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.
 

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 Rugby are delighted to announce that Irish international scrum half Kieran Marmion has signed a three year contract extension with Connacht up to the end of the 2022/23 season.

The 27 year old joined the Connacht Academy in 2011 and since his arrival in the Sportsground has played over 160 games for the province. Marmion’s outstanding form during his time with Connacht has led to him being capped 27 times for Ireland since making his debut against Argentina in 2014.

His international representation began in his teens when he played for Ireland at Under 18, 19 and 20 level.

Commenting on the signing, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Kieran has been an outstanding player for Connacht and for Ireland. He is a diligent professional and through his hard work he has progressed through the Connacht Academy and on to play for Ireland. His progress demonstrates the support that is available to players through our academy pathway.  Kieran’s commitment to Connacht for a further three seasons demonstrates his ambition to contribute at provincial and international level in the coming years. His signing also ensures that we continue to retain a squad equipped to compete at the highest level of European club rugby”.

Ends

The Connacht head coach and captain have said they can’t wait to get started on their European campaign for the season.
 
For the fifth time Connacht will compete in the Heineken Champions Cup, thanks to a quarter-final finish in last season’s Guinness PRO14.
 
Speaking at last week’s EPCR launch in Cardiff, head coach Andy Friend says the squad will be relishing the occasions which begin this weekend at home to Montpellier.
 
It’s a real opportunity for us. We haven’t been in there for a few years now. We earned the right to get in there this year from last year, with our quarter-final finish in the Pro14, so we’re with the big boys and looking forward to it.
 
It’s always great to have a French team travelling. Montpellier, we know the strength of them, they’re a quality side, they’re having a good season this year, but to welcome them to the Sportsground is going to be good for our fans.
 
Once we got in, people start sending in clips and comments about their greatest memories in a Champions Cup: beating Toulouse, beating Wasps, so they’re two special moments that Connacht fans certainly remember and, hopefully, we can give them a few other ones to remember this year.

 
Captain Jarrad Butler will be competing in the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time, and he’s equally looking forward to the opportunity of testing themselves against the best.
 
I’m really excited. To qualify for the Champions Cup is a reflection of the previous year and being able to perform at a high level. So, getting to play against some of the best teams in Europe, or the best teams in Europe, is an exciting prospect and I can’t wait.
 
There’s been a serious buzz, you know. I came from New Zealand and Australia, so I didn’t know much about the Champions Cup competition, but you talk to fans, you talk to players and, you know, some of their fondest memories are from playing in the Champions Cup. It’s beating your Toulouses at home, and the amount of fans that have already spoken about, you know, [how] they’ve booked their flights to Toulouse and Montpellier and things like that, you know. For me personally, it’s just cool to see.
 
Everyone talks so highly about it, you can’t help but just kind of get caught up in the buzz, I suppose. Hopefully we can make some more and I can have some good memories for myself in the coming weeks anyway.
 
Montpellier are such a big team, and to have them down at The Sportsground is an exciting prospect, I think, for the fans and for us as a playing group alike, and I’m looking forward to getting the campaign started in good fashion as well.

 
Connacht begin their Heineken Champions Cup campaign at home to Montpellier this Sunday at the Sportsground, and tickets are still available.
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE

Ahead of tomorrow’s vital Guinness PRO14 clash with the Ospreys, Andy Friend and Eoin McKeon spoke to the media at this week’s pre-match press conference.
 
The pair spoke about moving on from the loss to Glasgow, the challenge facing them at The Sportsground on Saturday, and the importance of the fans as we head into a crucial period of the season.
 

Connacht regained 3rd place in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 on Saturday with a narrow but important win over the Toyota Cheetahs at The Sportsground.
 
That result coupled with losses for Ospreys and the Cardiff Blues means Andy Friend’s side have opened up a lead over their playoff rivals ahead of Friday night’s tough trip to the Glasgow Warriors.
 
The head coach along with Jack Carty spoke to the media about the win and the challenge in the week’s ahead at Saturday’s post-match press conference.
 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Connacht Attack Coach Nigel Carolan, Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy and Defence Coach Peter Wilkins have all signed two year contract extensions to take them up to the end of the 2020-21 season.
 
