Connacht Rugby coach Andy Friend is targeting the team’s discipline this week after suffering a lop-sided penalty count in their 17-10 defeat to Edinburgh.
When Scarlets visit the Galway Sportsground for Saturday evening’s Pro14 fourth round (5.15pm ), Friend says Connacht “need to be better with the rugby ball in possession, and definitely better with discipline”.
“It’s bigger than Scarlets or Leigh Halfpenny, it’s about us, and making sure we have the discipline to trust our systems, trust our fitness. I am quite happy to push to the edge, but we have to make sure we are not giving the referee easy decisions,” he says.
Although Edinburgh’s Richard Cockerill criticised referee Ian Davies for not issuing more yellow cards to Connacht, Friend accepts his players must be “smarter”.
“We have to look at our own discipline, and we need to be smarter there. I got 16 against us – 11 in the first half. You can’t play the opposition and the referee, so we need to be smarter with that. There is a simple offside, there’s the simple hands in the ruck, a simple kicking the ball out of rucks – the obvious stuff which we just can’t do, and we were guilty of being a little bit naive and need to be better at that.”
And after a “good chat” with Welsh referee Davies, Friend says Connacht were to blame.
“Referees are human beings, there will be some errors, but we were more at fault. We presented too many simple pitches for him to make a decision.
“We need to focus on how we can develop as a team and make sure we are working with the referees and not against them.”
Worked backsides off
Friend says on-field management is part of Connacht’s development. “It is just how you manage the day – to get in sync with the referee, what he is allowing, what he is not allowing, and to get away from the red penalities – what I call the dumb penalties – when there is no option for the referee but to give a penalty, and we leaked too many of those on Friday night.”
However, he says, the pleasing aspect of Connacht’s bonus-point defeat was their character.
“To eke out a point showed a lot of character. We worked our backsides off, loved our defence, our attitude is good, and we stayed in the fight and managed to get a bonus point.
“It has been a great litmus test for us. I think with every performance we have learned more about ourselves, looked at positives and made sure we have highlighted those to the players and those areas we need to work on.”
Connacht’s defence, on the money against Edinburgh, will get another work-out by a Scarlets outfit that likes to run, with Leigh Halfpenny Johnny McNicholl, Tom Prydie, Hadleigh Parks, etc, always ready to exploit space, and up front Connacht will face some more wily characters in Samson Lee and Keith Owens.
The home side has no fresh injuries, and will welcome the return to fitness of prop Denis Buckley, who was a late withdrawal last weekend with a rib injury. Hooker Tom McCartney and No 8 Robin Copeland both featured in the Eagles’ loss to Dragons A, while Tom Farrell has recovered from a virus.
“What was good was seeing Robin [Copeland] play in the Eagles game. He was really impressive in the pre-season – on and off the field – his energy, maturity, a lighthearted bloke who put smiles on people’s faces. So we have been frustrated for him with these little niggles that have stopped him playing, but it was great for him to get 40 minutes, and he will be putting his hand up this week.”
Also involved in Connacht’s training session yesterday was Ireland’s skills and kicking coach, who was working with outhalf Jack Carty.
“Jack has been gaining in confidence each week, and has a tremendous skill set, so to give him the confidence to play, be able to express that and show that skillset off, will add value to us. It is good for Jack and the squad that the Ireland coaches are keeping an eyes on the boys here.”