Connacht 29

 Cardiff 0

Connacht delivered their best performance of the season so far – securing a bonus point win over conference rivals Cardiff and also managing to hold the Welsh side scorless over the eighty minutes. The result of the corresponding fixture last season secured a place in the knock out stages of the Pro14 and while there is a long way to go in this campaign, this result witnessed by 4,812 spectators in the Sportsground, could prove crucial come May.

Connacht exploded into this game and their physicality early on was a sign that Cardiff were going to have to fight on their hands if they were to get anything from the game. Jack Carty wrong footed the Cardiff defence on the ten metre line after two minutes and when he released Tiernan O’Halloran, a try looked on. Cardiff scrambled though and Connacht came away with just three points from a Carty penalty with 5 minutes on the clock.

The home side were dominating the territory in the opening quarter but a number of errors meant that it was the 27th minutes before they got on the scoresheet again. It was Dave Heffernan who collected an overthrow in the Cardiff lineout and he beat three defenders to get the opening try of the game which Jack Carty duly converted. That left Connacht 10 – 0 up at the half hour mark.

Three minutes later and more was to come for the Connacht as a clever grubber kick from Carty bounced nicely for Peter Robb and he drove over in the corner. That was to prove the final score of the opening half as Connacht held onto their 15 – 0 lead.

The initial exchanges of the second half saw Cardiff coming more and more into this game aided it must be said by a succession of penalties in their favour. A brilliant break by Denis Buckley on the 50 minute mark though dented punished Cardiff. His offload to John Porch gave the flying winger a free run in under the posts and Carty’s resulting conversion effectively ended the game as a contest due to a 22 points to nil cushion.

Any suggestion of a Cardiff comeback were completely dashed nine minutes later when Kyle Godwin intercepted a ball on his own ten metre line and raced the length of the pitch to register the bonus point that could prove crucial in deciding this conference come the end of the season.

So it finished with no score in the final quarter as the visitors failed to fire a shot. For Connacht there are away trips against Edinburgh and the Southern Kings with the Scarlets the next visitors to the Sportsground on the 20th of March – Get tickets here.

Connacht Scorers:

Tries – Dave Heffernan, Peter Robb, John Porch and Kyle Godwin

Penalties – Carty 1/1

Conversions – Carty 3/4

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb (60’ Tom Daly), Matt Healy, Jack (67’ Conor Fitzgerald) , Kieran Marmion (56’ Caolin Blade) (1-8): Paddy McAllister (49’ Denis Buckley), Dave Heffernan (62’ Shane Delahunt), Finlay Bealham (57’ Dominic Robertson-McCoy), Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury (35’ Joe Maksymiw), Paul Boyle (67’ Eoin McKeon), Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

 

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has said that he and his team are relishing the challenge of Cardiff in the Sportsground on February 15th after a two week rest period for the squad.
 
The break came after a 13 week in a row run of games that included six Champions Cup games and four interpros in the Pro14.
 
“We went into the break with a strong performance away to Montpellier and while it ended in defeat, we did take a lot of positives from that game. There’s no doubt, that 13 week block did stretch us but the two week break means that the boys come back fresh and ready to challenge for a top three spot in the Pro14. I know we are all really relishing the challenge”, Friend said.
 
Cardiff were the visitors to the Sportsground last season when Connacht secured Champions Cup qualification with a win in that corresponding fixture back in April.
 
In the first installment of the “final five” home games of the season, Friend knows all too well the importance of winning as many home games as possible, especially against Conference rivals;
 
“We are sitting mid table in our conference and it’s a very tight conference but we still have a lot of work to do there. We still have to play Cardiff and Edinburgh twice and Scarlets at home, as well as Benetton away. With all of those teams in our conference its very much all to play for over the next few weeks”, the Head Coach added.
 
The break has also meant that some players carrying injuries have got valuable recovery time, with a number of players eyeing a return to action in the coming weeks.
 
“We can’t say who will be fully fit and available for the Cardiff game but Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux and Darragh Leader have all been progressing well and will hopefully feature in the next few weeks”.
 
