Andy Friend wants Connacht to bury English ‘hoodoo’ against Leicester
Coach knows his side must avoid an arm wrestle against physical Tigers side
Andy Friend believes Connacht must avoid an arm wrestle against Leicester in Saturday night’s Challenge Cup Round of 16 clash at Welford Road. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Connacht’s poor run of results against English Premiership sides in European rugby is just one more “hoodoo” Andy Friend’s squad must break when they face Leicester Tigers in Saturday night’s Challenge Cup last 16 clash at Welford Road (8pm).
The Connacht coach says there is little difference between the club’s woeful record in England and those which his side has overcome in the Pro 14.
“Not too dissimilar to some of the other hoodoos we have broken over the last x amount of years – winning the Pro 12 Championship, beating Ulster in Kingspan, beating Leinster at the RDS,” said Friend.
“This team is capable of that, and we don’t need to talk about it. It’s about us getting the job done, having clarity of what the job is, and turning up with our best game heads on – that is what Saturday is all about.”
Performances against both Leinster and Munster remain a template to achieve victory in this round of 16, but Friend admits there is pressure to advance from this first European meeting with Leicester in Welford Road.
“There is pressure. We want to go and win it. We know Connacht’s form against English sides hasn’t been great over the course of history, and we know we are up against a very formidable team. But I want pressure on ourselves to go there and perform because this is the mark of a side that can show the growth that I believe has taken place here – and the other thing is we still have silverware to win.”
Three times Champions Cup winners, Leicester are starting to find their form this season, moving up the Premiership table where they now sit one place off qualifying for Europe’s top tier. With a powerful pack, and England outhalf George Ford directing operations behind the scrum, Friend likens the English side to Munster.
“There is uniqueness across the Premiership, but if you were to liken Leicester to a team in the Pro 14, it is probably Munster.
“They like to play in the right areas and they have a strong set piece that can maul you across the park or over the line, so our intention is not to do that. If you go back and watch the Munster matches, but more importantly the one we missed out by three points, I thought our game plan was pretty good.
“We didn’t get the job done in the end, but we were ever so close, so we will be better again having played that style of rugby.”
However, he says Connacht need to respect Leicester’s physicality and their size to avoid an arm wrestle.
“Work rate is going to be really important and we have to move them. We will see if we are up to the fight after 20 minutes – not too dissimilar to what you saw when we beat Leinster in the RDS.
“When we have the ball, we have to win collisions, and if we do, we have to brave enough to play as well. After 20 minutes, regardless of the score, we should be able to tell you whether we are on or not.”
With captain Jarrad Butler and Bundee Aki ruled out with red cards, and talismanic secondrow leader Quinn Roux still recovering from shoulder surgery, Friend says there are still some “tricky decisions” on team selection.
“That is where we are now as a team. We have genuine competition across a lot of positions, our backrow, and our secondrow. Centre at the moment is the one position we’ve only two blokes standing [Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien], but across the board good players will miss out.”