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Andy Friend: ‘If we want to win silverware, we have to back it up’

Friend last night became the first coach in Connacht’s history to record a clean sweep of away wins against rival Irish provinces in the same season.

Niall Murray celebrates his side's win.
Niall Murray celebrates his side's win.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT WAS A night when another scalp got added to Andy Friend’s list. Since coming in as Connacht coach in 2018, he’s had a few, guiding the province to their first win in Ulster since the 1950s, to their first victory in the RDS against Leinster and now to a clean sweep of away victories over their three Irish rivals in the same campaign.

In doing so, they have given themselves an outside shot at making the Rainbow Cup final. Two games remain, Treviso away, Ospreys at home. Realistically Connacht need two bonus point victories and also a couple of favours, namely for Munster and Leinster to fall shy of a 19-point tally.

Beyond that, Friend wants his team to start putting a sequence of victories together over a sustained period. Those aforementioned wins have not been consistently backed up. That’s the culture he is seeking to change, especially after last night’s 24-20 win over Munster.

“I thought the way we defended all night was pretty damn impressive,” said Friend. “Those closing moments, you know exactly what Munster are going to do when they get a penalty. They are going to go to the corner and I just thought the way we threw backs and our pack in there was really impressive. To force that knock-on that closed out the game, that was just great.”

All the more so because he went deep into his squad to find the players he needed to deliver for him in Limerick.

eoghan-masterson-celebrates-winning Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That probably just reinforces the view that I’ve held that we are building tremendous depth and that performance matters,” said Friend. “The players need to know that if you don’t put in a good performance there is someone behind you who is pretty damn good. Competition drives performances and performances bring wins.

“Last night’s win is right up there. I think back to the Leinster away win (in January this year), that was a pretty proud moment. The Ulster win away the first time we did it (in 2018), this one, they are all big moments because the interpros mean so much. Tonight was the first time since I’ve been here that we have beaten Munster.

“They were the only team I hadn’t knocked off so that is also a special one for us as a team because we have been oh so close a couple of times. To etch out that win, especially when there would have been a lot of doubters, it just launches us again to another level, which is really exciting.”

A queue of people didn’t think they would win in Limerick but Friend insists he wasn’t in that line.

“We did not stop doubting,” he said. “We threw out a lot of challenges. We met those.

“If we want to be the team that wins silverware, we have to back it up. It is about consistency. We have learned some brilliant things about ourselves this year, ourselves as a coaching group, myself as a head coach, and we continue to learn and develop.

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“We will never be perfect but if we inch forward every single time, we will get closer.

“We know we have two games remaining, if we can win those, then who knows?

“We have had belief; internally it has been there. Now externally, they will see we have won in the RDS, the Kingspan and Thomond Park. I am not too fazed about what others think, we believe in ourselves.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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