'The biggest thing Andy has changed at Connacht is the culture' 4 months ago

'The biggest thing Andy has changed at Connacht is the culture'

Kieran Keane's tenure at Connacht was tense if nothing else.

The Kiwi was hard nosed and blunt and it was believed that some players were disillusioned with a lack of clarity in his direction. His replacement Andy Friend hasn't had such issues.

Friend sets out a very clear stall at the start of each week with each passing week characterised by a theme.

Last week's theme was 'bounce'.

What is bounce? Connacht fly-half Jack Carty explained 'bounce' and some of Friend's other methods when he sat down with the media ahead of this month's Zurich Rugby Players Ireland Awards.

"Bounce can be a variety of things," said Carty.

"It can be getting off the breakdown, if you make a tackle bouncing up to get back in the defensive line, it can be bounce in terms of your body language getting off the line.

"We have an overall theme every week, I won't tell you what our theme is for Ulster obviously, but there are a variety of different things we have. They do it in an interesting way, they present it to us in an enjoyable way so it actually sticks.

"Because you can put up a lot of words on a board and they don't really have any meaning but the coaches do it in a way they create a storyline behind it and it actually makes it quite interesting so it sticks with players."

Friend has had an enjoyable debut season with Connacht with the club bidding for a spot in a PRO14 semi-final ahead of this weekend's trip to Belfast to face Ulster.

Carty is enjoying a career best season under Friend and the PRO14's points leader says that the Australian has given his side confidence above all else.

"He's firstly given players confidence and you can see that's gone across the board," added Carty.

"Players are playing with confidence, the team is playing with confidence. Probably one of the big things that he has added or changed is the culture around the place.

"When people speak about culture you think they're talking about giving out to fellas or standards but he has always talked about rewarding players. If someone does something good for players to reward each other.

"There are certain small things. There was a new player who was coming into the environment and had a good session but Friendy at the end was sure to congratulate him in front of the group and what that does is just gives loads of guys confidence.

"When you have young lads coming through with confidence and knowing your coach is going to support you and the players around you are going to back you, it's a very special place to work."

James Ryan and Jack Carty were on hand to announce the nominees for the 2019 Zurich Players’ Player of the Year Award. The Zurich Irish Rugby Players Awards, one of the biggest nights in Irish sport, will take place on Wednesday, 15th May, at the Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge.