Connacht Rugby can confirm Abraham Papali’i has committed to the province after signing a contract extension for the 2021-22 season.
 
The number 8 has made a big impact since his arrival last season, scoring 3 tries in 11 games and exciting supporters and pundits alike with his strength and strong ball carrying ability.
 
Papali’i arrived from Bay of Plenty in New Zealand having predominantly played Rugby League during his career.
 
Commenting on today’s news, Head Coach Andy Friend said:
 
“I’ve been really pleased with Abraham’s progression since he joined us. He’s had to adapt to the rigours of rugby union as well as an off-field culture change, made no easier by the pandemic, and we are now seeing the fruits of his hard work. His last few performances have been very impressive and we look forward to seeing him continue his development into next season.”

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Ulster 24

Connacht 26

 

Connacht began their Rainbow Cup campaign with a dramatic 26-24 win over Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

 

A brace of tries from Caolin Blade as well as tries from Paul Boyle and Peter Sullivan secured the away team both the win and the try bonus point in a gutsy attacking performance. 

 

Trailing 24-21 going into the final play of the game, the visitors turned down a shot at goal and the possibility of drawing the game. Instead, they bravely kicked to the corner and — after securing the line out — they worked a move with culminated in Sullivan diving in to win the game with the last play of the game.

 

With the ball quick and track dry, Connacht started the game with an attacking ambition and their efforts were rewarded eight minutes in. 

 

After securing clean line out ball, the visitors launched a patient, probing move. With Boyle, Eoghan Masterson and Ultan Dillane making big incisions into Ulster territory, the Westerners established field position in the 22. 

 

The ball was eventually worked to Boyle and the captain — who recognised a gap in the host’s defensive line — burst through a would be tackle to touch down for a try that Carty converted with aplomb. 

 

Ulster worked their way back into the contest thereafter, however, and — after a period of sustained pressure — Irish international Jacob Stockdale crossed for a try in the corner after a well-constructed move. The conversion went wide, though, and Connacht held onto their lead at 7-5.

 

The home team pressed for more scores, but they found the Connacht defence — with Ben O’Donnell particularly impressive — stubborn and well drilled. 

 

But the Northern province didn’t relent and their pressure did eventually tell, however, when Rob Herring, at the tail of a rolling maul, touched down for a try. John Cooney made no mistake adding the extras and Ulster found themselves in the lead at 12-7, a score they held going into the half time break. 

 

The home team began the second half in a similar manner to which they ended the first and they only had to wait four minutes to dot down their third try of the evening. Irish international Billy Burns was the benefactor of quick ball and he crossed for the score near the touchline. The conversion was wide, but Connacht found themselves 17-7 down. 

 

With the introduction of Abraham Papali’i, the Westerners wrestled back the momentum. With a huge carry from the base of a scrum, the number 8 punctured through the Ulster defence. Blade, sensing a break was on, then showed a brilliant burst of speed and step to cut through and score a try. Tom Daly — who took over kicking responsibilities after Carty was yellow-carded — slotted the extras and Connacht brought themselves back into an entertaining contest, only trailing by three points at 17-14.

 

With their tails up, Connacht were attacking with pace and power and Papali’i was especially prominent in ensuring go forward ball. Dillane — whose line out prowess and ball carrying was sublime all evening — thought he was over when he burst through the defence and almost touched down. 

 

Once again, Blade was alive to the opportunity and picked from the next phase and crossed for the try. Replacement Conor Fitzgerald converted and Westerners retook the lead at 21-17.

 

In a tit for tat contest, Ulster were the next to score when replacement scrum-half Dave Shananhan showed pace to run in a converted try and the lead swapped hands again with Ulster leading 24-21 with five minutes remaining.

 

But Connacht weren’t to be denied and they showed intelligence and bravery to win the game at the death. Firstly, a captain’s calls saw the Westerners awarded a penalty in the Ulster half for hands on the ground. 