Tickets for the clash with Cardiff on February 15th are available here.
 

Connacht have released tickets for their final five home games at the Sportsground this season.

The run in to the end of the Guinness Pro14 season sees a series of five mouth-watering games with Andy Friend’s side face off against Conference rivals Cardiff, Scarlets and Edinburgh as well as last year’s finalists Glasgow Warriors and interprovincial rivals Ulster.

With Connacht aiming to reach the knock out stages of the Pro14 and retain their Champions Cup status next season, these home games will be pivotal to their ambitions.

With the squad currently recovering after a gruelling 13 week run of games, they will first return to action against Cardiff on Saturday 15th of February. There has been a huge rivalry between the two sides over the past few seasons with Connacht’s qualification to the Champions Cup secured in the corresponding fixture last season.

The big fixture in March will be another “10 pointer” against the Scarlets, another side who left the Sportsground last season with a loss. The Welsh side have been flying high this season and will go into the game with a host of players returning from international duty.

There are two big games in April. Firstly, on Friday the 10th, Glasgow Warriors will be the visitors, to Galway where they have got the upper hand over the past few seasons. Then on Saturday the 25th, Ulster are the visitors to the Sportsground. This is a rivalry that needs no promotion, and another sell out crowd will be hoping to witness a victory for Connacht in this fixture for the third season in a row.

The final home game of the season is likely to be a season defining one for both Connacht and Edinburgh on Saturday 16th of May. With Conference B in the Pro14 extremely tight, a win here could ultimately decide who marches onto the playoffs and qualifies for Champions Cup rugby next season.

Montpellier 35

Connacht 29

With the clock in the red, French Top 14 side Montpellier held on to a six point lead as Connacht drove at their line in search of their fifth try in this enthralling Champions Cup game. The hosts had to fight all the way in this exciting encounter as the sides went in level at the break, after Connacht clawed back a 21 points to 0 deficit after 30 minutes.

With Connacht winning the corresponding game in the Sportsground back in November, this one was always going to go down to the wire. In that round one clash, Montpellier got on the scoresheet in the first three minutes and the script looked like repeating itself when Levan Chilachava raced onto a pass and touched down by that three minute mark this time around. This prompted a reaction as Connacht settled into the game and gave as good as they got, with captain Jarrad Butler and Bundee Aki in particular putting in some huge tackles early on.

Just as Connacht were growing into this game though Montpellier hit them with two converted tries in three minutes, both from winger Gabriel N’gandebe. To Connacht’s credit though, instead of dropping their heads as the second try went in on 28 minutes, they dug deep and started to play some of the most attacking, open rugby they have produced all season.

In the 35th minute Matt Healy got a ball out wide and had plenty to do before touching down. Straight from the kick off, Connacht were flying down the opposite wing and John Porch touched down with his finger tips from what seemed like an impossible angle. Carty’s successful conversion from the touchline put Connacht within a converted try. The away side then struck parity on the stroke of half time when Kieran Marmion was released, and he raced in under the posts.

Amazingly on the 44 minute mark, Connacht had secured a bonus point try when Kyle Godwin beat two defenders after taking a pass on the Montpellier 22. Montpellier were quick to respond with their fourth, which they converted after 52 minutes to nudge back into the lead. Connacht went toe to toe with the powerful French outfit and going into the final quarter they regained the lead through a Jack Carty penalty. Crucially though this was to be Connacht’s final score and when Montpellier got in for their fifth try of the day with three minutes remaining, a Connacht victory looked unlikely.

Connacht did what they did all day though and kept battling. John Porch bravely claimed the restart and the high tackle on him resulted in a Connacht penalty and a launch pad for a final effort at the Montpellier. Unfortunately, though the home side held on and won out on a 35 points to 29 scoreline.

So this result marks the end of Connacht’s Champions Cup season but their six outings in the competition showed that they are certainly not out of place in the top tier of European rugby. The challenge now turns back to the Pro14 and the visit of Cardiff to the Sportsground on the 15th of February – a must win fixture against their conference rivals (Get tickets here).

