By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht fell to a 29-7 defeat to the Cardiff Blues in their first away game of the 2020-2021 Guinness PRO14 campaign. 

 

Despite Conor Oliver’s try bringing the scoreline back to 10-7 early in the second half, the hosts — thanks to a brace of tries from Hallam Amos, a penalty try, and a Kristian Dacey touchdown — ended the game strongly and sealed a bonus-point victory.

 

From the beginning of the game, it was clear the Blues, who won their opening game away to Zebre, were intent on attacking.

 

Connacht, though, with Gavin Thornbury, John Porch, and Alex Wootton especially impressive in their defensive duties, held firm and the Welshmen could not turn their territory and possession into a try.

 

The home team did manage to add points when Jarrod Evans slotted a penalty after some enterprising attack deep in the visitors half.

 

With a score to their name, Cardiff flexed their attacking muscles further when Amos — with the first of his two tries — showed a great turn of speed to touch down in the right-hand corner. Jarrod Evans expertly converted and the Blues held their 10-0 lead going into the half time break.

 

Connacht began the second half in strong fashion and launched wave after wave of attacks after a series of line outs deep in the Blues territory. The pressure finally paid dividends when Oliver — after collecting Sammy Arnold’s offload — powered his way over from five metres out. The conversion was a formality for Jack Carty and the visitors clawed the score back to 10-7.

 

 

With the wind in their sails, the visitors continued to attack, but the Blues defence — especially at the breakdown, an area attacks coach Nigel Carolan highlighted as being a crucial area of battle in the build-up to the game — remained steadfast and each Connacht attack was met with the same resistance.

 

Cardiff, with full-back Matthew Morgan a constant threat in broken play, showed their ability to counter when winger Josh Adams made significant headway with a break from deep in his own half. Porch, however, was once again sharp in defence and saved a certain try with a brilliant tackle.

 

The Irishmen couldn’t hold out on the next attack, however, when Amos — after brilliant work from Rey Lee-Lo — crossed for his second try in the left-hand corner. Evans’ conversion was wide but the hosts had a 15-7 lead with fifteen minutes remaining.

 

Connacht were brave and continued to attack in search of scores, but Cardiff — first through a penalty try and then, from close range after some hard carries, via a Dacey touchdown — went on to score two more tries, the second of which Jason Tovey converted, to take the bonus point win, 29-7.

 

Connacht team:(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Bundee Aki

12: Sammy Arnold

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Kieran Marmion

(8-1)

8: Jarrad Butler

7: Conor Oliver

6: Eoghan Masterson

5: Quinn Roux

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Dave Heffernan

1: Denis Buckley

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Jack Aungier for Bealham, Ultane Dillane for Thornbury, Paul Boyle for Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty.

Following today’s team announcement, the Connacht medical team have issued the following squad update:
 
Niall Murray (shoulder) underwent surgery earlier this week and will be out action until January 2021.
 
Tom Farrell (thigh), Caolin Blade (ill), Peter Robb (groin) and Matt Healy (calf) will look to integrate into full team training next week.
 
Tiernan O’Halloran (hip) will continue to rehabilitate and will aim to integrate into team training the following week (19.10.20)
 
Cillian Gallagher (shoulder) continues his rehabilitation and aims to return to team training at the end of the month.
 
Sean O’Brien (foot) continues his rehabilitation.
 
Oisin Dowling (back) continues his rehabilitation from a long-term injury.
 
Stephen Fitzgerald (knee) continues to rehabilitate and will look to commence training integration in the coming weeks.
 
Ben O’Donnell (knee) has recently joined the squad and continues his rehabilitation from a long-term knee injury.
 
NOTE: PCR testing this week produced zero positive results amongst Connacht players and staff.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made two changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 clash against Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Eoghan Masterson comes in for his 93rd Connacht appearance, starting at blindside flanker. Captain Jarrad Butler moves to number 8 as a result while Conor Oliver retains his place on the opposite flank.
 
The other changes comes in the backs where Sammy Arnold partners Bundee Aki at centre.
 
