After a five-week absence Connacht return to URC action tomorrow night against Ospreys at The Sportsground.
 
The matchday squad has now been named with 4 changes to the starting XV that impressively saw off Ulster at the Aviva Stadium last month.
 
Summer signing Shayne Bolton will make his Connacht debut – the 20-year old is named at outside centre where he forms a partnership with Sammy Arnold. There’s two further changes in the back three with Alex Wootton making his first appearance of the season on the wing, and Oran McNulty handed his first Connacht start at full-back. The in-form Mack Hansen starts on the opposite wing, while Kieran Marmion and captain Jack Carty continue at 9 and 10 respectively.
 
The tight five is changed with a front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, with Ballina native Heffernan making his 150th appearance for this home province. There’s a second row pairing of Niall Murray and Ultan Dillane, and the final change is in the back row where Jarrad Butler starts at blindside flanker, opposite Conor Oliver and Paul Boyle completing the side from number 8.
 
Among those on the bench is Peter Robb who could make his first appearance since February if called upon.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Everyone had a deserved few days off after the Aviva game and we’ve since spent the last few weeks fully focussed on getting a win tomorrow night. Ospreys have made a really good start to their season and they’re always difficult to play against, so everyone knows we have to push on from our interpro performances to get the win we need.
 
Shayne Bolton has settled in really well since arriving from South Africa so he’s deserving of a start, and it’s a special game for Dave Heffernan and Ballina RFC on the day of his 150th appearance.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS OSPREYS
Friday 26th November, The Sportsground @ 19:35
 
Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. Oran McNulty (2)
14. Alex Wootton (22)
13. Shayne Bolton *
12. Sammy Arnold (21)
11. Mack Hansen (5)
10. Jack Carty (164) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (191)
1. Matthew Burke (28)
2. Dave Heffernan (149)
3. Finlay Bealham (164)
4. Niall Murray (21)
5. Ultan Dillane (119)
6. Jarrad Butler (78)
7. Conor Oliver (25)
8. Paul Boyle (62)

16. Shane Delahunt (105)
17. Jordan Duggan (17)
18. Jack Aungier (18)
19. Oisín Dowling (11)
20. Eoghan Masterson (113)
21. Caolin Blade (135)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (39)
23. Peter Robb (47)

By John O’Sullivan

 

Women’s Rugby is on a crest of a wave in Connacht. 

 

With new schools taking up the sport at a rapid rate and clubs that are following suit, the sport has grown exponentially in popularity with female participants, coaches and volunteers in the Western province over the course of the past few years. 

 

Corrib R.F.C are the latest example of either the establishment of or revival — which is the case in the context of Corrib — of female Rugby in a Connacht branch club. The Galway club fielded female teams between 1993 and 1997, but youth female rugby didn’t begin at Corrib until 2019.

 

With the IRFU Give it a Try programme a catalyst, participation rates among underage girls skyrocketed in Corrib — the club boasts close to 100 girl players from under 11’s through to under 18’s —  and this eventually lead to the establishment of the adult team.

 

With three members of the U18’s team overage and ineligible to play at that grade, club members took to social media to gauge the interest of locals in adult women’s rugby, to potentially facilitate the three girls playing, and the results were hugely encouraging. 

 

The Corrib social media accounts were inundated with expressions of interest from people, most of whom had never played before, and plans to form a senior team were accelerated with a training session already taking place and a challenge match fixed for December.

 

Oonagh Naughton, welfare officer at the Headford based club, says that there is a huge interest among adult females in the area in playing Rugby and last week’s first training session — which attracted 21 players, with several more unable to attend due to work commitments — is evidence of this. 

 

With some 43 members in the team’s Whatsapp group, excitement is building towards a challenge match against Claremorris next month, which will be Corrib’s first adult female fixture in over 20 years. 

 

“There are 43 women in the Whatsapp group, who are keen and interested and want to play rugby,” Oonagh revealed. 

 

“The vast majority have never played rugby before but a lot of them come from a GAA background, so their fitness levels would be there. They would have a lot of pitch awareness, a lot of ball awareness and all that kind of thing. 