Connacht Scorers –

Tries: Matt Healy, John Porch, Kieran Marmion and Kyle Godwin

Penalties: Jack Carty (1)

Conversions: Jack Carty (3 from 4)

Connacht: T O’Halloran, J Porch, K Godwin, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, P McAllister, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy, J Maksymiw, G Thornbury, E Masterson, C Faianga’a, J Butler (c).

 

Replacements: J Murphy, D Buckley for McAllister (49), E McKeon for Materson (53), C Blade for Marmion (54), T Daly for O’Halloran (57m) N Murray for Maksymiw (58m), C Kenny for Robertson-McCoy( 63), J Murphy for Heffernan (68), Robertson-McCoy for Heffernan and C Fitzgerald for Carty (70).

Ireland international Kieran Marmion has recovered from a back injury to take his place on Connacht’s starting team for the Champions Cup clash away to Montpellier on Sunday (Kick off 3:15pm Irish Time).

The scrum half hasn’t played for Connacht since the win over Ospreys in the Sportsground at the beginning of November. Marmion’s inclusion sees him renew his half back partnership with fellow international Jack Carty.

Elsewhere in the backline, Kyle Godwin comes into the Connacht midfield to partner Bundee Aki. While in the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is named at fullback with John Porch and Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy on the wings.

In the forwards, hooker Dave Heffernan who was named in Andy Farrell’s first Six Nations squad during the week, starts alongside props Paddy McAllister and Dominic Robertson McCoy. In the second row Joe Maksymiw and Gavin Thornbury are both selected in the second row, with 20 year old Niall Murray among the replacements.

In the backrow, Eoghan Masterson comes in at blindside with Colby Fainga’a at openside and Captain Jarrad Butler at number 8.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We had a great win over Montpellier in the opening round but we are under no illusion that the return leg will be a huge challenge. We have picked a strong side and are aiming to win the game and regain some momentum ahead of an important block of games coming in the Pro14”.

“We are delighted to see Kieran Marmion back from injury. He has been out since November and has worked really hard to get back on the field. His experience alongside Jack Carty, will be a boost to us on Sunday”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Montpellier (Sun 19 Dec, 3:15pm Irish Time)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Denis Buckley, Conor Kenny, Niall Murray, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

Dave Heffernan, Ultan Dillane and Bundee Aki have all been included in Andy Farrell’s first Six Nations squad announced today. Ballina native Heffernan has previously been capped for his country, featuring against the USA in the 2017 summer tour. He was recently included in Andy Farrell’s squad gathering over the Christmas period.

The Ireland Head Coach also confirmed that Leinster’s Johnny Sexton will take over the Ireland captaincy.

There are five uncapped players named in the squad with Ulster’s Billy Burns and Tom O’Toole and the Leinster trio Max Deegan, Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher.

The coaching group have also named four development players Ryan Baird, Robert Balacoune, Harry Byrne and Will Connors who will train with the squad at the warm weather camp in Portugal and in the lead up to the opening game against Scotland.

Andy Farrell, Ireland head coach commented, “At the get together in December we challenged the players to put their hands up for the selection and the coaches are really pleased with the performances in recent weeks.  

As we progress through the Championship we will look to select sides that we believe are best suited to the task at the weekend.  We will keep a close eye on the provincial performances in the PRO14 not just for the players in the squad that will transition back for game minutes but also for those players that were part of the wider selection discussions over the past few weeks.  

We have appointed Johnny as captain for the 6 Nations Championships, you can see what it means to him and the enthusiasm he will bring to the role.  He has been developing as a leader for a number of years with Ireland, Leinster and the Lions and he will be a positive voice for the group.

The provinces are doing a great job in developing young talent and we feel there is an opportunity in the national set-up to support that work and get a better insight into some young players that have put in strong performances for their provinces. Ryan, Will, Harry and Robert will be the first ones to join the squad in this development role.”

Ireland open their 2020 Guinness Six nations campaign against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 1st February before welcoming Wales to the Aviva a week later on Saturday 8th February.  Ireland’s final home game of the 2020 Championships is against Italy on Saturday 7th March.  All three home fixtures are sold out.