The remainder of the team is the same that impressively saw off Glasgow Warriors last week, with hooker Dave Heffernan joined by props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham in the front row, while Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux continue their second row partnership.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are retained at 9 and 10 respectively, while the squad is completed by the same back three of wingers Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan alongside full-back John Porch.
Commenting on his team selection, Andy Friend says:
 
“We were very pleased to pick up the win last week and the way the squad took control of the game in the second half. That said, we are targeting two wins from these first two games so the job is only half done.
Rodney Parade is a tough place to go but I have full confidence in the squad we have selected to go over and get the win. Unfortunately we will be without Niall Murray for a lengthy period, but we are able to welcome back Ultan Dillane while Shane Delahunt has served his suspension so we are in a good place overall.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY SQUAD VS CARDIFF BLUES
Saturday 10th October, Rodney Parade (k/o 7.35pm)

Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (19)
14. Peter Sullivan (2)
13. Sammy Arnold (2)
12. Bundee Aki (102)
11. Alex Wootton (2)
10. Jack Carty (141)
9. Kieran Marmion (168)
1. Denis Buckley (180)
2. Dave Heffernan (131)
3. Finlay Bealham (143)
4. Gavin Thornbury (40)
5. Quinn Roux (102)
6. Eoghan Masterson (92)
7. Conor Oliver (3)
8. Jarrad Butler (57) (C)

16. Shane Delahunt (78)
17. Jordan Duggan (2)
18. Jack Aungier (2)
19. Ultan Dillane (97)
20. Paul Boyle (41)
21. Stephen Kerins (9)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (24)
23. Tom Daly (26)

By John O’Sullivan
 
Attack coach Nigel Carolan believes that the breakdown will be a key area of battle in Connacht’s PRO14 trip to the Cardiff Blues on Saturday.
 
The Westerners started their domestic campaign with a 28-24 victory over The Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground last weekend, a win built on a combination of sturdy defence and efficient attacking.
 
The Blues, meanwhile, opened their season with a 16-6 win away to Zebre in Italy and Carolan anticipates a big challenge from the Welshmen, especially at the breakdown, and wants to see Connacht improve their discipline.
 
“Looking back at the last game, what we learned from that game was the discipline, the ill discipline and how that can pressure our game; how it puts so much pressure onto our defence and how it inhibits our attack. It doesn’t give us the opportunities that we would like,” the former Irish U20’s coach said.
 
“They’re a big threat over the breakdown. You have got Ollie Robinson and (Josh) Navidi and, traditionally, Cardiff go hard after the ball so there will be a big focus on the breakdown. And, in some cases, we’ll need to play a little bit more without the ball, so we’re not giving them the life they want by stealing our ball at the breakdown.”
 
In the victory over Glasgow, Connacht scored two tries from quick thinking, transitional plays– attacking as soon as possession was won — and Carolan was pleased to see facets of the game forged on the training paddock pay dividends in a game.
 
“It’s a massive part of our game(transitional plays) and where we see our attack is in the transition game, in what some may term the unstructured part of the game. But for us it’s not really unstructured because we try and create a little bit of structure around that.
 
We focus a lot on playing off turnovers and trying to capitalise on turnovers. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been playing a lot of little games, working from kick transitions and turnover transitions, and trying to go forward on the ball and finding other players’ space is the terms we’re looking to do when we’re in transition.
 
It’s pleasing that that’s starting to pay reward,” the former Connacht centre said.
 
New signing Alex Wootton, meanwhile, says that he is enjoying playing under Andy Friend and is thriving in the attacking style of rugby played at the Sportsground.
 
The former Sevens player — who joined on a season long loan from Munster — feels he has settled in quicker to life with the Westerners because of the emphasis Connacht — with former Australian Seven coach Friend a key factor — place on a quick style of play.
 
With assists for Kieran Marmion and Bundee Aki tries — both with accurate grubber kicks in behind — against Ulster and Glasgow respectively, Wootton has already made a telling contribution.
 
“Absolutely, yeah”, the 26-year-old said when asked whether Connacht’s style suits his skillset as a former Sevens player.
 
“Sevens was a big stepping stone for myself, as well for a few other people as well who have gone on to play professional 15’s. It’s definitely something which was highlighted a good few times, speaking to Andy. That was definitely a tick in the box. We hit it off from that side of things,” Wootton said.
 
On and off the ball, the Sportsground teams back three impressed versus Glasgow. With Irish international’s Matt Healy and Tiernan O’Halloran to return — as well as Peter Sullivan and John Porch in contention — the competition for places for a starting berth at full back or on the wings is huge.
 
With so many quality players vying for position, Connacht are in admirable position and can only benefit and Wootton says that the challenge is exciting and that it is improving each player as an individual
 
“You look at the squad and you’ve got Tiernan — who is a capped international — and you got Matt Healy, who is a capped international, and these are guys who are yet to come back in.
 
