‘The bottom line is that he needs to change his tackle technique’

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend said number eight Abraham Papali’i needs to make swift changes to his tackling technique after his third red card since joining the province.

Former rugby league player Papali’i was sent off for a high tackle on his Connacht debut against Munster in August of last year and was then banned for five weeks after a second red card for a high tackle versus Zebre in November.

Connacht felt that second red card had been harsh and subsequently spoke about Papali’i working hard on his tackle technique.

Friend was frustrated when Ulster used their captain’s challenge to have a tackle by Papali’i reviewed during their Rainbow Cup clash in April, with the TMO and referee clearing the powerful back row of any wrongdoing in that instance.

However, Papali’i was red carded for a high tackle in last weekend’s defeat to Benetton and is now facing another suspension.

The 27-year-old  has extended his contract with Connacht into next season but Friend stressed that Papali’i needs to make a rapid adjustment.

“The bottom line is that he needs to change his tackle technique,” said Friend today. “If he doesn’t, well he won’t keep playing rugby union. It’s as simple as that because you can’t have a player continually getting red cards.

“The sanctions are going to become bigger on him and it’s impossible to stay in the game if you do that.

“He’s very aware of that, we’re very aware of that. We’ve got to use whatever time we’ve got where he won’t be playing – hopefully it’s around the six-week mark, I reckon is what he will probably get – to take out the poor habits that he’s got from his rugby league days and get him tackling low.

“When he does tackle low, as we’ve seen, he can be devastating, so we’ve got to break a habit that’s there at the moment and we’ve got to do that pretty quickly.”

Papali’i was sent off on his Connacht debut. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Papali’i will be missing for Connacht’s final game of the season against the Ospreys in Galway on Friday evening, with Friend keen for his side to finish the campaign on a high.

They will attempt to use the summer to improve Connacht’s ability to be consistent, having struggled to back up big performances in the current campaign.

The province confirmed a new signing yesterday, with Tongan international second row Leva Fifita set to join from Grenoble over the summer to replace the departing Quinn Roux.

“With all of our signings, we do a hell of a lot of work to try and make sure we’re getting the right person to fit the need of the group,” said Friend.

“When we knew we’d lost Quinn Roux, we knew we’d lost a big-bodied man who had physicality in him and was a senior figure in the squad, so we started looking to try and find a big-bodied man who had senior experience and is very, very physical.

“Leva certainly fitted into that profile so I’m absolutely delighted that he’s managed to sign here. He’s got a young family so for them to move from France over to here is a big move for them. His relationship with Dewald Senekal, our new forwards coach, certainly helped and Dewald did a lot of work behind the scenes to get that deal done.

“He’s an international player, he’s 31 years of age with a lot of experience, I think he’s going to fit seamlessly into the group and be really good for us.”

Connacht had already confirmed the addition of Irish-qualified outside back Mack Hansen from the Brumbies ahead of next season and Friend confirmed that they don’t expect to make any further new signings.