IRELAND 2020 Guinness Six Nations Squad

Forwards (19)

Max Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster) 0 caps

Caelan Doris (UCD/Leinster) 0 caps

Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) 14 caps

Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 41 caps

Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 95 caps

Dave Heffernan (Buccaneers/Connacht) 1 cap

Iain Henderson (Queens University/Ulster) 53 caps

Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 8 caps

Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster) 0 caps

Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 36 caps

Jack McGrath (St Mary’s College/Ulster) 56 caps

Jack O’Donoghue (UL Bohemians/Munster) 2 caps

Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 64 caps

Tom O’Toole (Banbridge/Ulster) 0 caps

Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 23 caps

James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 23 caps

CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 38 caps

Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 67 caps

Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 23 caps

 

Backs (16)

Will Addison (Enniskillen/Ulster) 4 caps

Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 23 caps

Billy Burns (Ulster) 0 caps

Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster) 3 caps

Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 18 caps

John Cooney (Terenure College/Ulster) 8 caps

Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 82 caps

Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 9 caps

Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 40 caps

Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 19 caps

Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 21 caps

Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 19 caps

Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 78 caps

Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 28 caps

Jonathan Sexton (St Marys College/Leinster) 88 caps CAPTAIN

Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster) 25 caps

 

Development Players

Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)

Robert Balacoune (Enniskillen/Ulster)

Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster)

Will Connors (UCD/Leinster)

 

Connacht 7

Toulouse 21

Toulouse ran out 14 point winners in Connacht’s final home game of the current Champions Cup campaign. To be fair to the visitors they were worthy winners but they certainly didn’t get it all their own way. The French Top 14 side went down to 13 men for the final 5 minutes, but a number of Connacht errors meant that they couldn’t claw their way back into the game by that point.

It was Connacht who drew first blood when they were awarded a penalty try after a sustained period of pressure in the seventh minute. The home side also had a numerical advantage as Isoefa Tekori was shown a yellow card after a series of infringements from Toulouse. The concession of the early try though brought Toulouse to life and they began to dominate possession.

On the 20 minute the visitors had their first try when Jerome Kaino raced over with the resulting conversion bringing the sides level. While Toulouse had much of the territory, Connacht stayed in this game and it looked like they would be going in all square at the break. But Toulouse piled on the pressure and in the 38th minutes they got their second try of the game when Julien Marchand got his hands on the ball off a Toulouse maul.

The first score of the second half was always going to be crucial and so it proved as Pita Ahki raced onto a charge down that had broken behind the Connacht line. Amazingly, Thomas Ramos’ conversion in the 47th minute proved to be the final score of the game.

The big talking point of the second half was how Toulouse found themselves down to 13 men. Firstly, Yoann Huget was yellow carder for a challenge on Tiernan O’Halloran in the 71st minute and then Zach Holmes saw red for a challenge on the same player two minutes later. For Connacht though the opportunity came too late and Toulouse held on to their 14 point win.

Connacht: T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, M Healy, J Carty, S Kerins, P McAllister, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, G Thornbury, P Boyle, C Fainga’a, J Butler (c). Replacements: D Heffernan, D Buckley for McAllister (57m), D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (52), J Maksymiw for Dillane (HIA), E McKeon, C Blade for Kerins, D Horwitz, J Porch for Adeolokun (67). Yellow card: Fainga’s 16-26m.

Connacht have been boosted by the return of a host of players ahead of the Champions Cup clash with Toulouse on Saturday (Kick off 3:15pm). Bundee Aki and Jack Carty are available for selection following a two week rest period, as is Ultan Dillane who was rested last week.

Finlay Bealham has returned to full training and is available for selection after completing his return to play protocols. He was involved in a collision in the game against Ulster.

In addition, Rory Burke (neck), Jarrad Butler (illness), Colby Fainga’a (knee), Matt Healy (thigh) and Peter Robb (head) are all reintegrating into training this week following their respective injuries.