By no means, and kudos to the coaches that are building the squad well, is there anything(a preferred back three) set in stone. That might have happened before and you look at other provinces and you can say ‘that’s definitely their starting back three’ but that’s definitely not the case here.
 
That’s bringing the best out of all of us. That goes right down through the squad and into the academy as well,” the former Irish U20 winger said.

There’s a strong Connacht contingent in the Ireland squad for the return of the Guinness Six Nations later this month.
 
Six players from the province are named in Andy Farrell’s 35 player squad, with Bundee Aki and Dave Heffernan retaining their place after they were named in the initial Six Nations squad before the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
There’s also a return to the Ireland setup for Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Quinn Roux with the quartet showing some impressive form since the return of rugby.
 
The squad which will be captained by Johnny Sexton contains six uncapped players – Ryan Baird, Ed Byrne, Will Connors, Shane Daly, Hugo Keenan and Jamison Gibson Park. While Baird and Connors have been involved in national camps before it will be a first time with the national squad for the other uncapped players.
 
In addition Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, James Lowe, James Tracy and Fineen Wycherley will train with the squad next week at IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin. Ireland take on Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 24th October before facing France in Paris the following Saturday (31st).
 
Ireland currently sit fourth on the Six Nations table one point behind Scotland and 4 points behind England and France who have all played an extra game. Back in February Ireland recorded wins over Scotland (19-12) and Wales (24-12) before losing to England (12-24) at Twickenham.
 
Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell commented, “There has been a huge effort right across Irish Rugby to ensure that the professional game could return safely and that work is greatly appreciated by the national management. We have protocols in place to safeguard the welfare of the players and staff and are looking forward to completing the Six Nations Championships.
 
We have two competitions to play in over the coming months but will focus first on a strong finish to the 6 Nations Championships. The return to rugby has not been without its challenges as some players have suffered injury setbacks and there has been limited playing opportunities ahead of a busy and exciting international window. We will be closely monitoring the form and fitness of players competing in the Guinness PRO14 over the coming weeks.

 
Ireland Squad 2020 Guinness 6 Nations Championships Round 4 & 5
 
Backs (16)
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 26 caps
Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 6 caps
Jack Carty (Connacht/Buccaneers) 10 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 21 caps
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Con) uncapped
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 9 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) uncapped
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 43 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 24 caps
Kieran Marmion (Connacht/Corinthians) 27 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 3 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 81 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 29 caps
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 91 caps CAPTAIN
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 28 caps
 
Forwards (19)
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) uncapped
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Corinthians) 9 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 13 caps
Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 17 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD) 2 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 98 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 1 cap
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 55 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 11 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 3 caps
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 67 caps
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
Quinn Roux (Connacht/Galwegians) 12 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 21 caps
CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 41 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
 
Training with Squad w/c 12th October
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) uncapped
James Lowe (Leinster) uncapped
James Tracy (Leinster/UCD) 6 caps
Fineen Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce a new pilot initiative for the 2020/21 season aimed at increasing retention rates of youth players across the province.
 
Drawing on best practice in youth sports this initiative, known as Connacht le Chéile, is a commitment by coaches to give all players in a matchday squad equal game-time. The pilot is being rolled out at all U13 boys and U14 girls league matches this season as well as an open invitation for any coach, team or club that wish to take part.
 
Speaking about Connacht le Chéile, Spirit of Rugby Officer Luke Murphy said:
 
“In naming this initiative we wanted to draw on the bond between the West of Ireland and the Irish language as well as highlighting that we’re all working together to create the best opportunities for young people to enjoy sport”.
 
The rationale behind Connacht le Chéile is that all young people deserve the opportunity to experience at least half a game of rugby, rather than sitting on the bench until the last couple of minutes of a match.
 
Research conducted by the IRFU and Connacht Rugby has shown that young rugby players regularly rank team-work and enjoyment of the game ahead of the result of a match, and that players who get quality game-time are more likely to be retained in the sport and this initiative aims to increase these occasions.
 
Luke added:
 
“We’re delighted to get this pilot programme up and running and launching during Parents in Sport Week is the perfect time to highlight the positive impact youth coaches, the vast majority of whom are parents themselves, can have on young people’s enjoyment of rugby. It’s a fantastic opportunity for young rugby players to get quality game-time and experience at least half a game of rugby each week and we believe it will be instrumental in increasing retention rates across the province and help foster a life-long love of the game.”
 
