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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 22 October 2020
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Flexibility in all aspects key for Connacht as new season looms

The Clan Terrace was repurposed as the team’s meeting room over the summer.

Image: Connacht Rugby/INPHO

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend is not about to have a moan about playing without fans.

“We will miss having the Clan Terrace in full voice,” he says, “but it’s currently what we’ve got.”

Pouring excess mental energy towards the decisions of NPHET and the quite fluid best practice in containing a not-yet-year-old Coronavirus is of no benefit to most of the population. The best the rest of us can do is, simply, do the best we can to trundle on. And so the Clan Terrace will remain vacant at weekends, but conspicuously populated during the week, when Connacht players and coaches gather there to hold open air team meetings.

“Yeah, still not really using changing rooms, video rooms,” says hooker Dave Heffernan, “we have been doing everything in the Clan Stand, I’m not sure what that will be like coming into December, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Summer in Galway has allowed for socially-distanced meetings with the squad divided into two groups of around 20 players.

“Getting used to it,” says Heffernan with a smile. The whole world has had to get used to imperfect methods of doing tasks that once were straightforward, and with winter closing in along with a new Pro14 season there looks set to be either a continuation or a re-think of methods long before there is a return to 2019′s normality.

Squad resources will be tested in the foreseeable future too, of course. Connacht’s personnel was stretched thin due to a spate of injuries last season and recruitment across the island will be slowed and stunted under the shade of Philip Browne’s ominous warning that the professional structure is under threat as long as fans are kept from the turnstiles.

Friend listened with interest last month as Leo Cullen approached the Pro14 final with credit to be paid to his full squad of 53. The Australian might have allowed himself think about how he could have used 11 extra bodies.

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“As everybody is probably aware, we are not in a position to be signing anyone at this point in time, so what we have got is what we have got and I’m very comfortable with that,” said Friend.

“When Leinster won the Pro14 final they were talking about a squad of 53. Well, we don’t have that luxury. We had 42 players last year, we have 44 this season, we have two more, but we don’t have the luxury of 53.

If we don’t get injuries that’s fine, we will be comfortable, but we play a collision game.

“If we get normal availability, about 90% of our players available, then I’m comfortable but time will tell if that will happen for us.”

Projections and plans are a tricky business in any field these days.

“What we’ve become really good at, mate, is being really flexible.

“I’ve lost ‘expectation’ out of my vocab and I don’t really expect anything now. I’ve replaced it with adaptability and being flexible.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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