 

Fitzgerald turned down the shot at goal and the draw and kicked the corner. The line out was accurate and the away team established themselves position in the Ulster 22. The ball was worked wide and Marmion stabbed a grubber kick in behind and Sullivan — showing acrobatic skills — touched down for the game-winning score in the last play. 

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Ben O’Donnell 

13: Sean O’Brien 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle © 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt for Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke for Duggan, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray for Gavin Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i for Boyle, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty, Peter Sullivan for Matt Healy.

Scarlets 41-36 Connacht

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Despite a brilliant display of attacking rugby that yielded five first-half tries, Connacht fell to a narrow, 41-36, defeat to Scarlets in their final PRO14 game of the season.

 

John Porch, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien and Dominic Robertson McCoy all touched down for first half tries for the away team, earning them both try and losing bonus points. Conor Fitzgerald and replacement Jack Carty added eleven points to Connacht’s total via four conversions and a penalty.

 

It was a night for Dylan Tierney Martin as the hooker — formerly of the Irish under ’20s — made his professional debut as a second-half replacement.

 

 

The Scarlets needed a win to help their Champions Cup qualifications hopes and they started with intent. After only two minutes, Aaron Shingler — the blindside flanker — touched down in the left-hand corner after a well-crafted move. 

 

Connacht settled themselves thereafter, however, and began to take control of the contest. With a rock-solid set-piece, the Westerners began to string phases of attacks deep in the Scarlets 22 together. 

 

After a typically sturdy scrum, the away launched an attack and Tom Daly combined with Fitzgerald and the fly-halves pass found Porch and the full-back showed great pace to touch down. Fitzgerald slotted the extras to give the away team a deserved lead. 

 

With their tails up, Connacht added a second try not long after. Kieran Marmion’s incisive break gave the Westerners’ field position and, with advantage accruing, Fitzgerald’s beautiful fizzing pass found Papali’i on the right-hand wing. The big number fended off a would-be challenger to touch down for an excellently constructed try. 

 

Two tries soon became three as Connacht showed all their attacking flair and pace. A huge break from O’Brien saw the centre pass to Porch. The full-back then made an incision of his own through the Scarlets defence before offloading back to O’Brien to score. It was a try of beautiful proportions and Fitzgerlad confidently added the conversion to bring the score to 19-5 in favour of the away team. 

 

The flow of the game was tit for tat and Scarlets were the next team to score when Steff Hughes — after a beautiful offload from Steff Evans — picked up near the line and dived over for a converted try to bring the score to 12-19.

 

Connacht were to have the last say in the half, however and scored two quickfire tries to bring their first-half total of tries to five. First, Robertson McCoy — whose set piece work, as well as his ball carrying, was superb — smashed his way over from close range. Fitzgerald, once again, made no mistake in adding the extras. 

 

Then, after a huge break from Niall Murray established Connacht field position, Daly offloaded to Marmion and the scrum-half — so sharp throughout the half — picked up and scored. Fitzgerald added the conversion and Connacht went into the interval 33-12 to the good. 

 

Needing the win to secure third place, Scarlets started the second half with ambition and they had their first try of the second period five minutes in. Centre Hughes completed his brace and touched for a try which Dan Jones converted. 

 

Another try followed five minutes later when scrum-half Dane Blacker — following a break and offload from second row Sam Lousi — ran in the converted score to bring Connacht’s winning margin back to seven points at 26-33.

 

With the momentum behind them, Scarlets added two more tries — via Tom Rogers and replacement prop Javan Sebastian — and a Jones penalty to take the win. 

 

Carty’s late penalty earned Connacht a losing bonus point to go with their try bonus point.

 

Connacht team:

1: Jordan Duggan

2: Shane Delahunt 

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy 

4: Niall Murray 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

6: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

8: Abraham Papali’i 

 

9: Kieran Marmion 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

11: Alex Wootton 

12: Tom Daly 

13: Sean O’Brien 

14: Ben O’Donnell 

15: John Porch

 

Replacements: 

 

Dylan Tierney-Martin for Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke for Jordan Duggan, Finlay Bealham for Robertson McCoy, Oisin Dowling for Gavin Thornbury, Sean Masterson for Papali’i, Colm Reilly for Marmion, Jack Carty for Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan for Ben O’Donnell. 

