Bradley hails Connacht’s new statement of intent

Michael Bradley spent most of his seven years at the Sportsground not just wondering if he would be in a job at the end of the season, but rather whether the Connacht team he was coaching would still be in existence.

Bradley hails Connacht’s new statement of intent

Michael Bradley spent most of his seven years at the Sportsground not just wondering if he would be in a job at the end of the season, but rather whether the Connacht team he was coaching would still be in existence.

But the former Irish captain battled on and having last weekend watched his Zebre side pipped by Connacht in Parma, takes great pride and pleasure in seeing where his former team now sits.

Bradley is trying to work the same oracle in Italy and knows that progress can be slow, but rewarding.

And with Connacht today taking on Cardiff Blues for a place in the knockout stages of the PRO14 and automatic qualification for the Heineken Champions Cup, with plans for a €30m revamp of the Sportsground progressing nicely in the background, he is thrilled for his old friends.

“The proposed development is fantastic and a great statement from Connacht. The opportunity to go by right to the Champions Cup next year would be another tremendous statement.”

He is thrilled too to see progress on the field and reckons they are heading in the right direction under Andy Friend.

“They play very effectively and are one of the top performing sides. Maybe there aren’t so many standout individuals but the collective, like the older days when I was involved, is what stands out.

"They stick and fight together. Andy Friend has brought a nice balance to their play; they tend to get the ball into wide channels quickly and create opportunities then.

The back three are very good in terms of counter-attack, and nine and 10 are very sharp from a creative point of view. Up front, they work hard.

“Their match against us was a difficult game for them because mentally they would have thought they should win the game.

"Whereas against Cardiff they will perform better because they know that they have to put them away. But they are at home and in control of their own destiny.

“We were disappointed to lose to them, but such is life. We wish Connacht the best and it’s great to see what’s happening there,” added the former Irish scrum-half.

Connacht have only beaten Cardiff in five of the 15 league games they have hosted in Galway, but history doesn’t bother Friend.

“I’ve heard of the Connacht-Cardiff battles and Cardiff tend to have to upper hand in the past. But Ulster tended to win when we were away from home as well until this year.

"Zebre won the last two years over there but we are finding ways to win and to throw those hoodoos out and create our own history,” said Friend.

“It’s all well and good to look through the record books, but we’re a different football team now and we’ll continue to grow and develop.

”Friend’s side are four points ahead of Cardiff in Conference A, so a loss for the westerners today would probably mean they need a win from their final-round game away against Munster to progress.

Even that might not be sufficient, so the pressure is on them to finish off the job this afternoon.

Other than the ill Quinn Roux and the injured Finlay Belaham, all of his internationals are available, with Bundee Aki, Jack Carty, Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy, and Ultan Dillane starting, while Kieran Marmion is named among the replacements.

In a blow to the Blues, Nick Williams misses out again through injury, but they are still packed with danger men including Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, and Matthew Morgan, all of whom impressed against Munster last week.

CONNACHT:

T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy, U Dillane, G Thornbury; P Boyle, C Fainga’a, J Butler (c).

Replacements: S Delahunt, M Burke, C Carey, J Cannon, R Copeland, K Marmion, T Daly, C Kelleher.

CARDIFF BLUES:

M Morgan; O Lane, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, J Harries; G Anscombe (c), T Williams; R Gill, E Lewis, D Lewis; G Earle, R Thornton; J Turnbull, O Robinson, S Davies.

Replacements: L Belcher, R Carre, D Arhip, S Lewis-Hughes, J Botham, L Williams, J Evans, G Smith.

Referee:

M Adamson (SFU)

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