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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019

Friend intent on making Scarlets win the 'baseline' as Connacht prepare for Leinster backlash

While talk of ‘hatred’ emerges from Leinster, Connacht’s new coach says he wants to set new standards.

Andy Friend and Jarrad Butler Andy Friend and Jarrad Butler were the Challenge Cup representatives at this week's launch. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

BEFORE HITTING THE road for the EPCR competitions launch on Wednesday, Andy Friend allowed himself a breakfast treat.

He watched footage of his predecessor Kieran Keane’s finest hour, Connacht’s thumping win over the team who would soon be crowned double champions

“There was a lot to play for that day,” said the Australian of the 47-10 humbling of Leinster.

“John Muldoon’s last game and yeah, they played a good style of rugby. But that was last year. You can get hung up and think that is going to happen this weekend. We have got to make it happen.

“We’re a different team again this year. We have to turn up to the Sportsground on Saturday and make sure that we are better than we were last weekend.”

It’s understandable that Friend doesn’t want to dwell overlong on the April inter-pro: he wasn’t in the job, it’s a near-impossible result to replicate and it only benefits Leinster to keep talk of the rout floating.

John Muldoon kicks a conversion Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Because the trophies won and medals collected haven’t made Leo Cullen’s men forget the thrashing. Immediately after the win over Edinburgh, Cian Healy – who made a frustrated effort to charge down Muldoon’s ceremonial conversion attempt – raked up the five-month-old offence and ‘red mist’ he felt on the day. On the back of that, Luke Fitzgerald brazenly stirred the pot on The Left Wing podcast, suggesting that the oft-spotted retirement conversion was in fact an act of utter disrespect that has accelerated a ‘hatred’ building in the Leinster dressing room.

“They hate us down there and there is a real hatred building in Leinster for them,” said Fitzgerald, whose last game was the Pro12 final loss to the Westerners.

“After that one (2016 Pro12 final), there were a few words afterwards. It’s bad taste. It’s just not classy. Real winners don’t have to do that.”

So rather than leave the focus on that performance, Friend prefers the more recent past. His high points of the season so far have been the narrow loss to Glasgow Warriors on opening night and last Saturday’s dominant win over Scarlets. So that’s where he will demand his team build from as they test themselves against the best team in Europe.

“That’s what we’ve talked about, that has to become our baseline. That’s not an anomaly that has to be the baseline.

Jack Carty and Craig Ronaldson after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“From there we can only hopefully build on that. We’ve already seen areas from within that game that we weren’t happy with, we’ve talked about those and look to improve those, that’s our next challenge this weekend – to hopefully see that improvement in those areas.”

The Australian adds with a smile: “each week it’s a step. That’s why we remain employed as coaches – if they remembered everything we told them, we’d be out of a job in a couple of weeks.”

We are pleased with the way we’re building, we’re not there yet, but the boys are gaining confidence, the systems are working and players are getting confidence out of that, and to beat the Scarlets certainly was a pleasing one.”

“We talk about our energy, our ability to get set early and try and beat teams to that, I thought that opening three minutes set the tone. There wasn’t a whistle blown in the first three and a half minutes, both teams had a good crack at each other.”

No better time, then, to step up and have a cut off the other Pro14 finalist.

“(Leinster) are are a great side. They are the side you want to be playing against and coaching against too because it brings the best out of you.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Leinster and the way they play, the coaching staff they have got and the history that they have got.

“We have a chance at having a pop at them on Saturday so we’re pretty excited by that too.”

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Sean Farrell

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