Connacht 32-17 Cardiff Blues

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht made it consecutive Guinness PRO14 wins with a 32-17 victory over The Cardiff Blues tonight. 

 

A brace of tries from Guinness man of the match Alex Wootton, a try apiece from Jarrad Butler and Abraham Papali’i, and 12 points from the boot of Jack Carty accounted for the hosts’ points, which were earned thanks to a performance of attacking class and set-piece efficiency.

 

The results sees the Westerners two points clear of the Scarlets in second place in Conference B, having played two games less than the Welsh team.

 

Cardiff, meanwhile, scored two tries of their own — as well as a penalty — but it was the home team who deservedly won all five points.

 

The visitors started the game in a strong manner and Connacht had plenty of defending to do in the opening ten minutes. Matt Healy and Tom Daly, in particular, came up with some big defensive interventions but the away team’s perseverance eventually told and — after a series of phases in the hosts 22 — loosehead prop Rhys Carre forced his way over. Jason Tovey added the extras to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.

 

The hosts grew into the game in an attacking sense thereafter and they made it count on the scoreboard thanks to two Carty penalties before Cardiff get a three-pointer of their own through Tovey to bring the score to 10-6 to the visitors with only five minutes of the half remaining.

 

The Westerners’ pack were beginning to gain the ascendancy and were providing their backs the platform to attack. Connacht took full advantage of the opportunity to bring their outside backs into the play with two quick tries before halftime, both from Wootoon.

 

The first try saw both wingers combine as Healy fed a pass to Wootton and the 26-year-old sliced through the outside cover to touch down in the left-hand corner. Carty made no mistakes adding the extras and Connacht lead for the first time, 13-10.

 

An even more spectacular finish was to follow after a series of phases of hard carries — with Ultan Dillane especially prominent — established Connacht field position just outside Cardiff’s 22. The ball was then worked to Carty, whose delicate pirouette and offload released Wootton.

 

The winger stood up a Blues’ defender with a beautiful step and then sped into the space he created to touch down for a brilliant try. Carty slotted the conversion to see Connacht go into the interval 20-10 to the good.

 

The Westerners began the second half with attacking intent, but the visitors were stout in defence and repelled all of the home teams attempts to score and then — after weathering a Connacht attacking storm for the opening 20 minutes of the half — struck for their second try.

 

Corey Domachowski, the replacement prop, barged his over from short range and Tovey’s successful conversion brought the score back to a three-point differential, 20-17.

 

Connacht didn’t’ let the tide of momentum flow against them, however, and they finished the game strongly — with their bench bringing freshness and attacking impetus — with two more tries.

 

First, Jarrad Butler touched down at the tail of a powerful rolling maul after Carty elected to kick to the line after winning a penalty in the 22. The subsequent line out trundled it’s way forward and the captain was the beneficiary after he dove over the for the try to make the score 25-17.

 

With their tails up, the Westerners pushed for the bonus point win and they sealed it when replacement Papali’i smashed his way over from close range. The Connacht pack carried their way into an advanced position into the Cardiff 22 and worked an opportunity for Papali’i and the big number 8 took it with both hands and touched down.

 

Carty expertly kicked the conversion to cap off an excellent performance and seal the win, 32-17.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Alex Wootton 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle

7: Jarrad Butler ©

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Denis Buckley for Duggan, Jack Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Daly, Tiernan O’Halloran for Porch.

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that the breakdown will be a key area of battle when Connacht entertain The Cardiff Blues this Saturday at 7:35 PM in the Guinness PRO14. 

 

In the reverse fixture — a 29-7 victory for the Welsh team in Newport last October — Friend believes that the Blues got the upper hand at the breakdown and this prevented the Westerners from turning their territory and possession into more tries. 

 

But the Australian is confident that Connacht have learned from the defeat and they can apply those lessons on Saturday evening. 

