Coaching departures cannot affect Connacht's Challenge Cup ambition

Andy Friend desperate to break English 'hoodoo'

Jimmy Duffy will leave his role as Connacht's forwards coach.

Jimmy Duffy will leave his role as Connacht's forwards coach.

Connacht have been rocked by a second key management departure this week, with forwards coach Jimmy Duffy also announcing his decision to move on.

It follows Nigel Carolan's announced departure at the end of the season to further his coaching experience.

Duffy, who has been in charge of the forwards for six seasons, has been involved with Connacht for some 25 years.

The Galwegian RFC clubman, who played for Connacht, the Barbarians, the Combined Provinces, Ireland U21s and Ireland A, says he feels it is the right deicsion "as I look to progress my coaching career".

"Connacht Rugby has been a major part of my life stretching more than 25 years, so it was never going to be easy when the day comes to move on. I feel now is the time for me to stretch myself and further my development as a coach.

Duffy and Carolan have been closely associated during their time with Connacht. Duffy worked as Elite Player Development Officer in the Connacht Academy since 2011, was head coach of the U20s and was an assistant coach to Nigel Carolan with the Eagles, while also coaching with Ireland U18s.

"I cannot begin to thank everyone at Connacht Rugby enough for all they have done for me during my association with the club," says Duffy. "It’s a great organisation with a bright future, and I leave at the end of the season firmly in the belief that even better days are ahead.

"I’d particularly like to thank Andy Friend and Willie Ruane for their constant understanding and support as I made my decision, as well as all the staff, players and supporters. I look forward to watching the club develop even further in the years ahead.“

CEO of Connacht Rugby Willie Ruane says Duffy leaves behind a legacy at all levels of the game.

“We are naturally disappointed by Jimmy’s decision to move on, but we wish him nothing but the best for everything in the future. He leaves behind a really strong legacy at the club, not just as a coach with the professional team, but also going back to his days developing coaches within our clubs and schools, as well as his work with our underage squads and as a very accomplished former Connacht player."

The news of both men's departure comes as European rugby returns to centre stage this weekend with Connacht heading to England for a first fixture against Leicester Tigers on Saturday (8pm ).

Munster style

Connacht's move into the Challenge Cup after two Champions Cup defeats immediately intensified the ambition to claim silverware this season, but they now find themselves pitted against the former back-to-back European winners who will have similar aspirations.

Leicester may not be the side that enjoyed a record nine successive Premiership finals from 2005 to 2013, but they have made steady progress this season under Steve Borthwick, moving within a few points of returning to Champions Cup rugby from the premiership.

With a powerful pack, England outhalf George Ford directing operations behind the scrum, and a strong defence, Friend likens the English side to Munster.

"They like to play in the right areas an they have a strong set piece that can maul you across the park or over the line, so our intention is not to do that. If you go back and watch the Munster matches, but more importantly the one we missed out by three points, I thought our game plan was pretty good.

"We didn't get the job done in the end, but we were close, so we will be better again having played that style of rugby.

"Work rate is really important, and we have to move them. We will see if we are up to the fight after 20 minutes - not too dissimilar to what you saw when we beat Leinster in the RDS. When we have the ball, we have to win collisions, and if we do, we have to be brave enough to play as well."

Connacht's poor run of results against English premiership sides in European rugby is just one more "hoodoo" Andy Friend's says his squad must break.

"This team is capable of that, and we don't need to talk about it. It's about us getting the job done, having clarity of what the job is, and turning up with our best game heads on - that is what Saturday is all about."

Performances against both Leinster and Munster are a template to achieve victory in this Round of 16, but Friend admits there is pressure to advance from this first European meeting with Leicester in Welford Road.

"There is pressure. We want to go and win it. We know Connacht's form against English sides hasn't been great over the course of history, and we know we are up against a very formidable team. But I want pressure on ourselves to go there and perform because this is the mark of a side that can show the growth that I believe has taken place here - and the other thing is we still have silverware to win."

With captain Jarrad Butler and Bundee Aki ruled out with red cards, and talismanic second row leader Quinn Roux still recovering from shoulder surgery, Friend says there are still some "tricky decisions" on team selection.

"We have genuine competition across a lot of positions, our back row, and our second row. Centre at the moment is the one position we've only two blokes standing [Tom Daly and Sean O'Brien], but across the board good players will miss out."

Connacht's form has been inconsistent, particularly at home, and having missed out on a PRO14 final, Connacht now need to produce a performance commensurate with that ambition.

 

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