Andy Friend determined to change perception of Connacht after White comments

Responding to Bulls coach, Friend says squad must strive to ‘be proud, be respectful’

Andy Friend: ‘We’re proud of what we’re doing here, there’s opportunity for people to come down here, but certainly I don’t think it should be seen as a B-grade option for players.’ Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Andy Friend: ‘We’re proud of what we’re doing here, there’s opportunity for people to come down here, but certainly I don’t think it should be seen as a B-grade option for players.’ Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

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Connacht’s ability to secure a win over the Dragons this weekend is much more than about points on the URC table, but an opportunity to change perceptions.

In the wake of last weekend’s dismissive comments by visiting Vodacom Bulls boss Jake White prior to the home side’s victory, Connacht’s Andy Friend says it is up to his squad to change such views “with a performance, on and off the field”.

“It is something we are very much in control of. From a squad point of view, we have to change it, and that is what we intend to do this season.”

First Connacht need to back up last weekend’s 34-7 win over the South African outfit with a second successive victory in the Sportsground when the Welsh Dragons visit on Saturday. But, he says, it is more than simply ticking off wins.

“We talk about three things we think can change others people’s belief in how they look at us, and one is to be a winner,” he says.

We’re proud of what we’re doing here, there’s opportunity for people to come down here, but certainly I don’t think it should be seen as a B-grade option for players

“But it’s not just a winner on the scoreboard. You’ve got to be a winner in other things – by the way in which you conduct yourself, and the way you play the game. You might not win every performance or every game, but if you are playing a style that empties your tank and you show that you really care about it, that in my mind is a winner,” he says.

Friend’s modern holistic approach also encompasses who the players represent, pride in place, and history.

“We talk about being proud, proud of who we are working for and who we are representing. We are representing all players. The club started in 1885 so there are a lot of players who have gone before us and a lot people who are going to come after us, and a lot of people in this building who aren’t involved with the Pro rugby team who make our lives happen.”

And, he says, Connacht players must also be respectful.

“Hopefully you will never hear me make a comment like that. I wouldn’t do that, because I feel it is disrespectful. So we talk about being respectful and treating people the way we would like to be treated.

Lot more

“If we can do those three things – be winners, be proud, be respectful – I think we will gain the respect I believe we deserve, but it is up to us to do that.”

Friend says White’s comments that players who “don’t get contracted by the big unions go down to the small provinces”, was not “water off a duck’s back”.

“It happens too much in my view. Yes it is frustrating because I know there is a lot more to Connacht Rugby than a heap of blokes coming down from Leinster trying to pick up contracts. There is a lot more to what we are about, what we are doing, and what we have done in the past too. As I said before, it was ill-informed [White’s comments], but listen, they mount, and it does build a little bit of frustration.”

“We’re proud of what we’re doing here, there’s opportunity for people to come down here, but certainly I don’t think it should be seen as a B-grade option for players. It’s another professional outfit and I suppose, by the end of the year, we’ll be able to tell you where we sit in that pecking order of one to four.”

Connacht, who have no new injuries this week, announced the signing of a new front row forward, Tietie Tuimauga, from New Zealand. The loosehead prop, who also plays for Samoa, moved to Manawatu from Wellington to play for club side Feilding Yellows before being selected for the Manawatu Turbos.

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