Connacht's red/orange/green penalties and 'match play' training drills

The western province’s head coach, Andy Friend, is happy to see his team making progress.

WHEN ROBIN COPELAND was yell0w-carded in the 53rd minute of Connacht’s win over Bordeaux on Saturday, he might reasonably have expected to return at the end of his sin-bin period.

But Connacht boss Andy Friend felt he needed to make a point.

The westerners’ discipline has been a major thorn in their side so far this season, with an average of 13 penalties conceded per game in the Guinness Pro14 leaving them second only to the struggling Kings.

Robin Copeland after the game Robin Copeland saw yellow last weekend. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Conceding just eight in the Challenge Cup clash with Bordeaux last weekend was an improvement, but Friend is keen to hold his players to the highest standards.

“When Robin got the yellow card, it was an area where we’ve been saying the discipline was really important, we can’t be giving those away,” said Friend of his number eight, who was carded for illegally playing Bordeaux scrum-half Jules Gimbert at a ruck.

“For mine, it was, ‘Can we survive without Robin there at eight?’ and it was, ‘Yeah, we can’ because Colby [Fainga'a] has played eight, JB [Jarrad Butler] has played eight, and we made that call and did alright.” 

It was a fairly ruthless decision from Friend but he and his fellow Connacht coaches are transparent with their players in the area of discipline, using a clear system of analysis to highlight the penalties that aren’t acceptable.

“We went through every penalty last week [against Ulster] and said to the players, ‘Is it a red, orange or green penalty?’” said Friend. “A red penalty is where you’ve given the referee no choice, an orange penalty where it’s good play by the opposition, or a green penalty is where the referee has made an error.

“We had far too many red penalties in the 15 penalties we gave away against Ulster. We’ll go through that [Bordeaux] game too but I know straight up that there’s five red penalties and five is too many. We want to be giving a maximum of two red penalties.

“It’s an area that’s crept into our game and because it’s been an issue, people then see it as an issue and it becomes a perceived issue. We’ve got to be even squeakier clean and get that right.”

While the discipline is a work in progress, Friend is also keen for his team to continue their growth in terms of managing games and solving problems on the pitch.

Jack Carty Jack Carty and Connacht's game leaders are growing in maturity. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Tactical decision-making is important for any team but all the more so in the case of Connacht as they look to develop.

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Friend was pleased with how Connacht solved problems against Bordeaux, particularly the loss of replacement scrum-half Conor McKeon to a shoulder injury for the closing 10 minutes or so.

With the entire bench having already been used, Connacht had to finish out the game with 14 player, with versatile outside back Colm de Buitléar stepping into the scrum-half slot.

For Friend, Connacht’s comfort in dealing with the challenge to close out their 22-10 win was evidence of the hard work they’ve been doing in this area.

“We have what we call ‘match plays’ out there at training,” explained Friend.

“So during a session we will throw a scenario at them, say, ‘You’re up by two points, there’s two minutes to go, you’re in this area of the field, you’ve got a yellow card. What are you going to do?’

“Or, ‘You’re down by four points and you’ve got a penalty 40 metres out directly in front [of the posts] with three minutes to play. What are you going to do? Are you going to take the shot and back your restart or are you going to kick to the corner and have a crack?’

“We continue to throw those challenges at the players and they’ve been great with it. I think that’s starting to pay dividends for us because we’re solving the problems.

“The big message there is that there’s never a wrong decision if everyone buys into the decision that’s been made. Our game leaders, I feel, are starting to take some control of that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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