It’s safe to say that Connacht Rugby has been in a state of flux over the last two seasons.
Since the western province won the PRO12 title at the end of the 2015/16 season, their performances and consistency has evaded them which left them finishing 8th in the 2016/17 season and second from bottom in Conference A of the inaugural PRO14 2017/18 season.
It hasn’t helped that Pat Lam’s departure was announced mid-season back in 2016/17 and Kieran Keane wasn’t able to turn their fortunes around.
A new season, a new beginning. Connacht start fresh again in the form of new head coach Andy Friend. The 49-year-old former Harlequins and Brumbies head coach and most recently, head coach of the Australian 7s, will be hoping to have a much more positive impact than Keane did last season.
On Wednesday, he spoke to Pundit Arena at Ballina RFC at a Connacht Rugby summer camp as part of the ‘#grassrootstogreenshirts’ initiative.
Friend has barely been in Ireland a week and already he is impressed with the welcome he has received as he begins to get to know first hand the passion which exists in the province.
“I was aware of some of the history of it. Probably the passion of the Connacht people for their club and the things that they fight for was probably one of the big things that stood out,” Friend said.
“The support that the team had when they went through that year  was really impressive. That’s what we want to rebuild, we want to get that back. The team have given the people of Connacht a taste of what success is about and we want to make sure we can replicate that.”
From speaking to Friend, it’s clear that his mantra is “ambition” and “belief” and he wants to instil these two values into Connacht’s play for the coming season.
“The second big thing is that Sevens has taught me a different way of looking at the game of rugby. I want to bring some of those ideas into our 15s play. I feel like there’s definitely an opportunity for the game of 15s to be a little more expansive and a little bit more ambitious if you like and I want to add that to Connacht this year.”
Friend has a pretty simple belief when it comes to rugby and that it’s all about expressing yourself. He wants to inject this into his squad so that they can play without fear and with ambition.
“To me, rugby is about expressing yourself, you got to get out there, move that football and back yourself. In order for the players to do that though, they have to know that the coaches are backing them.
“So our job as coaches is to give them the knowledge and the work with their skillset to allow them to do it and trust them to go out there and play like that. If we can build an agenda, that sort of spirit and belief within the group, we can play some pretty attractive rugby.”
Finally, in terms of goals for the season, Friends admits that whether its a game or a competition, he wants to win.
“Every time we enter a competition whether it’s a game or a competition, the goal is to win it. If we can’t win it, then we’ll be doing our best.
“Make no excuses, we want to win things.”