Andy Friend, Connacht head coach, believes Leinster are “better professionals” than his side, who fell drastically in last night’s round of 16 second leg of the Heineken Champions Cup.
Riend offered an honest but very blunt assessment of the key improvements his side need to make in the coming weeks as Connacht faces the prospect of their season coming to an end.
With just three URC games left, including the next two in South Africa, Connacht faces an uphill battle to reach the play-offs.
Leinster ruthlessly exposed the huge rift between two inter-pro rivals and while Friend doesn’t necessarily believe Leo Cullen’s men are better rugby players, he pointed to Connacht’s preparation as a major sticking point.
“Yeah, listen, I think if we’re being really honest, it’s the way we behave every week,” Friend said after watching his side lose 56-20 at the Aviva Stadium .
“Sometimes we’re really good at our preparation and sometimes we’re really good at the way we check and we challenge each other and what we’re doing and sometimes we’re not and we know the performance on the field is usually a fair reflection of what’s happening off the field.
“That’s for us as a collective and certainly for me as a head coach to push our standards really harder and that was the message to the players, I’d actually seen a greater drive over the last two weeks to be professional in the way we are we’re getting down to our preparation, so don’t lose this because of this loss, we actually need to keep this more.
“My message to the players after last week’s game was I seriously don’t think Leinster are better rugby players, they are better prepared as they are better professionals and that’s our next big step up, we need better ones become pros .
“At the end of the day that’s up to me, I own that, so I’m going to keep riding that and making sure we do that because there are some very good footballers in that Connacht shirt and we just need to see more consistency.
“When we get that, we’re going to be more consistent in how we behave.”
Although Connacht reached the knockout stages of the Champions Cup for the first time, it wasn’t a star-studded Leinster side that rioted in Dublin.
Friend now has to pick up his players who are flying to South Africa tomorrow to play the Lions and Sharks.
“Yeah, the reality is we’ve won one of our six games and we’ve been competitive in more of them, five of them, but today definitely blows your mind,” admitted Friend.
“I know we think we belong but it’s one thing to belong but another to dominate at this level and we’ve seen too many opportunities this year where we definitely belonged but we have those Not completing things and not keeping the pressure on teams and clinching some of the pivotal wins we thought we should have had.
“But we own that so it’s difficult so close to this loss to try to put the spotlight on the positives, but I know we’re growing.
“Unfortunately, growth and pain tend to live together, so there’s a little bit of pain right now, but it takes pain to grow.
“What’s really important now is how we do in those next three games because that’s really a stepping stone or an anchor for next season.”
With attention now turning to salvaging something from the league season, Friend knows Connacht is genuinely against it.
“Well, it’s important now that we get to the quarter-finals mathematically, but realistically it’s quite a long way,” added the Australian.
“But regardless, it has to be about three really good performances, it’s also about building for the future.
“We’ve got a lot of guys this year who haven’t had a lot of chances so we’re trying to find that balance and make sure we take on a squad that can get us results because I think that’s really important but potentially for opportunities to look for people who may not have played much football this year.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/andy-friend-i-dont-believe-leinster-are-better-rugby-players-they-are-better-professionals-41558839.html Andy Friend: ‘I don’t think Leinster are better rugby players, they are better professionals’