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'I've a long history with Friendy, he's always been good to me'

Munster coach Stephen Larkham laments a ‘short’ working relationship with Friend in 2011, but has fond memories meeting as a young player.

THE RUGBY WORLD is small, with paths to the top inter-twining and diverging at many intersections.

Andy Friend and Stephen Larkham met first in the mid-90s as teacher and prodigy. Then again as a senior and rookie coach on the same ticket and come Saturday they will be in opposing boxes for a hotly-anticipated inter-provincial derby.

It is not their first such meeting, of course, but with Connacht fresh from a historic win away to Leinster and Munster hoping to strengthen their lead in Conference B, there are high stakes as the compatriots pit their wits against one another.

“Short,” quips Larkham when asked about his memory of working with Friend.

The elder coach hired the former out-half after his stint with Japanese club Ricoh Black Rams ahead of the ACT Brumbies’ 2011 season. However, Friend was ousted from his post early in that campaign, so Larkham instead cut his coaching teeth under Jake White.

“He was very good for me as a young coach, nurtured me and guided me along the way. But it was quite short. His departure from the Brumbies was after only a couple of months (of Larkham’s arrival). But I certainly got a lot of learnings out of him.”

“It goes back further than that,” the World Cup winner adds, pointing to Friend’s time working with the Australian institute of sport while Larkham a fresh-faced junior international.

“He gave me a bit of guidance in terms of my career path. I’ve a long history with Friendy. He’s always been good to me, he was a great coach when he was with the Brumbies and he’s doing a good job at the moment.”

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Larkham’s primary remit in Munster is the province’s attack and he spoke yesterday about an increased training focus on ball-handling among forwards, with passing drills a constant in among the set-piece fundamentals for the pack. Connacht’s attack has long been their key strength and as it becomes a more measured, perhaps more sustainable, version of the weapon that earned their sensational Pro12 title, Larkham is suitably impressed.

“That’s certainly an area that we have to focus on, making sure our defence is right. They’ve scored a number of tries and created a number of breaks in the outside backs so it’s certainly something that we’re very conscious of.

“They’ve got a very good threat at the breakdown. Ulster caused us a bit of trouble there on the weekend. We couldn’t get the speed of ball that we would have liked and Connacht had the same sort of threat over the breakdown so they are the two things that we have to be conscious of.”

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Sean Farrell

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