“Matchday squads will still be capped at 23 players and this initiative means that everyone involved will get at least 30 minutes of rugby each week, helping to develop their skills, cement the bonds of friendship through teamwork and continue to provide a child-centred environment for our youngest players to enjoy the sport.”

By John O’Sullivan
 
Connacht began their 2020/2021 Guinness PRO14 campaign with a 28-24 win over Glasgow
Warriors at the Sportsground.

 
Two tries from Bundee Aki, a try from Quinn Roux and thirteen points from the boot of Jack
Carty accounted for the Westerners points in a hugely physical affair.
 
Glasgow, meanwhile, through Nick Grigg, Huw Jones and Tommy Seymour added three tries of
their own, but the steely defence and attacking efficiency of the hosts saw them claim a
deserved win.
 
Buoyed on by the 200 socially distanced fans in the Sportsground, Connacht started brightly
and opened the scoring when strong defence from Tom Farrell — which would become a
recurring feature — won a penalty in the Glasgow 22. Carty, showing all the calm in the world,
slotted the kick for Andy Friend’s men’s first points of the season.
 
The visitors reacted well to the concession of the penalty and piled the pressure on Connacht,
but — despite their best efforts, with Hasting prominent in attack — the hosts held firm to deny
them a score in a physically ferocious opening half hour.
 
However, the Scotsmen — who enjoyed a man advantage for ten minutes after Roux was sin
binned — eventually made their pressure count on the stroke of half time. Hastings deft offload
found Grigg’s arching angled run and the centre skipped over for a try. Hastings added the
extras and Glasgow went into the break 7-3 to the good.
 
The visitors started the second period in a similar vein and extended their lead further when
Hastings made no mistake off the tee to take the score to 10-3.
 
Connacht grew into the game thereafter and a beautifully worked move saw them opening their
try scoring account for the season in the most brilliant of fashion.
 
An acrobatic offload close to the line from Peter Sullivan kept the move alive and, after a few
phases, Farrell broke through a would be tackle to feed Aki an offload and the Irish international
powered his way over from short range. Carty slotted the conversion to level things up at 10-10.
 
With the wind in their sails, the Westerners — with Alex Wootton and Aki central to their
attacking plans — continued to probe and their persistence was rewarded when Roux, after
collecting a Kieran Marmion pass, smashed his way over for a try. Once again, Carty was
successful with the boot and Connacht found themselves in a deserved 17-10 lead.
 
The game was beginning to have a tit for tat flow and Glasgow were next to cross the white
wash when Scottish international full-back Huw Jones’s sharp line saw him touch down for a try
that Hastings converted to tie the scoreline at 17-17.
 
The lead would change hands once again when Carty, benefitting from a Glasgow offside,
bisected the posts with an excellently struck penalty to set up a gripping final 15 minutes with
Connacht leading 20-17.
 
Defensively, the Westerners back-three were solid throughout but didn’t have much opportunity
to stretch their legs and express themselves in attack. John Porch, however, on a rare foray
forward, started a brilliant move that resulted in Aki dotting down for a try.
 
The former Australian Sevens player fielded a long kick and showed his pace by flying up the
pitch and offloading accurately to Wootton. The winger exploded into space and his clever kick
through was chased by Aki, who — showing a brilliant turn of speed — picked up to go over for
the try. The conversion was narrowly wide, but the try set up a tense finale at 25-17 to the home
team.
 
Glasgow, who Connacht were winless against in their previous six games, responded strongly
and they made it a one point game with their third try. Seymour, the 2017 British and Irish Lions
tourist, showed strong footwork to dive over in the right corner for a try that Hastings converted
to take the score to 25-24.
 
Deservingly, Carty — whose intelligent territorial kicking and accurate place kicking were key
throughout for the hosts — had the final say when he drilled a long range penalty between the
posts to seal Connacht’s win and start their season off on a winning start, 28-24.
 
Connacht team(15-9)
15: John Porch
14: Peter Sullivan
13: Tom Farrell
12: Bundee Aki
11: Alex Wootton
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion
(8-1)
8: Paul Boyle
7: Conor Oliver
6: Jarrad Butler(C)
5: Quinn Roux
4: Gavin Thornbury
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley
Replacements; Blade for Marmion, Duggan for Buckley, Aungier for Bealham, Murray for
Thornbury, Masterson for Oliver, Arnold for Aki.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to confirm the renewal of our partnership with McDonogh Capital Investments.
 