Making the announcement Friend said: “One of the first things that struck me when I took up the position of Head Coach of Connacht Rugby was the strength of the coaching team that was already in place. They are an exceptional team and one of the best collective groups I have worked with in my coaching career. Obviously a major priority for us has been to retain the services of these guys into the future and I am delighted that we are now in a position to announce this great news. We can now continue to focus on producing an exciting, attacking and ultimately winning brand of rugby for the seasons ahead.
 
Attack Coach Nigel Carolan was Connacht Academy Manager from 2004 to his appointment with the professional team in 2017. He is also former Head Coach of the Ireland Under 20 squad. Commenting on his contract extension, Carolan said: “We have a very clear focus on where we are going as a team and a province, and we are determined to deliver further success in the seasons ahead. We pride ourselves on our attacking style and I am excited about the contribution I can make to that in the coming years.
 
Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy has held his current role since 2015 and was part of the coaching team that won the PRO12 Championship in 2016. He previously worked as Elite Player Development Officer in the Connacht Academy for a four year period. He has also worked with numerous age grade sides within Connacht as Head and Assistant Coach, along with seven seasons with the Ireland Under 18 side. Following his contract signing, Duffy added: “Connacht Rugby is an exciting place to be, both on and off the field. We have made progress this season on all aspects of our game and are continuing to improve. There is even more potential in the squad and I believe that we can maximise that potential in the coming seasons.
 
Also extending his contract is Defence Coach Peter Wilkins who joined Connacht from Edinburgh ahead of the 2017/18 season. He previously worked in Australia with the Queensland Reds Super Rugby side and as Head Coach of Queensland A. Commenting on his contract extension, Wilkins added: “I am extremely honoured to be part of Connacht Rugby and I am delighted to have extended my contract for another 2 years. I am proud of the progression we have made defensively this season and I look forward to working with all of the coaches and the squad to continue that progression in the seasons ahead.

Connacht lock Quinn Roux is set to captain Connacht for the first time ahead of Saturday’s final European Challenge Cup pool game away to Bordeaux-Begles (k/o 3pm Irish time). Roux has played 90 times for Connacht since making his debut in 2014 and signed a two-year extension to his contract earlier in the season.

Andy Friend’s team selection also includes a debut for Academy scrum-half Stephen Kerins. The 22 year old Sligo man forms a new-look half-back partnership with out-half David Horwitz. Caolin Blade and Jack Carty have been named among the replacements.

The midfield partnership is made up of Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell, both of whom were named in Ireland’s Six Nations squad this week. While in the back three Matt Healy and Darragh Leader will start on the wings and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.

In the pack there is a return to action for number 8 Eoin McKeon who starts his first game since suffering a shoulder injury against Glasgow on the opening day of the season. He forms joins a back row alongside flankers Paul Boyle and James Connolly. Up front props Pete McCabe and Finlay Bealham are joined by hooker Shane Delahunt. In the second row Gavin Thornbury will partner the captain Quinn Roux.

Among the replacements is hooker Jonny Murphy who is named in the Connacht matchday squad for the first time, while Eoin Griffin has returned from injury to take his place on the bench.

Connacht go into the game knowing a win will guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals, and Head Coach Andy Friend says his team must be completely focused on the task at hand.
“We know that a win of any description will secure a quarter final spot”, he said.

“Achieving any win away in France is difficult. French teams pride themselves on their home record and make it difficult for the opposition and we expect Bordeaux to be no different. Having said that we will be sticking to the approach that has served us well this season and we will be focusing on our own game.”

A win would mean a number of potential opponents in the last eight, but Friend has stresses that their focus remains solely on this weekend. “We haven’t really looked at all the different permutations, all we know is we need to get to Bordeaux and do a job. Ideally it would be a bonus-point win but a win is all we’re focusing on at the minute.”

#BORvCON  (Kick-off 3pm Irish time)

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, Stephen Kerins. (1-8) Pete McCabe, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (C), Paul Boyle, James Connolly, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements (16-23): Jonny Murphy, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Connon, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.

Andy Friend and Paul Boyle took questions from the media after Saturday’s 31-24 defeat to Munster in the Guinness PRO14.
 
The side came up just short in an entertaining game but managed to secure a losing bonus point in the final quarter.
 

Connacht head coach Andy Friend reflects on last week’s impressive win in Perpignan and discusses the challenge of facing European champions Leinster tomorrow in the Guinness PRO14.

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