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Andy Friend at the RDS last weekend.
Andy Friend at the RDS last weekend.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

'It’s a bit like shopping in Aldi as opposed to Brown Thomas'

Andy Friend says Connacht are always open to good players joining from other provinces.
Jan 6th 2021, 6:00 AM 55,379 12

Updated Jan 6th 2021, 8:00 PM

CONNACHT’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF the signing of Australia 7s flyer John Porch wasn’t exactly met with fanfare back in 2019.

Porch was an Olympian in 7s and had been prolific on the World Series but most Irish rugby supporters didn’t have knowledge of his ability.

Now, though, the 26-year-old is a key man for Connacht having impressed on the wing in his first season in Ireland before shifting to fullback more recently and excelling in the number 15 shirt once again last weekend against Leinster.

Connacht boss Andy Friend was also finally able to hand Ben O’Donnell – another of his former Australia 7s players – a debut in the win at the RDS after his recovery from a long-term knee injury and the hope is that ‘BOD’ will settle every bit as successfully as Porch.

These signings are illustrative of what Friend has attempted to do in the transfer market since arriving in Connacht in 2018, using his connections as well as an eye for a bargain.

“I was lucky enough to work with John and with Ben in the Aussie 7s and to me it’s a great nursery for talent because if you can play and be good at 7s on the world stage, one, you’re tough, two, you’re resilient and, three, you’ve got skills,” explains Friend.

“But as I keep saying to people, it’s a bit like shopping in Aldi as opposed to Brown Thomas.

“We shop in Aldi because in the 7s market you pick them up pretty cheap, but then all of a sudden they get on the big stage and other people work out how good they are!

“I’m so pleased for that young bloke [Porch] because he is an absolute gent too. I’m pleased that people are starting to see his talent in the 15s game.”

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john-porch-and-ben-odonnell-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle John Porch and Ben O'Donnell both joined from the Australia 7s. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

25-year-old O’Donnell was among Connacht’s signings last summer and it remains to be seen what impact he has over the remainder of the season, while imposing number eight Abraham Papali’i hasn’t been able to really get motoring due to two suspensions.

The remainder of Connacht’s additions in a busy 2020 summer were from other Irish provinces. Sammy Arnold, Alex Wootton, and Conor Oliver arrived from Munster, as Jack Aungier and Oisín Dowling joined from Leinster, while Connacht promoted six players into the senior squad from their own academy.

Second row Dowling has only recently returned from injury but the other four new signings from other provinces have made an impact and will surely be reflecting on their moves as good decisions.

While Friend stresses that Connacht are very focused on producing players through their own academy, he also underlines that the westerners would be foolish not to look at the talent that is being produced elsewhere, particularly Leinster.

“It’s all about opportunity for young blokes and this is a credit to Ireland and to Leinster really – that’s where the majority of the playing base is, up there in Leinster,” said Friend.

“There’s such good talent coming out of there but you’ve only got x amount of players you can fit in the blue jersey. So if you can’t fit in there and you want to play footy, well there are other opportunities around.

“It is hard to turn their heads because there is such a passion towards Leinster and being there and playing for the blue and for their home province. That’s why we’ll be quite selective in who we try and target there.

“We definitely want to try and develop our homegrown players but when they do come in and they get that opportunity and you can work with them on what their weapons are and what they can be very, very good at, and if it works for them then you tend to get the response like you get with someone like Tom Daly.

“He’s a hell of a footballer and there’s a few other blokes behind him that are pretty damn good too.”

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Murray Kinsella

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