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Friend willing to step back and reassess Connacht approach as they bow out of Europe

The Australian also welcomed news confirming €20 million-worth of grants to go towards the Sportsground’s redevelopment.

Image: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

AND SO A big tent-pole of this season subsides for Connacht after Toulouse sealed their fate in this season’s Champions Cup. However, last week’s confirmation that they will receive a massive windfall has assured there will be a nice shape on key pieces of the long-term jigsaw.

The €30 million redevelopment plan for the Sportsground is absolutely central to the western province’s growth.

So the award of a €10 million grant from the Large Scale Sports Infrasture Fund (LSSIF), matched by a further €10 million of government investment under Project 2040, will give them freedom to continue building in areas other than bricks and mortar, says head coach Andy Friend.

“€20 million for a stadium that will only be advantageous for rugby in Connacht,” said Friend, turning to a positive tone after the home 7-21 loss to Toulouse.

“More people here to watch it means there is then more money to spend on grassroots, which means more opportunity for us to grow Connacht-born players who can come through and represent Connacht here at the Sportsground.”

Strength of numbers was at the forefront of Friend’s thoughts in the wake of the convincing loss to Toulouse on Saturday. Approaching the end of strenuous 13-match block, his side have been decimated by injuries and the knock-on effect has been to heighten fatigue and diminish the tempo in training. The matchplay standards could only follow.

The Australian is intent on setting out a side to claim a win in this weekend’s dead rubber away in Montpellier, but the four-week break that follows will be more than welcome. A chance not only to recharge resources, but Friend is also willing to turn the focus on his own department and reassess how the coaching ticket is working.

andy-friend-during-the-post-match-press-conference Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

“We’re not coming here to lose games of football. We haven’t had (a win) for four games. it’d be nice to get back to that.

“Part of that is we’ve played some quality opposition:  Munster, Ulster, Leinster and Toulouse. But in all of those games – beg your pardon, three of those games – we’ve had things where, if we had been more clinical at key times we could have got a win. But we didn’t.

We’ve got to be realistic. We’ve got to look at what we’re doing in training, some of the systems we’ve got and we need to challenge ourselves on that.

“The game we’re looking for is a game where we know errors are going to be made, but it’s as simple as releasing pressure at the moment. And our inability to convert some really good field position at the moment, that’s what’s hurt us the most.”

We’re all disappointed. That (dressing) room’s very flat downstairs.

“The positive out of it, we had intent. We had 23 men who went out there and they gave us everything they had.

“In a weird way, probably too much intent, because we forced things and tried things that probably weren’t on.

“That game we’re looking for is: we do want players to express themselves, but you’ve got to feel the moment when it’s right to force that offload or put that kick in.

“Our challenge as a group is to be better in those areas and get back to the game where the majority our the decisions we make are good and the execution’s good.”

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Sean Farrell

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