The news is also very positive on Conor Fitzgerald following a scan on his ankle. He will return to full training next week. Peter McCabe (ankle) and Tom Farrell (shoulder) are progressing well with their injuries and they will also look to return to training next week.

Conor Kenny (head) sustained a head injury in the Leinster game and will follow graduated return to play protocols. Stephen Fitzgerald sustained a knee injury in the same game and is awaiting scan results to determine the extent of his injuries.

Meanwhile, Matthew Burke (thigh), Cillian Gallagher (shoulder), Darragh Leader (calf), Sean O’Brien (shoulder) and Quinn Roux (hand) remain on the medium to long term injured list.

Tickets for the clash with the French Top 14 Champions are available to purchase here.

Second row Niall Murray is set to make his first start for Connacht as they face Leinster in the Pro14 in the RDS on Saturday (Kick off 5:30pm). The 20 year old Roscommon man came off the bench in Connacht’s recent Champions Cup win over Gloucester, but this will be a first start for his home province.

In a boost to Connacht, Gavin Thornbury has returned from injury to partner Murray in the second row. Thornbury has been out of action since he picked up an arm injury against the Cheetahs at the end of October.

In the front row, prop Denis Buckley also returns to the starting team where he lines up alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson McCoy at tighthead. While in the backrow, Eoghan Masterson is included at blindside with his brother and Academy player Sean, named among the replacements.

Scrum half Caolin Blade captains the side in the absence of Jarrad Butler through injury. Blade continues his half back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald.

There is a new look back three for Connacht with Stephen Fitzgerald named at full back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings. While Tom Daly and the versatile Kyle Godwin make up the midfield.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We are fully aware of the challenge we face away to Leinster in the RDS. They have been impressing week in week out in the Pro14 and the Champions Cup and have set the standard so far this season. We really challenged them in the corresponding fixture last season and the lesson from that game is that to beat them you need to deliver a top class performance over eighty minutes, or they will punish you. That is exactly what we are asking of our boys, a consistent performance over the eighty minutes”.

“I am delighted for Niall Murray who gets his first start in a Connacht jersey and there is no bigger challenge for him than going to the RDS to face Leinster. He has really developed his game and is an exciting prospect for the future. He has a good group of experienced heads around him so that is always a help when you’re making your first start”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Leinster (Sat 5:30pm)

(15-9): Stephen Fitzgerald, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt) (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Tom McCartney, Paddy McAllister, Conor Kenny, Joe Maksymiw, Sean Masterson, Stephen Kerins, David Horwitz, Tiernan O’Halloran

Connacht 14

Munster 19

In a hotly-contested encounter, the boot of JJ Hanrahan was of vital importance to Munster as his kept the scoreboard ticking over.

Jack O’Donoghue scored Munster’s only try while Jack Carty crossed for Connacht in the closing stages but it wasn’t enough.

After a hard-fought opening period, Munster got their first points through a Hanrahan penalty but Connacht closed the gap when Conor Fitzgerald scored one of his own.

With twenty minutes on the clock, after a penalty advantage Hanrahan slotted his second penalty in front of goal.

Munster soon sparked into action and it was O’Donoghue who crossed the try line after a series of pick and goes while Hanrahan added the extras.

Connacht never gave in and added to their tally through Fitzgerald before Hanrahan claimed another three points.

A move just before the break saw Connacht make ground into the Munster 22 and it gave Fitzgerald a chance to reduce the deficit once again, which he duly took.

Hanrahan took his tally to 14 points when he kicked another penalty early in the second half.

Despite Connacht scoring their first try when Carty was released down the blindside with ten minutes remaining, Munster held firm.

So its away interpros next up for against Ulster and Leinster before returning to the Sportsground for Champions Cup action against Toulouse on the 11th of January – Click here for tickets.

CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Tom Daly, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin; Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (capt); Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Stephen Fitzgerald for O’Halloran (55 mins), Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (both 59), Jack Carty for C Fitzgerald (60), Robin Copeland for Masterson (61), Conor Kenny for Buckley (71), Joe Maksymiw for Roux (72), Stephen Kerins for Blade (73).

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