the game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Kieran Keane was sacked after just one season in charge of Connacht. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

South African candidate Dobson is currently the head coach of Western Province, who he led to trophy success in the prestigious Currie Cup last year.

Formerly a hooker for Western Province, Dobson also had a playing stint in Italy, before moving into coaching with university side UCT Ikey Tigers.

Dobson coached Italian side Roma for the 2009/10 season and was slated to take up the head coach job at the proposed Praetorians Roma Rugby club, who were initially chosen to represent Italy in the Magners League but were replaced by Benetton Treviso before joining.

49-year-old Dobson returned to South Africa and took up a job with Western Province’s U21 side, whom he guided to trophy glory in the national Provincial Championship in 2010.

That led to a promotion as head coach of Western Province’s Vodacom Cup side and he helped them to trophy success in 2012, while he also added another U21 Provincial Championship to his CV in 2013.

He was appointed head coach of Western Province’s senior team in 2015, taking them to the Currie Cup final in his first year and then winning the competition outright in 2017,

Dobson, who has worked with Munster’s Chris Cloete, Jean Kleyn and Gerbrandt Grobler in his time with the South African province, did extend his contract with Western Province for another three years at the end of 2017, but it’s thought that his deal has exit clauses that would allow him to leave for Connacht.

While it is not believed that Connacht have yet agreed on a deal with either Friend or Dobson and will consider other candidates, their extensive CVs make them strong contenders for the vacant role.

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