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Thursday 24 January 2019

Friend refuses to 'flog his horses'

Connacht coach Andy Friend. Pic: Sportsfile
Connacht coach Andy Friend. Pic: Sportsfile

You had to feel for Connacht.When Leinster lost their heads in Limerick, the Westerners lost their edge over Munster in Conference A, seeing a one-point lead turn into a three-point disadvantage in that particular Irish rivalry.

No matter, they will have a shot at bouncing back into second when Munster come to The Sportsground in another highly-anticipated Inter-provincial next Saturday (KO7.35, TG4 & eir Sport).

Behind closed doors, Connacht coach Andy Friend (inset) would have rued the failure to pick up the bonus-point fourth try against Ulster on a greasy Friday night.

Nonetheless, the Australian must be thrilled at the way his players have responded to his methods in improving out of all recognition in defence and on attack since the start of the season.

They have moved on from losing two of their first three games in the PRO14 to winning four of their last five.

There was also unexpected good news from Scotland where Edinburgh completed back-to-back wins over Glasgow at Scotstoun with their special brand of physicality to cut the Warriors lead over Munster to two points.

"It is a tight conference. Every point matters," said Friend. Connacht have already turned their focus to Munster in what will be an eight-pointer in that both provinces know they can take points off their Conference rivals as well as adding to their own total in the chase for the play-offs.

"We'd a six-day turnaround after Leinster. This one's an eight-day turnaround," added Friend.

"We'll be well rested for that. We know it's going to be another big occasion and a massive challenge for us."

He also took the liberty to reward his players with extra time off for their commitment to a losing cause against Leinster in Dublin.

"I enjoyed the fact we were able to give the squad a couple of days to go home and enjoy their own families, which is always important.

"They responded with a good win," he said.

"I think the message there is that you don't always have to keep flogging the horse.

"If you give them a bit of leeway and trust them to go and spend some time with their family and friends they'll turn up and deliver for you. The boys did that."

The feelgood factor is back in Connacht rugby for the first time since the that never to be forgotten season of 2015/2016.

It is great for Irish rugby to have all four provinces in contention at the turn of the year.

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