 

“The big word for us is being clinical, being clinical when it really matters against a side that’s a very good defensive side,” the head coach said. 

 

“I thought their defence was outstanding(in the first game between the teams), so we are going to have to play a really smart game,  as we always have to do. We have to make sure we’re not running into the blue brick wall, especially close to the ruck where they are really dominant. 

 

“They got four or five blokes who love to jackal over the ball. So, when we do carry we have to carry hard and the speed of that support has got to be really good. If we can come out of that game having lost no turnovers, it would be an amazing game. 

 

“We’re normally guilty of about six or seven turnovers at the breakdown against them. If we can come out with anything less than two I would be really happy with that and we would probably be having a win.”

 

In the Westerner’s last game, a 30-20 win away to the Dragons, Shane Delahunt played a prominent role with a hand in three of Connacht’s four tries in the bonus-point victory. 

 

Friend praised the hookers’ skillset and said that having a multifaceted player like the Offaly native, who is able to assume playmaking and creative responsibilities, is a huge boost to the team. 

 

“It’s really helpful,” the former Australian sevens coach said of the 27-year-old’s ability to play make, and facilitate attacks. 

 

“He is a really creative player and a very clever footballer. He’s probably not your traditional style hooker, although his set-piece is excellent. What he gives you around the park is the capacity to create something out of nothing. 

 

“His performance, in two of those tries in particular — the offload to Abraham(Papali’i) and then the break out of the maul and the pop to Caolin Blade — was really, really special. He’s probably one of the only blokes that can deliver that on a consistent basis.”

 

Meanwhile, winger Alex Wootton praised the positive welcome he has received as a Connacht player and said that the environment around the camp has helped him settle quickly and show his best form. 

 

The 26-year-old, who is on loan at the Sportsground from Munster, has scored eight tries in all competitions this season and finds himself second in the PRO14 top try-scorer list, a solitary try behind Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee. 

 

“Yeah, I am,” Wooton said when he was asked whether he was pleased with how his move to the province has panned out so far. 

 

“I think the biggest thing for me is obviously game time. That was the biggest thing coming here, was trying to find a spot in the team and seizing the opportunity. 

 

“But it’s been so much more than I expected, being honest. Everyone here has been so welcoming. I have fitted in relatively well and the guys are second to none. There are definitely no complaints”. 

 

The former Irish sevens player agreed with Friend’s assessment that Connacht need to be efficient in attack against Cardiff, especially given the organisation and strength of the visitors’ defence. 

 

The speedster is sure that Connacht can prize the away team’s stubborn rearguard open and says that any home win will be dependent on their ability to take the try-scoring chances that are presented to them.

 

“Defences are so good nowadays, especially in their own half,” the winger said.

 

“You get one or two opportunities, especially as a back three player, and you have to take those opportunities while you can. That’s really the way the game has gone, whichever opposition you’re playing. But these guys especially, they like to defend. 

 

“There will be a few opportunities like there is in every game, and it will depend on whether or not we take them.”

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 30-20, bonus-point win away to the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

 

Tries from Matt Healy, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, and Tom Daly accounted for the visitors’ tries, while Jack Carty added two conversions a penalty, and a dropkick to the final tally.

 

The Dragons’, meanwhile, registered three tries of their own — with Richard Hibbard claiming a hattrick — but it was the Westerners who deservedly claimed all five points with a physical performance, underpinned by efficiency in attack, particularly at the line out.

 

It was also a special night for Finlay Bealham and Carty, both of whom made their 150th appearance for the province. Oisin Dowling, meanwhile, made his debut as a second half replacement.

 

It was clear from the outset that both teams were primed to attack and the Dragons’ signalled their intent early with a Sam Davies penalty that gave them a 3-0 lead.

 

Connacht, however, dusted themselves down and began to exert their influence on the game. The line out — where the man of the match Shane Delahunt excelled — was functioning well and it was through this method that the visitors built their first score of the night.

