British & Irish Cup action in Athlone

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

CONNACHT EAGLES TACKLE NEWPORT ON SATURDAY

CONNACHT EAGLES tackle Newport in their final British & Irish Cup Pool 4 fixture at Dubarry Park on Saturday afternoon. The Welsh club pipped the developing Connacht squad 18-14 in Wales courtesy of a late, late try but the host province will be optimistic of avenging that narrow loss and, in the process, secure 2nd place, at the Athlone venue. Kick off time is 2 p.m. which will enable supporters to then watch the Heineken Cup action on the big screens at The Bounty afterwards.

A club with a long and chequered history, Newport (like neighbours and rivals Cross Keys) are now more or less a feeder club for regional side Newport Gwent Dragons. Their form has been inconsistent and they currently lie mid-table in the Principality Premiership. Formed in 1874, the ‘black and ambers’ have supplied numerous Welsh internationals over the years as well as over 30 British and Ireland Lions players. Sky TV’s Stuart Barnes, along with lock Brian Price and South African Percy Montgomery, are just a few of the legendary internationals from many countries to have played for Newport. Several Ireland internationals including one-time Buccaneer and Connacht stalwart Matt Mostyn have also played for the Welsh club, whose most recent Wales internationals include Toby Feletau, Luke Charteris and Ryan Jones.

DH Eagles350On Saturday, however, they will (just like the Eagles) look to a primarily youthful squad captained by seasoned tighthead prop Gethin Robinson. Backrower Sam Waldron is another experienced operator who will be called on to show leadership to forwards Ross Coombs, Ryan Prosser & Co. Scott Sneddon and Tom Handcock have shared the outhalf duties while James Leadbetter has switched between fullback and scrumhalf for the visitors, who led Cross Keys 16-0 last week but were then fortunate to eke a 27-27 draw at Rodney Parade where the Newport have, over the years, claimed the prized scalps of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand! Alas, since the advent of professionalism in rugby union, Newport is not the feared force they once were.

Connacht Eagles will need to be purposeful and belligerent to impose themselves on the visitors. At time of writing, the squad is not announced and Mick Kearney and Eoghan Grace could well be on Heineken Cup duty against Zebre at the Sportsground on Friday night. Nevertheless, there is an exciting and improving blend in the squad. Regular supporters at Dubarry Park will be familiar with the exploits of David Heffernan, Jack Carty, Conor Finn, Mark McCrea and David Gannon while recent Buccaneers debutant Mata Fifita could feature after his injury layoff. Galwegians duo Tadhg Leader and Brian Murphy have developed a fine partnership in the centre. If Grace is absent, T.J.Anderson will probably skipper the side with the exciting Corinthians player Aaron Conneely likely to complete the backrow trio. The vastly-experienced and very able hooker Adrian Flavin will be a key man for the home province.

Connacht have flair and potential aplenty in this fledgling side. If they match that with workrate, commitment and focus, they can account for Newport and take the runner-up berth behind runaway leaders Newcastle Falcons. It is likely to be a lively, physical battle but if the Eagles dare to be the more expansive outfit and keep their discipline, then they can fly.

(Note:- Connacht season ticket holders will be admitted free to this match. Kick off time is 2 p.m. and supporters can watch all the key Heineken Cup matches on the big screens in The Bounty afterwards!)   

Related

IRFU publishes return to rugby summary roadmap