Andy Friend still waiting on an explanation from URC and referees

Connacht head coach: ‘It’s not witch-hunting, it’s just trying to get clarity on what are the standards’

Andy Friend has yet to be contacted by the United Rugby Championship organisers in light of his comments about the match officials in Connacht's 20-18 defeat by Munster last Saturday.

In particular, the Connacht head coach said the decision by referee Chris Busby and TMO Brian MacNeice not to spend longer reviewing Tadhg Beirne's positioning in front of Niall Scannell's crosskick in the build-up to Munster's first try by Chris Cloete was "inexcusable".

The tournament does not have a referee’s manager but Friend was sanguine as to whether he should have had a response yet

“That’s not up to me to decide. I would have liked, possibly, some explanation, but in my own mind I thought everyone is normally pretty busy on a Monday or Tuesday, if I haven’t heard anything by tomorrow afternoon I might make a few calls.”


Communication with the league, he maintained, is normally good.

"Normally there is actually quite a healthy working relationship with Johnny Lacey, who looks after the Irish referees, and I feel like we've got a very good working relationship with the Irish referees.

“So me calling that out was not a direct attack on any individual, it certainly wasn’t on Chris Busby, I just thought it was the lack of process that hadn’t been undertaken.

“I’m sure they’re going to come back with something for me on that. I had a few other questions too as I do after every game, and I think every coach does. You just want to get clarity on it, because you want to make sure you can deliver the message back to your team.

“That’s the purpose of doing it, it’s not witch-hunting, it’s not trying to find fault in someone else’s performance, it’s just trying to get clarity on what are the standards, because it does change quite rapidly.

"We've got a good working relationship with Johnny and the IRFU. From the URC point of view I haven't heard anything and probably doubt I will because I don't think there is anyone in that position."

While Friend will stop way short of posting an hour-long video dissection of the officials’ performances, there is widespread frustration among coaches that not only do officials’ decisions have an overbearing influence on the outcome of games, but that there is no adequate, two-way dialogue in ensuring improvements are made.

But Friend is also aware that this will not be the last time that critical decisions will be incorrect, but ideally he would like a more consistent use of technology.

“We all make errors, I made errors on Saturday, our players made errors, referees made errors. I’m not saying I’m looking for a perfect game because we’ll never get there, but there are certain things I think that there needs to be certain standards set, and that’s all I’m seeking, the consistency of standards across the board.”

Connacht's hugely promising 21-year-old flanker Cian Prendergast will miss next Saturday's home game against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5.15pm) due to the ankle injury which forced him off during the Thomond Park encounter, but the length of his absence hinges on the results of scan which he is undergoing this evening (Tuesday).

“He’s been brilliant, hasn’t he?” said Friend of Prendergast, an athletic, skilful and tough player. “I think he’s just an absolute pleasure to work with, he’s just a driven, diligent, hard working young rugby player, who just wants it so much, you can see it in everything he does.

“I’ve been telling him to get out of here in the afternoons, telling him to find something else to do because he’ll stay here 24/7 if you let him.

“He has been fantastic. It is a loss not having him but at the same time we have some really good depth in that position, so I’m sure someone else will get in now he’s not available.”

Colm Reilly (ankle) will return to training in the coming weeks, as should Leva Fifita, while Denis Buckley (knee), Tom Farrell (AC joint), Matt Healy (calf), Dominic Robertson McCoy (ankle) and Gavin Thornbury (shoulder) are continuing their rehabilitation from long term injuries.

Despite their absences for Saturday’s game, Friend maintained: “There’s going to be some really good players missing out and that’s one of the things I’m really pleased with, the squad do have genuine depth across all positions now which is pleasing.

“It does make our jobs as selectors very difficult, so there’s always some competition at training and that also drives everybody. We worked hard to get that, but I think we have that now in our squad.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times