 

After a line out, the Irish team — after great work by both Delahunt and Blade — consolidated possession deep in the hosts’ 22 with a few phases of carries. The ball was then worked to Carty whose sumptuous cross-field kick landed accurately in Healy’s hands and the winger touched down to complete a beautifully worked try.

 

Connacht were confident in the strength of their set-piece and it was through another line out that they added their second try in a profitable six-minute first-half stretch. An intricate move, no doubt forged on the training paddock, saw Delahunt feed a pass to Papali’i and the number 8 ran a powerful line that saw him bludgeon his way through would be Dragons’ tackles to touch down.

 

After that point, though, the momentum swung in the favour of the home team and they made the most of it with two tries of their own, both from rolling mauls where Hibbard — a former British and Irish Lion — touched down at the tail.

 

The Westerners had the last say of the half, however, when Carty accurately kicked. a penalty to tie the game up and see the teams go into the interval 13 points apiece.

 

Connacht began the second half in a similar fashion to which they ended the first and they made their early dominance in the second-period count on the scoreboard just over five minutes into the half.

 

Another line out provided attacking field position and Delahunt carried through the heart of the Dragons’ defence. When the hooker was tackled to the ground, he acrobatically and intelligently offloaded a pass to Blade and the scrum-half — with typical sharpness — read the intention and gathered the pass to score. Carty slotted the extras to give Connacht a 20-13 lead.

 

Dragons responded in strong fashion and they piled the pressure on the visitors’ defence. The pressure eventually told when Hibbard was once again the benefactor of a rolling maul and the hooker touched down at the base for a try which Davies converted to draw the teams level at 20-20.

 

That was as good as it got for the home team, though, as Connacht pulled away in the final 20 minutes. Replacement Kieran Marmion brought fresh impetus from the bench and the Irish international played a prominent role in the Westerners’ bonus point sealing try. The scrum-halves accurate pass found the cutting, against the grain line of Daly and the centre powered his way over the line for a brilliantly constructed try. Carty slotted the extras to take Connacht into a 27-20 lead.

 

The onus was on the Dragons to score the next try, but their efforts were denied by stout defence from the visitors. Carty then made sure of the win a sweetly struck drop kick and Connacht head home with all five match day points.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Tom Daly

12: Peter Robb

11: Matt Healy

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i

7: Conor Oliver

6: Paul Boyle (c)

5: Niall Murray

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Murray, Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Robb, Alex Wootton for Healy.

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht 14-20 Scarlets

 

Connacht fell to a narrow defeat in their GuinnessPRO14 conference B clash with the Scarlets at the Sportsground.

 

Despite scoring two tries, through home debutant Abraham Papali’i and Ultane Dillane as well as two conversions from Jack Carty, the hosts came up just short as the visitors — thanks to a brace of tries from winger Ryan Conbeer, a try from scrum half Dane Blacker and five points from the boot of fly-half Dan Jones — edged a physical encounter.

 

With the wind at their backs, the visitors started on the front foot and opened the scoring after just five minutes. An enterprising backline move — with Guinness PRO14 man of the match Johnny McNicholl heavily involved — saw winger Conbeer cross for a try in the right hand corner. Jones’ conversion, from a tough angle, drifted wide.

 

Connacht responded well to the concession of a score and had a try of their own not long after. A series of hard carries — with Shane Delahunt and Tom Daly making big yardage with their efforts — gave the hosts field position in the Scarlets 22. The ball was then worked to Papali’i and the New Zealander marked his home debut with a try as he powerfully smashed over from close range. The conversion was a formality for Carty and the Westerners took the lead for the first time in the game at 7-5.

 

To their credit, the Welshmen came back strongly and Conbeer had his second try after McNicholl’s break and subsequent offload gave the 21 year old the chance to touch down in the corner. The conversion fell wide from Jones, but he made amends soon after with a penalty and Scarlets held their 13-7 lead going into the interval.

 

Connacht started the second half with ambition and almost had a try when John Porch’s excellent high ball fielding and run brought the Australian within a few inches of scoring before he was bundled into touch. Paul Boyle, after a brilliant run and kick saw him advance the Westerners from their 22 into the Scarlets’, also came close to a try but the away team managed to fend off the attack and bundle the back row into touch.