One of Ireland’s foremost private companies, the McDonogh Capital Investments name will continue to appear on the sleeve of the province’s playing and training jerseys for the next three seasons as part of the new agreement.
 
McDonogh’s is a household name in Galway and actively support local sport, business and arts enterprises. Over the years the business has transformed into a successful investment and property company. The portfolio of McDonogh Capital Investments now extends to mainland Europe and beyond.
 
Partnership Manager at Connacht Rugby, Gavin Duffy, said:
 
“We are delighted to extend our partnership with McDonogh Capital Investments. They are a very successful local business that are heavily involved in the local community in Galway. They have been a great supporter of Connacht Rugby over the last number of years and we look forward to sharing some more great moments with them again over the next three seasons’’
 
McDonogh Capital Investments CEO, Tom McDonogh, added:
 
“McDonogh Capital Investments are extremely proud to have always maintained our roots here in the West of Ireland. Our primary focus has been on developments abroad over the last number of years but our partnership with Connacht Rugby, who are as ambitious as we are, is an important aspect as we continue to become more active in the Irish market once again.
“We look forward to making further exciting announcements as we unveil future development plans for Ireland and, in particular, Galway.”

Following today’s squad announcement for tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 opener against Glasgow, the Connacht medical team have requested the following squad update:
 
Peter Robb (groin) and Matt Healy (calf) will both return to team training next week as they progress their rehabilitation from respective injuries.

Tiernan O’Halloran (hip) sustained a hip injury in training this week and will look to return to training next week.

Ultan Dillane (head) sustained a head injury in the Munster ‘A’ game last weekend and is following return to play protocols.

Cillian Gallagher (shoulder) is continuing his rehabilitation from a shoulder injury and will integrate into team training later this month.

Sean O’Brien (foot) is continuing his rehabilitation from a foot injury.

Oisin Dowling (back) is continuing his rehabilitation for a long term back injury.

Stephen Fitzgerald (knee) is continuing his rehabilitation from knee surgery earlier this year and will integrate into team training later this month.

Andy Friend has named his squad for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 season opener against the Glasgow Warriors, with Jarrad Butler leading out the side from blindside flanker.
 
Butler begins his third season as Connacht captain having joined in 2017, and he starts in the number 6 position with Conor Oliver earning a start at openside after an impressive pre-season campaign. Paul Boyle completes the back row at number 8.
 
There’s an experienced look to the front row with Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham all named, while Gavin Thornbury and Quinn make up the rest of the pack in the second row.
 
Friend has named the same backline that put in a brilliant attacking display against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, with Irish international trio Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty and Bundee Aki forming the 9-10-12 axis.
 
Tom Farrell partners Aki in the centre, while John Porch continues at full-back with Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan on the wings.
 
200 spectators will be in attendance at The Sportsground – including previous season ticket holders – in what will be the first Guinness PRO14 game at The Sportsground in over seven months.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“There’s no hiding the fact that last weekend’s Eagles game was very disappointing and we’re keen to quickly move on from it. That said, the spirit and energy at training has been really positive all week and there’s always a sense of excitement when you start a new season. If this squad can produce what I know they’re capable of, I know we’ve a great chance of picking up a win.”
 
Regarding the fixture itself, Friend added:
 
“It’s always vital you pick up home wins in this competition and Saturday will be no different. We’re coming up against a very strong Glasgow outfit and our recent record against them isn’t great, but our aim in these opening two weeks is two victories and I firmly believe we can achieve that and start the season on a high”.
 
CONNACHT RUGBY SQUAD V GLASGOW WARRIORS
Saturday 3rd October @ The Sportsground (k/o 5.15pm)

Number, Name, Caps
15. John Porch (18)
14. Peter Sullivan (1)
13. Tom Farrell (58)
12. Bundee Aki (101)
11. Alex Wootton (1)
10. Jack Carty (140)
9. Kieran Marmion (167)
1. Denis Buckley (179)
2. Dave Heffernan (130)
3. Finlay Bealham (142)
4. Gavin Thornbury (39)
5. Quinn Roux (101)
6. Jarrad Butler (56) CAPTAIN
7. Conor Oliver (2)
8. Paul Boyle (40)

16. Jonny Murphy (7)
17. Jordan Duggan (1)
18. Jack Aungier (1)
19. Niall Murray (7)
20. Seán Masterson (3)
21. Caolin Blade (112)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (24)
23. Sammy Arnold (1)

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