Friend wants more of the same against Munster

A pillar in midfield: Sammy Arnold of Connacht is tackled by Ryan Baird of Leinster at the RDS Arena in Dublin.

A pillar in midfield: Sammy Arnold of Connacht is tackled by Ryan Baird of Leinster at the RDS Arena in Dublin.

If lessons were learned from Connacht's defeat to Ulster, now all the positives from victory over Leinster must be repeated in the last of the interprovincial fixtures this weekend.

Munster are the visitors to the Sportsground for this PRO14 top-of-the-table clash on Saturday (7.35pm ) and Connacht coach Andy Friend will be demanding another 100 per cent performance if they are to win.

Consistency has been Friend's mantra for the season - the only time Connacht have put back-to back-wins together was against the Italian sides. Now more than ever Connacht have a real opportunity to loosen the noose Munster have on the top spot in Conference B - currently eight points ahead of Friend's side in second place.

Connacht showed just how good they could be last weekend, but while Leinster did not have all their top players on duty, Munster are expected to travel fully loaded.

Quoting last week's captain Quinn Roux after the game, Friend says it means "bugger all if this weekend we come out and we don't have the same energy and get turned over easily by what will be a very strong Munster side".

"We now know what we own. We own our energy, we own the way we front up, and the line speed we give in defence and the way we carry in attack. If we don't bring that because we haven't prepared for it, or we have self doubt, then that is not acceptable."

That standard was seen against Racing, it prevailed against Leinster, but Friend is aware maintaining it every week is difficult as Connacht search for much-needed consistency.

"I'd love for that to be our bar, but we won't hold that every week. Why? Because we are human and things happen. I would love to go another step," he says.

"If our performance is the best we can produce and we don't win, so be it. That is sport. But if we don't bring that same energy and use it on Sunday, and say that is what hurt us, then that is not acceptable."

Injuries

There are injuries. The most notable Bundee Aki who has a knee injury, Eoghan Masterson is nursing a calf strain, and Gavin Thornbury sat out training this week due to HIA protocols. Colm de Buitlear has gone through surgery on his quad, and Tiernan O'Halloran is still ruled out. In addition there are several Covid-19 issues.

Known for their physicality, Munster will test Connacht's mettle. Johann van Graan's side is in the driving seat, leading the conference by eight points. Thus Connacht's need is greater.

"As it currently stands, the top of each table goes through. One of the things areas we said at the start is that we want to win all our home games - and we haven't been doing that - and we want to win 50 per cent of away games. We've been doing better than that, so the thing that is keeping us in front is the away game wins,. But we need to get back the winning formula here at the Sportsground and no better time to do it on Saturday night.

"What you always get against Munster is physicality. Give them a penalty kick to the corner and they will maul or kick three points. So we have to be squeaky clean with our discipline, make sure we don't give them an easy access, and when they do, which no doubt they will, we have to make sure that we are as ferocious as we were against Leinster.

"That was probably the most pleasing thing for me - the attitude and the energy we had to defensively get off the line and to protect our line was really impressive. We have to bring that for 80 minutes because we know what is coming. They have quality outfit and have a point to prove."

 

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