 

Encouraged, the home team kept probing, but they conceded their third try when an overcooked kick from a strike move saw the visitors counter and scrum half Blacker ran an intelligent trail line to field a pass and run over to score. Jones made no mistakes with the conversion and the visitors found themselves 20-7 to the good.

 

The hosts didn’t relent in their intensity and kept searching for their second try and they almost had it when Daly’s clever line saw him break through and feed Matt Healy in the 22. Bearing down on the try line, the Irish international was brilliantly tackled by Scarlets captain Steff Hughes, causing a knock on, and the Welsh team escaped unscathed on the scoreboard.

 

Connacht wouldn’t have to wait much longer to register their second try, however, when Ultan Dilllane — in his last piece of action before being replaced by Eoghan Masterson — muscled over from close range. Carty had no issues adding the extras and the home team brought themselves back within touching distance at 14-20.

 

The hosts kept on the attack, but every effort was denied by strong Scarlets defence and the Welshmen held on for the win.

Connacht team:

(15-9)

John Porch
Alex Wootton
Sammy Arnold
Tom Daly
Matt Healy
Jack Carty
Colm Reilly

(8-1)

Abraham Papali’i
Jarrad Butler (C)
Paul Boyle
Gavin Thornbury
Ultane Dillane
Conor Kenny
Shane Delahunt
Paddy McAllister

 

Replacements: Denis Buckley for Paddy McAllister, Jack Aungier for Conor Kenny, Eoghan Masterson for Ultan Dillane, Conor Oliver for Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion for Colm Reilly, Tom Farrell for Sammy Arnold.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht defence coach Pete Wilkins says that the Westerners will need to show a high level of game management to win their Saturday 5:15 PM kick off away to the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14.

 

In Connacht’s last game, they left the Scottish capital with a bonus point 37-26 victory over Edinburgh. The win was underpinned by the Sportsground teams excellent exit strategy and efficiency in attack, with scrum-half Caolin Blade and out halves Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly expertly pulling the strings. 

 

Against a mobile and skilful Dragons pack, marshalled by their quality half-back pairing of Rhodri Williams and Sam Davies, Wilkins believes that Connacht will need to show the same qualities that saw them take all five points at Murrayfield on their trip to Rodney Parade.

 

“I thought in that Edinburgh game, it was one of the best examples of game management that this team has produced, certainly in my time here,” the former Queensland Reds coach said. 

 

“The way our 9’s(Caolin Blade) and 10’s(Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly) controlled the game, with their kicking from our half of the field and their kick selection — of when to go long, when to go for touch, when to go for contestable kicks in the attacking half of the pitch — I thought they managed it really effectively. 

 

“I think their 9 and 10 are really important for them,” Wilkins said of the Dragons’ game plan. 

 

“Rhodri Williams at 9 and Sam Davies at 10, I think both of them have effective kicking games, whether that’s contestable kicks or clearing kicks. It’s not often you see 9’s consistently hitting the half-way line when they’re kicking for touch from rucks or from mauls and Rhodri Williams brings that ability for them to clear their lines really effectively. 

 

“How we can pressure those kicking games will be important. Under their new coaching staff, they’ve got, there’s an organisation about them, an intent to play and if you give them front foot ball they will offload. 

 

“You’ll get show and goes from Sam Davies, you’ll get quick throws and you’ll get offloads from the forwards and little tip ons. Things that will really test our ability to be cohesive in our defence, in terms of being really well spaced and watching the ball really well to make sure that we’re applying pressure. 

 

“The kicking game, the tempo and the improvement in their organisation are the things we will be wary of going into this game,” The Englishman said. 

 

Abraham Papalii’i made his first start of the season in Edinburgh. The New Zealander number 8 made a big impact, carrying for 24 metres from five carries and beating two defenders. Wilkins is excited by the former Rugby League player’s potential and has backed him to continue improving. 

