Andy Friend has praised the depth in his squad and believes Connacht are in a good place ahead of their Guinness PRO14 quarter-final with Ulster next weekend.
The affable Australian was speaking to the media after his side’s 27-14 loss to Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday night and despite coming out on the wrong side of the result, he was pleased with some aspects of his side’s performance.
“Disappointed with the loss, however, quite pleased with a few performances out there,” Friend said.
“I thought we didn’t stop trying. Moments we could have been more clinical without a doubt. Moments, where we had lapses in concentration and lapses of execution, hurt us again. But, I thought for a very mixed up team that we put out there in front of Munster at Thomond Park is a tough one, we knew it was going to be physical and I thought we matched that on the whole tonight.”
The team which put it up to Munster throughout the 80 minutes was far from a first choice side and Friend is pleased that the strength in depth of the squad is increasing which ultimately yields competition for places.
“It was one of the things we spoke about in the changing room before we went out. It’s an opportunity for some of you men here. All I want at the end of the game is I want you to put up your hand and make us consider you for next week, for selection.
“A lot of blokes did that today so having come through the regular season now, we’ve played 50 different players have pulled on that jersey this year. Seven new Academy players have pulled on the jersey this year and I think the depth of the squad is growing, confidence is growing, we haven’t played our best rugby yet but we’re getting there. With every young fella that comes up and with every performance that’s quality out there, it makes the other blokes push themselves harder again.
“Kieran Marmion a classic example. Caolin Blade has been outstanding this year, Marmion comes out tonight and he knows he needs to play well and he does. So they just keep inching themselves forward and it’s pleasing to see.”
Mentally, Friend believes his side are in a good place ahead of their season-defining clash with Dan McFarland’s Ulster in Belfast next weekend.
“Yeah, I do [believe Connacht are in a good place]. There’s good confidence within the group, there’s a closeness and a bond amongst the players and the staff. There’s clarity around what it is we’re doing. We’ll see how we pull up on Monday but in there now, there doesn’t seem to be any serious injuries.
“I think we’re heading into a quarter-final week in pretty good shape. We just have to make sure we know our detail for Ulster and then it’s about getting out there and performing.”