 

“So, the first training session commenced last Thursday night in Corrib and there was 21 women who came for that one and there was a lot working who couldn’t make that, so we’re hoping there will be even more next week. 

 

“It was put out there in the beginning that it would be tag Rugby, but based on training last Thursday, they want to tackle, they want to know how to tackle, they want to learn about tackling. So, the tackle bags came out last Thursday and there was a great enthusiasm and buzz and a real keenness to learn all there is to know about rugby. We’re going to wait before Christmas and have a get-together and a game against Claremorris.

 

“We’re really excited about it.”

 

After the challenge match against Claremorris, Corrib hope to compete competitively next season, but for the moment Naughton is happy with the social aspect that rugby provides to women in the area. 

 

“It’s great, it’s just another social aspect,” she said. 

 

“It’s getting more people into the club, it’s getting more members, it’s getting more people involved and it’s great for fitness and meeting new friends. 

 

“The beauty about rugby is that it accommodates every shape or size. Whether you’re fast, whether you’re slow, whether you’re tall or short, whether you’re slim or a bigger build, there’s a place for everybody on a Rugby field. 

 

“With the football finished for the winter, it’s a great sport for the winter to get out and not be stuck in on a winter’s night when the nights are long as it is. Just the social side, the fitness and all the benefits that go with it are brilliant.”

 

It’s not just on the playing field where women and girls are making a positive impact on Corrib R.F.C, as Naughton confirms that over a third of the club’s members and committee are women. 

 

“You’d have a lot of mothers of the underage girls who are members of the club,” she said. 

 

“I’d say a third of our members are women. At the last committee meeting, our membership was about 360. It’s great, considering that in 2018 there might have only been five or six girls in Mini’s Rugby.

 

“The Give It a Try programme in 2019 really kicked things off. That’s where everything stemmed from; it was a really successful programme and credit to Jacinta Sweeney for that.”

 

Connemara advanced to the semi-final of the All Ireland Junior Cup after a 17-11 victory over Kilfeacle on Saturday last at the Monastery Field, Clifden. 

 

Despite spending the majority of the game down to 14 men, via a red card early in the first half, the Blacks made more of their scoring opportunities and outscored the Tipperary men by three tries to one. 

 

David O’Reilly, John O’Brien and Fionn Heffernan all crossed for the Connacht team, in front of a raucous local crowd, with Henry O’Toole tacking on a conversion. 

 

Kilfeacle, meanwhile, registered an uncovered try and two penalties but it was the home team — with their skilful attack and physicality — who deservedly advanced to the final four. 

 

Second row O’Reilly was rewarded for his opportunism when he dove on a bouncing ball in the goal area to touch down for the first score, which O’Toole converted to establish a 7-0 lead for the home team. 

 

The visitors seized initiative thereafter and — with a two-man advantage after a yellow card was added to the earlier red to a Connemara player — scored eleven unanswered points in a profitable twenty-minute period either side of halftime. Their number 8 crossed for a try and their fly-half tacked on two penalties. 

 

But at 11-7 behind, Connemara —  despite losing one and, temporarily two players — were always in the contest and the introduction of the Staunton brothers, Niall and Ian, in the pack helped shift the tide of momentum in their favour. 

 

Committed to running the ball, the Blacks were rewarded for their ambition when a sweeping move involving both backs and forwards brought them into Kilfeacle territory. 

 

With a penalty advantage, Connemara worked the ball right and centre Mark Joyce deftly offloaded to his midfield partner O’Brien, who evaded the attentions of the defence, to dive over in the right-hand corner. 

 

Not content with consolidating their 12-11 lead, the hosts looked to grow it and with the game in its dying embers, they had their third five-pointer. An enterprising move — again involving both backs and forwards — found tight-head prop Heffernan outside the 22 and, selling two dummies, the forward paced in to touch down in the corner to complete the win at 17-11. 

 

Meanwhile, in the Bank of Ireland Connacht J1A league bottom placed Monivea RFC won their first game of the season after defeating Westport 24-19 at home.

 

With only three rounds played, seven points separate top placed Buccaneers 2nd XV and Monivea on 10 points and three points respectively. 

