Connacht Rugby have confirmed that director of rugby Andy Friend will depart the province when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Friend has released the following statement, confirming: “My wife Kerri and I have made the decision that our time at Connacht Rugby will finish at the end of this season.
“This was always on the cards when I signed my two-year extension in 2021, and one that I discussed openly with Willie (Ruane) and Connacht Rugby.
“It’s certainly not an easy decision to make as we have both genuinely loved everything about our time here in the west of Ireland.
“From the minute we arrived we were welcomed with open arms and made to feel very much a part of the community and the rich history of Connacht Rugby.
“I am very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve both on and off the field as a team since our arrival, and am driven to do everything in my power to ensure this season is the best one yet.”
Connacht Rugby CEO Ruane has paid tribute to Friend and his impact since 2018, stating: “We’ve been fully aware from when Andy signed his last contract extension with us, that this would be his last, and that he would be moving on at the end of this season.
“While we are sad to see him go and he will be sorely missed across the organisation, we are very thankful for all he has done for the province in the past five seasons, both on and off the field.
In that time, he has led us to many successful days, buying into the Connacht ethos and brand of rugby while overseeing significant changes to our professional player & coaching profiles.
“He also embraced life in the west of Ireland, engaging fully with our grassroots clubs around the province and all levels of our Player Pathway Programme.
“That is evident in the number of players that Andy has promoted from our Academy to make their Connacht debuts in recent years.
“I’d like to wish Andy, his wife Kerri and the rest of their family every health and happiness for the future.”
Friend is in his fifth season at Connacht, having spent four seasons as head coach before moving to the director of rugby role for the 2022/23 campaign.
The Canberra native’s first season in charge included a historic win over Ulster in Belfast, the first for the westrners in 58 years, with Connacht going on to reach the PRO14 play-offs and secure Heineken Champions Cup qualification.
The 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons were dominated by the impact of Covid-19 on and off the field. However, further Champions Cup qualification was ensured in both years, with 2021 featuring a second place finish in Conference B and a first victory over Leinster in Dublin in 18 years.
Last season saw Friend’s men reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time in the province’s history.
In total, the 53-year-old has been in charge for 105 games, helping Connacht to 51 wins while overseeing significant changes to both the playing squad and coaching set-up.
51 players were handed their Connacht debuts under Friend, with 21 of those having come through the Connacht pathway system.
Connacht Rugby will now commence a process to appoint a replacement for Friend. They will make a further announcement on the outcome of that process when they are in a position to do so.