Friend tells Connacht players to take responsibility ahead of Ospreys’ visit

Connacht head coach Andy Friend says Connacht needs to be a team that holds each other to account.

Connacht head coach Andy Friend says Connacht needs to be a team that holds each other to account.

Connacht Rugby's development under coach Andy Friend will be tested on Saturday (2.45pm ) in a must-win PRO14 fixture to keep their seasonal ambitions alive.

Home advantage should be a big plus, but Connacht need to deliver a clinical performance of intent to stop Ospreys overtaking them on the league table and securing home and away wins this season.

Just three points separate the two sides - Connacht in fourth place with 42 points; Ospreys in fifth with 39, and with the Blues hosting the Southern Kings, Friend's squad can ill afford to let the Cardiff outfit, also with 42 points, extend their lead in third.

Connacht host the Ospreys on the back of a disappointing performance in Glasgow, where they lost 43-17 at Scotstoun- the biggest margin of defeat this season. As a result Friend says Connacht need to up their game mentally.

"Whether it is an away game mentality, I'm not sure, but we mentally didn't turn up," he says. "On Saturday we definitely know what is coming. Ospreys are the No 1 kicking team in the competition, a strong team that likes to flood the tackle and slow the ball down, so we have to be patient with our game, we have to be smart, our ball carries have to be dominant, and the speed of support has to be good," he says.

"We have said to the players, we don't need to know about points. If we keep winning, we are OK. We are down to that stage of the season where we have to win, all are must-win games if we are going forward."

Recovering from the Glasgow display needs to be swift, having also lost to the Ospreys at Bridgend earlier in the season.

"We've addressed the game, and the players here are very honest men. I thought the coaching staff delivered simple but powerful messages, and the feedback was good and response was really good."

However Friend says it now up the players to take responsibility.

"It's about personal responsibility. We can give them all the game plans, all the drills, but at the end of the day they have to own it, turn up and make sure they deliver on the day, and more importantly they have to check the bloke beside them is delivering it too."

Aki and Carty unavailable

While Friend can expect a suitable response, it will be more difficult with the unavailability of Bundee Aki and Jack Carty.

The Connacht outhalf, who came off the bench in the last five minutes of Saturday's Six Nations win over Italy, and Aki, have not been released by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

However, both starting locks, top tackler Ultan Dillane and try-scorer Quinn Roux, centre Tom Farrell and scrumhalf Caolan Blade are available to Andy Friend for this key Conference A fixture.

Friend says Carty's late introduction for his Ireland cap has been "warmly received" in Connacht.

"It's brilliant, it just brings a buzz to the west of Ireland. I felt it was a really warmly received accolade for a player who has been chipping away at his trade for so so long, and this year has been producing stellar performances and getting the reward for it.

"Bundee is always wanting to get back [to Connacht], but he took a bit of a head knock and has the HIA to get through," says Friend. "He's a vital man for Ireland and given that injury, they will be looking after him."

In addition, Connacht have also lost key backrow player Sean O'Brien for the rest of the season. O'Brien had just returned to training from an injury to his shoulder, which now requires surgery.

It is a real setback for the 24-years-old who missed much of last season having undergone a shoulder operation after an injury in the second game of the Pro14 season against the Southern Kings.

"A big loss," says Friend. "He's been great when we have been able to get him on the park - a bigger body, very aggressive, and a very dominant performer in pretty much everything he does. So it's a big loss and disappointing for him, but it's important now he gets that shoulder right. So we must cut our losses now, and get him right for next year."

The former Ireland U20 player is currently waiting on an appointment for surgery in England, with the hopes of returning for the start of next season.

Still unavailable this week are prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy with an ankle strain, and lock Gavin Thornbury, who is expected to return after the two-week break, while Robin Copeland has returned to full training.

Front up

With so much at stake, Friend will want his best players on the field. While the Ospreys, narrowly beaten by Munster last week, have now lost five in a row in all competitions, they will come to Connacht with a confidence after their 22-17 victory in October.

"We have some players back from Ireland camp and we will make some adjustments. We don't have the depth of some squads, but we have to build that, so it is great to see those players involved with Ireland, and for Jack Carty getting his start, but it also opens up other opportunities for us.

"It's a challenge, probably not what we wanted, but that's what we've got, so who is going to step up, and this is where as a collective group of coaches, players, and management,we have to say, 'sweet, here's the challenge that sits in front of us, le's go beat Ospreys."

Friend insists that Glasgow with 21 players out last week, responded better than Connacht to the challenge.

They started the better, and had Connacht down 7-0 within the first attack, George Horne benefitting from Kyle Steyn's break, and Brandon Thomson converted. While Connacht's Conor Fitzgerald missed a penalty, Thomson made not mistake to extend the lead to 10-0.

Connacht, however, found some momentum thanks to Tiernan O’Halloran who at pace fed Stephen Fitzgerald for a try out wide, but as the half progressed, Glasgow's physicality began to tell and although Connacht repelled an initial drive was repelled, Tim Swinson eventually bulldozed his way over from short range, Thomson extending the lead to 17-5 at the half-hour mark.

There was no way back for Connacht when they failed to stop Glasgow's rolling maul which resulted in the home side's third try and a 24-5 lead at the break. Glasgow bagged the bonus point within five minutes of the second half, and in defence Stafford McDowall producing a try-saving tackle to deny Kyle Godwin. Replacement flanker Paul Boyle did force his way over, with Godwin unable to add the extras from out wide, but Glasgow were not finished. Robbie Nairn's try made it 38-10 and although Tom Daly crossed for Connacht with Godwin adding the extras, the Warriors's Nairn had the last say with another try.

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