Compared to this time last year, things are looking considerably better for Connacht Rugby.
In the Pro14, Andy Friend has led the team up to fourth in Conference A, level on points with third and just seven points shy of leaders Munster. In the European Challenge Cup, Connacht are through to a quarter-final clash with Sale Sharks.
Off the pitch, developments are forthcoming with an investment into the Sportsground. Today, the province confirmed attack coach Nigel Carolan, forwards coach Jimmy Duffy and defence coach Peter Wilkins have all signed two year contract extensions to take them up to the end of the 2020-21 season.
The latest Irish squad also features a cohort of Connacht players including newcomer Caolin Blade.
It all adds to a sense of stability. With that in mind, head coach Andy Friend joined Joe Molloy on Off The Ball to discuss where Connacht are at.
He touched on the Connacht contingent earning Ireland recognition in the upcoming Six Nations. He started with centre Tom Farrell.
"Tom has been a player who's really impressed me this year in the 13 position," he said.
"He's equally capable at 12 and 13. He's actually a big, powerful man and he has an uncanny ability to find a hole and get a play away.
"I'm really impressed with him and his defensive work."
Blade has also carved his way into the squad as a back-up scrum-half. That follows injuries to Connacht's Kieran Marmion and Leinster's Luke McGrath.
As Friend explained, Blade has stepped in to fill the gap left by Marmion's injury and Ireland involvement this season.
"The way he's played this year and the way he's stepped up to the plate at 9 has been phenomenal," said Friend.
"Blade's virtually been our No 1 half-back this year. I can tell you now, we haven't missed a beat. Blade's call-up there to the Irish squad, for me, was very much deserved. If he does get a chance, he certainly won't let his country down."
Friend also touched on out-half Jack Carty who has previously won Ireland Under-20 caps.
"The only Jack Carty I've seen is a highly talented and skillful young man who backs himself. We back him to play," said the head coach.
"He's got a great kicking game and his goal-kicking accuracy is very good. He takes the ball to the line well and plays smart options. If you leave him alone, he'll bounce through the line himself."
The Australian also discussed his working relationship with Joe Schmidt in regards to player welfare and selection.
And off the pitch, Friend also talked about having lived a nomadic existence due to his job and how he's settled in out west.
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