NEW CONNACHT HEAD coach Andy Friend says his side have implemented a number of sevens tactics into their game over the course of the pre-season period, most notably around the restart and breakdown.
There is a fresh wave of optimism and excitement flooding over Galway in the build-up to Saturday’s season-opener against Glasgow Warriors, with Friend instilling huge belief and confidence within the playing group since his arrival in June.
In winning all three of their pre-season friendlies, Connacht produced a high-tempo brand of rugby much like the style of play which was so successful under Pat Lam, and Friend has certainly made an instant impact at the Sportsground.
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Following the disappointment of last season under Kieran Keane, the Australian has brought a more holistic approach to the role, cultivating a strong culture within the dressing room, and the players are clearly thriving off the clarity he has brought.
His previous role with the Australia Sevens squad has seen Friend bring new ideas and ambition to Connacht, encouraging his players to express themselves and play with freedom and enterprise.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit of Glasgow, Friend said supporters will see a change in approach from the western province in certain aspects of the game as they look to kick-start their Pro14 campaign.
“I loved my time in sevens,” he said at TG4′s season launch. “What’s really important is that Connacht themselves have a very ambitious style of football. I watched their 2016 season, they played with real ambition and belief, so there was already that link. We’ve got some really skilful footballers.
“And sevens to me is all about expressing yourself on a rugby field and I reckon that’s what you need to do in 15s too. In sevens they tend to be fitter, faster and leaner athletes, they’re three words we use with our boys here too.
“There’s a few things around the breakdown and restarts that when you watch our games, I think you might see some new stuff that has come from sevens.”
Friend was speaking at the launch of TG4’s Pro14 coverage. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
While the away wins over Brive and Bristol have added to the pre-season cheer, the dismantling of Premiership outfit Wasps in Athlone a fortnight ago was particularly encouraging, with the whole group making a strong statement in their aggressive and free-flowing attacking shape.
The defence has been impressive, too, but Friend has been keen to temper expectations within his squad and the province, pointing to the fact Connacht have a tough start with games against Edinburgh, Scarlets and Leinster among their opening fixtures.
“We’re in a comfy spot, but we haven’t done anything yet and that’s what we need to be careful of,” he added.
“We’ve got a pretty healthy squad, a good understanding of the way we want to play and it’s now about how we go out on the park and perform.”
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