 

Elsewhere in the Bank of Ireland J1B league, Ballina 2nd XV defeated Dunmore, while Ballinrobe beat NUIG 15-13 in a tight affair. 

 

The results see Ballinrobe three points clear at the top of the table, with NUIG three points behind in second. 

 

Eight points separate Corrib in third on nine points and bottomed placed Galwegians on one point, with all teams — apart from Corrib and Corininthians 2nd XV on three games played — having played four rounds of fixtures.

 

Photo credit: Yvonne DeLappe

Head coach Andy Friend believes Connacht are in a good place after the break in their season for the international window.

 

The Westerners have had over a month off since their last outing, the excellent 36-11 win over Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, allowing players and staff alike to rest and recuperate.

 

Connacht now go into a ten-week block of games, but Friend is confident that his team can begin this period on their best foot when Ospreys visit Galway on Friday, kick-off 19:35

 

“We’re in a good spot. We all had a break and three good weeks of training. We’ve got most of our internationals back, which is good,” the Australian said.

 

“We’ve had three really good weeks of continual work and we’re focusing on these first two games. We’ve got ten games, we’ve got Christmas in there, we’ve got New Year in there, we’ve got European games in there, URC games in there, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games.

 

“All we can do is zone in on these next two weeks, which is Ospreys and Leinster, two Friday night games and we’re looking forward to those.”

 

Ospreys arrive in Galway with a strong record in their opening five United Rugby Championship games, boasting four wins and a loss.

 

Friend says that Connacht will need to be at their best at the breakdown to attack the Welshmen, who the former Australian Sevens coach rates among the best teams so far this season, an opinion which reflects their impressive statistics.

 

“They have been one of the quality sides when you look at their stats across the board, in terms of metres gained up the field, in terms of their turnovers — they have the least amount of turnovers in the competition. They have a very good disciplinary record and don’t give away many penalties. Access into the game is going to be very tricky. We’ll have a tough night on Friday night, we know that. They’re a formidable outfit.

 

Elsewhere, Ireland international out-half Jack Carty says he is excited for Connacht’s future after committing himself to the province by signing a new three-year deal.

 

The Roscommon native, who made his debut for the first team in 2012, is an integral part of head coach Andy Friend’s plans with the Westerners and his retention and commitment to the club is another feather in the cap for the Sportsground team.

 

While Carty is delighted to spend the next three years with Connacht, his immediate focus remains on Friday’s home clash versus the Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship.

 

“Being on the periphery of the Irish team, people kind of presumed you would look to move elsewhere, but the main thing for me was I felt I was getting better as a player and better as a leader.

 

“Then obviously being close to family and stuff like that that you can’t measure if you go somewhere else. I think the change-up we’ve had in the coaching staff this year has massively benefited my game. It was really a clear-cut decision for myself and I am really enjoying where we’re at and where we’re going,” the Irish international said of his decision to extend his contract.

 

Carty, 29, says that the alterations to Connacht’s game plan — albeit slight and subtle — suit his best attributes as a Rugby player. He gave credit to the three new coaches in the Westerners’ backroom team, Mossy Lawler, Dewald Senekal, and Colm Tucker, alongside Friend and Pete Wilkins, for their role in the team’s growth.

 

“Yeah, that’s how I would have played Rugby growing up, in terms of the different coaches with Pat(Lam), KK(Kieran Keane) and Friendy’s(Andy Friend) first couple of years. They were different, but quite similar with the role the 10 played.

 

“It was a lot of facilitating how the shape worked, but now I feel I can get my hands on the ball and ask questions of defenders while also having the ability to look for kick space, which is something we’ve probably seen in the last few years.

 

“The element of the running game is definitely something I have enjoyed and carrying the ball to the line and putting players through holes. I feel like I have a freedom that may not have had before.”

Connacht Rugby are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Ray McLoughlin, one of the greatest players to represent the province and our first British & Irish Lion.
 
McLoughlin was born in Ballinasloe Co. Galway in 1939 and attended Garbally College. Over 16 years he represented Connacht 34 times, making him one of our most capped players of the amateur era. He also earned 40 caps for Ireland and captained the national side on seven occasions.
 
