Connacht Rugby’s forthcoming EPCR Challenge Cup campaign will be their last under Andy Friend following the Irish province’s announcement that the Australian is to leave his post as director of rugby at the end of the season, when his contract expires.

The 53-year-old is in his fifth season at Connacht, having spent four as head coach before moving to his current role for this term, and has guided them to 51 wins in 105 games.

His first campaign in charge saw Connacht secure Heineken Champions Cup qualification, which they also achieved in 2019/20 and 2020/21, before reaching the knockout stages of EPCR’s elite tournament for the first time in their history last season.

He said: “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 (CEO) Willie (Ruane) and 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.”

Ruane commented: “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 and coaching profiles.”

Connacht, who open their 2022/23 EPCR Challenge Cup campaign at home to Newcastle Falcons in Pool A on December 10, will now begin a process to appoint a replacement for Friend.