GEORGE FRIEND might have been still playing rugby had he not chosen football as a teenager, so he can understand exactly why Tony Pulis uses that sport in a bid to improve Middlesbrough.

Pulis has started to get Boro moving in the right direction and there is every chance a victory over Sunderland tomorrow will see them climb into the play-off places on the back of two wins from their last three matches.

While there is an acceptance that the former West Brom manager has got Boro more organised and disciplined in the way they play, there has also been scepticism from a few because of a failure to win as many matches as expected.

But the goals flowed against Hull on Tuesday night in a 3-1 win to lift them to within three points of the play-off places – and it is hoped that is the start of a brighter spell in front of goal.

Friend, who has played under five different managers on Teesside since moving in the summer of 2012, is appreciative of what Pulis has to offer and has not played under a manager like him before.

The experienced left-back said: "It's contrasting but every manager is different. He is a real leader. He motivates you. His teamtalks before a game, everybody in there is looking right into his eyes. They are taking in every word. To have a whole room like that is a real skill.

“He is quiet open to look at other sports I’ve realised, rugby especially, so to see that technique used in rugby is interesting in that respect.

“We have a fitness coach who has just come in under this manager and he worked a lot in rugby.

“What I have been surprised about is that he was stereotyped as a certain manager but when you work under him you realise he is pretty amazing. You have to work under him to appreciate him I think.”

During his childhood in Devon, Friend played rugby in Barnstaple. He was always better at kicking a round rather than the oval ball, but still enjoys watching rugby and said: "I played rugby on a Saturday and football on a Sunday, I will have been early teens doing both. I played for Barnstaple, then signed non-contract with Exeter. It was just the weekends for Exeter, training one night a week.

“I wanted to be a rugby player but at 16 Exeter made me make a decision about the sport I preferred. I stuck with football. I was a fly-half at the time, I was probably not the right shape for rugby anyway!

“As a footballer I started off as a striker, scoring ten goals or whatever - if you can believe I used to score goals - and went to college, didn't do the YTS thing.

“Exeter offered me a professional contract, I took a gap year from university and it went from there. I missed rugby, a lot of friends went off and played county stuff. I love still watching it but it was probably the best decision for me to play football.”

Having chosen the football route, Friend certainly has no regrets. He loves it at Middlesbrough and during his time in the North-East he gained a degree in sports journalism, which included spending some time working with The Northern Echo.

Writing might not be the avenue he takes after his playing days are over, though, because he quite fancies stepping into football behind the scenes.

Friend, who has become a regular under Pulis, said: “Hopefully I will do a masters in sports’ directorship in the future … potentially I will be a sporting director in the future, I am also really in to recruitment. We will see where it leads.

"I am close to Gary Gill (head of recruitment) here. Middlesbrough have done a good job over the years. They have plucked some gems from Doncaster and places!

“They have done a good job and I think while you are in football, make sure you look around and see how things are done. This club is a stable club, that comes from the chairman and it's a lovely club.”