In 1966 McLoughlin became the first Connacht player ever to represent the British & Irish Lions, touring Australia & New Zealand and featuring in three Test matches as well as 14 provincial fixtures.
 
He was called up the Lions again in 1971 for the tour of New Zealand, which was unfortunately cut short due to injury.
 
McLoughlin is regularly mentioned as one of Ireland’s greatest ever props and he leaves an immeasurable impact on rugby in the West of Ireland.
 
Everyone at Connacht Rugby sends on our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and everyone in the wider rugby community who had the pleasure of working with him.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce Irish international Jack Carty has committed his long-term future to the club, signing a new three-year deal until 2025.
 
The Roscommon native has made 164 appearances for his home province since his debut over 9 years ago. He was part of the squad that won the 2015-16 Guinness PRO12, and further impressive performances resulted in an Ireland debut away to Italy in the 2019 Six Nations.
 
In total he has made 10 caps for his country and was a member of the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
 
Carty is a product of the Connacht pathway, playing club and school rugby with Buccaneers RFC and Marist College before graduating from the Connacht Academy.
 
Jack Carty has released the following statement:
 
“I’m so thankful and grateful to be able to represent my home province for another 3 years. The last 6 months have easily been the most enjoyable part of my career, and in that time I feel I’ve matured as a player, leader and person.
 
The staff and my teammates have been incredible and create an environment where you can feel yourself growing daily. It’s easy to stay motivated because of them, even on a wet and windy day training in Galway! The club is represented by people from every pocket of Connacht, Ireland and beyond, but everyone is incredibly proud in representing Connacht and the West.
 
From speaking to Willie about the plans for the future, along with seeing first-hand the work of Friendy and the coaches, I’m excited about what lies ahead. A special thanks to Friendy who goes above and beyond for his players. There is no doubt that this club and squad are in a position to challenge for silverware. I can’t wait to see where the journey takes us over the coming years and I’d like to thank Keith Matthew for his help and guidance. Along with that, I hope to add to my international caps.
 
Most importantly, I want to thank my family, friends and loved ones especially Mum, Dad, my sisters Aoife and Deirdre, my brothers Ben and Luke, my brother-in-law Donie and my niece and nephew Juliette and Ted for all the support and love.”

 
Head Coach Andy Friend added:
 
“This is brilliant news for everyone associated with Connacht. Jack is a top-class international out-half and a crucial player for our squad.
 
He has an incredible skillset and excellent game management. He is therefore an extremely important person for us in how we want to play the game.
 
Jack has also grown as a leader within our group. He has recently earned the right to be our matchday captain which is testament to his leadership qualities.
 
Jack is a very proud Connacht man and loves representing his club, school, province & country. I’m really excited to see him going from strength to strength and committing to us for another next three years.”

 
BUY YOUR SEASON TICKET MEMBERSHIP HERE

Tickets are now on General Sale for Connacht’s first three fixtures of 2022, all of which fall on three consecutive Saturdays at The Sportsground.
 
First up is a New Year’s Day interpro with Munster – an annual game which is always one of the hottest tickets in town. Kick-off will be at 5.15pm.
 
A week later on Saturday 8th January we welcome another of the newest arrivals from South Africa with the DHL Stormers visiting the West. That one gets underway at the slightly earlier time of 3pm.
 
Then on Saturday 15th January it’s the visit of Leicester Tigers to The Sportsground in what’s set to be a huge Heineken Champions Cup fixture, and will go a long way to determining which teams make it to the knockout stages. Kick-off there is at 3.15pm.
 
 
BUY MUNSTER MATCH TICKETS HERE
 
BUY STORMERS MATCH TICKETS HERE
 
BUY LEICESTER TIGERS MATCH TICKETS HERE

The Connacht Eagles return to action tomorrow for a fixture against Munster ‘A’ at University of Limerick (k/o 2pm).

Here’s the team for that game, led by captain Eoghan Masterson.

