It may just be preseason but you can tell there is a new level of confidence around the Connacht Rugby squad.
Two wins, one over Brive and most recently, a 43-10 thumping of Wasps at Dubarry Park in Athlone, has sown the seeds of optimism ahead of the 2018/19 season.
Last year under Kieran Keane has been widely spoken and written about as a breakdown in communication in many facets of the Kiwi’s management seemed to have contributed to his premature departure.
Nevertheless, a new man is at the helm in the form of former Australia 7s coach, Andy Friend. Throughout the summer, the 49-year-old has spoken passionately about his newly assembled squad and what they want to achieve for the upcoming season.
It is evident that playing without fear is a mantra which is being firmly ingrained into the Connacht ethos and speaking to the media today at the PRO14’s official launch in Glasgow, Friend reaffirmed this case.
“I know with the positivity and the way I coach and the way I want us to be as a football team, we won’t hide away from the errors, not at all but we will find a way to encourage the players to produce their best and to play without that fear,” Friend said today.
Many coaches are often reluctant to outline any particular goals or targets they might have for the upcoming season but Friend, when asked this, states that he wants to win the PRO14 or any competition that Connacht enter for that matter.
“We’re going to say we want to win it, 100%. You’ve got to.
“I’ve never entered a competition nor seen anyone enter a competition where you don’t want to win it. So we want to win it. Will we do it? Don’t know, but I promise you we’ll give it our best shot.”
“That’s been my message to the players, anything we enter, we want to win the thing,” Friend added.
“Now, over time we might become more realistic and say there are certain things we can’t but that’s where I sit at the moment.”
If Connacht are to win their second PRO14 title in four seasons, then they will likely need a positive outcome to their opening six games of the season where they will face the likes of the Glasgow Warriors, Leinster, Ulster and Scarlets.
You would be forgiven for thinking Friend would have preferred an easier beginning to his Connacht tenure but in typically upbeat fashion, the affable Australian sees it as the perfect start.
“There’s another way to look at it. My wife continues to tell me that you got to find the positive out of the negative but if you want to know exactly where you sit, you want to be playing the best early on because then you have the rest of the season.
“If it’s working, keep doing it, if it’s not, you’ll see the areas that you need to adjust. It’s six games of football out of 19 games of football, so to me, it’s a great start because we’ll know straight away. We’ll know come the end of the first week in October where we sit, what’s working for us, what’s not working for us and where we need to adjust.”
Connacht face into their final preseason game this weekend against the Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate before getting their PRO14 campaign underway at home to the Glasgow Warriors a week later.