15. Oran McNulty
14. Alex Wootton
13. Shayne Bolton
12. Peter Robb
11. Ben O’Donnell
10. Conor Fitzgerald
9. Colm Reilly
1. Jordan Duggan
2. Jonny Murphy
3. Greg McGrath
4. Eoghan Masterson (C)
5. Ciaran Booth
6. Sean Masterson
7. Oisin McCormack
8. Abraham Papali’i

16. Dylan Tierney-Martin
17. Bart Vermeulen
18. Sam Illo
19. Declan Adamson
20. Donnacha Byrne
21. Hubert Gilvarry
22. Cathal Forde
23. Josh O’Connor

Creggs and Castlebar will meet in the Bank of Ireland Cawley Cup final after they won their respective semi-finals this past weekend.

 

Creggs — who had tries from Brian Donoghue, Mark Purcell and Brian Diffley, as well two Shane Purcell penalties to thank — edged Connemara 28-27 in a thrilling encounter at the Green.

 

Castlebar, meanwhile, defeated Westport 6-3 in an all Mayo encounter at Carrowholly. The away team progressed thanks to two Stephen Rogan penalties.

 

Elsewhere, Buccaneers 2nd XV lead the Bank of Ireland Connacht J1A League after three rounds of fixtures.

 

The table is compact, however, and the gap between the leaders — who have registered ten match points — and fifth-placed Castlebar stands at only four points.

 

Creggs are placed second, with Westport and Connemara third and fourth respectively.

 

Sligo’s 2nd XV, Tuam, and Monivea sit in sixth, seventh, and eighth in the standings.

 

In the Bank of Ireland J1B league, Ballinrobe and NUIG share top spot on 14 points with both sides boasting a 100% winning record after three rounds of fixtures.

 

Corrib, Corinthians 2nd XV, and Dunmore find themselves placed fourth, fifth, and sixth.

 

Ballina 2nd XV, Galwegians 2nd XV, and Loughrea complete the standings.

 

Ballyhaunis and Ballinasloe lead the way in the Bank of Ireland J1C league, with each collecting ten points after two rounds of fixtures.

 

Carrick on Shannon, Corinthians 3rd XV, and OLBC rank third, fourth and fifth, with Carrick and Corinthians both holding a game in hand.

 

Creggs 2nd XV and Tuam 2nd XV complete the standing in sixth and seventh place.

 

Meanwhile, in the Bank of Ireland J2 league, Galwegians 3rd XV are in top spot with eight points after two wins from their opening two rounds of fixtures.

 

Just behind them are Claremorris — who also boast a 100% winning record — while Westport 2nd XV, Oughterard and Loughrea 2nd XV find themselves third, fourth, and fifth respectively.

 

NUIG 2nd XV, Gort, and Sligo 3rd XV are placed sixth, seventh, and eighth, while Ballinrobe 2nd XV and Portumna complete the standings in ninth and tenth place.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce the renewal of their partnership with HC Financial for another 2 seasons. This sponsorship has been a huge success since it began in 2013 and has also involved HC Financial providing financial advice to staff, players and the wider Connacht Rugby family over the past 8 years.
 
HC Financial advise hundreds of clients every year on life and critical illness cover, financial planning, savings and investments, retirement planning and pensions, mortgages and guidance through the complexity of the tax system.
 
They have the expertise and the experience to help people make the right financial decisions when they need it most. Their roots are firmly set in the West of Ireland for well over 30 years, with a local team of expert advisors on hand to work with real people with real concerns.
 
Gerry Cuddy, CEO of HC Financial says:
“Our partnership with Connacht Rugby is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the local community and a wider national audience, while sharing the values of dedication, integrity, energy, passion and humility”.
 
Michael Sherlock, Head of Sales at HC Financial says:
“Sport plays such a huge role for all of us, spectators and players alike. The last 20 months or so has required huge resilience and strength from the community as a whole, local businesses, the players and management and our own staff here at HC Financial. We look forward to the season ahead with renewed optimism and enthusiasm and a safe return to what we hold familiar and dear.
 
Philip Patterson, Head of Commercial and Marketing at Connacht Rugby says:
“We are delighted to renew our partnership with HC Financial. HC Financial have been official partners of the club since 2013 and we are grateful for their continued support not only in terms of their sponsorship but also for the level of support and services they have provided our staff and players. We look forward to continuing our journey with them during what will be an exciting period for the club both on and off the field’’

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