 

“He’s been a great addition to the squad,” the defence coach said. 

 

“The power and physicality — especially around the ball carries — is clear for all to see, even in those few minutes he had in the unfortunate Munster game. With that comes an ability to offload and to get others involved in the game. Certainly that’s something I think we’ll see more and more of as he gets more game time. 

 

“Defensively, very similar to his carrying, he loves to hit hard. He loves to be in the game, to be around the ball and to be contributing. That physicality and that power of the tackle technique is something that, if we can continue to work on the accuracy and consistency of that,  allied with his natural power we can get someone who is a really effective defender. The more he plays the better, from all aspects.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that seven of his Connacht teammates being called into the Irish squad for the Six Nations gives him an extra motivation to eventually follow them to international selection. 

 

Bundee Aki, Dave Heffernan, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Ultane Dillane and Finlay Bealham were all part of Andy Farrell’s squad for the recently finished Six Nations.

 

The 23-year-old has been an integral part of the Westerners squad since his debut in January 2018 and the Gorey native is confident that — provided he continues to play to a high standard — he can win a place in future Ireland squads. 

 

“If you play well enough, you’re going to be picked,” Boyle said of the path to winning Irish caps. 

 

“I know that if I play well enough here and put in outstanding performances week in and week out that I’m going to get picked. As you can see with the seven guys that we got selected for Ireland, if you’re playing well enough you’re going to get picked.

 

“I just use that as motivation to try and get better every day. It sounds simple, but I try to improve every day and improve every game and hopefully try to force my way into selection.”

By John O’Sullivan

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 37-26, bonus-point win away to Edinburgh. 

 

A brace of tries from Alex Wootton, as well as a touchdown apiece from Caolin Blade, Sammy Arnold, and Shane Delahunt —  with Conor Fitzgerald(3) and Tom Daly (9) both adding points from the tee — sealed the win for Andy Friends Westerners in a performance of brilliant attacking execution.

 

Without seven of their Irish contingent, the visitors — who made several changes to their team after the loss to Cardiff Blues two weekends ago — started with intent and they scored the first points of the night when Fitzgerald confidently slotted a penalty.

 

Edinburgh responded well, however, and scored the first try of the night when Nick Groom — the Scots’ captain — sniped over from short range after his pack put significant pressure on the Connacht line. Jaco van der Walt added the extras to make the score 7-3 in favour of the hosts.

 

Fitzgerald, making his first start of the campaign, was running the Westerners backline with authority and with a massive penalty kick for touch gave the visitors a line out in the Edinburgh 22.

 

Blade, after the line-out gave Connacht possession close to the hosts line, then scored the Irish teams first try of the game when he, in a move of sheer ingenuity,  — tight to the touchline on the blindside — cleverly grubber kicked ahead, before catching his own kick to touch down.  The conversion was wide, but the score was deserved for the Westerners after a strong start.

 

One try soon became two when Fitzgerald, who was given territory by the powerful carries of the pack — with Abraham Papali’i especially prominent in the carrying stakes — stabbed a grubber kick through that Arnold caught to give Connacht their second try.

 

The Westerners were playing with a huge degree of pace and confidence and they scored their third try of a highly entertaining half when Wootton — whose intelligent trail line saw him collect an offload  — touched down after brilliant run from John Porch down the left-hand touchline.  Daly, who had moved to out-half to replace the injured Fitzgerald, slotted the conversion and Connacht found themselves 20-7 to the good.

 

There were further scores in a highly engaging half when Daly accurately kicked a penalty at goal and Mike Willemse — touching down at the tail of a rolling maul — powered over for the hosts to take the half time score to 23-14 in favour of Connacht.

 

Chasing the victory, Edinburgh started the second period in strong fashion and had their third try when Willemse — once again the benefactor of a strong rolling maul — crossed the whitewash. The conversion was wide, but at 23-19 the game was delicately poised.

 

Blade was managing the game excellently for the Westerners — with his accurate box kicks a great source of territorial gains — and he applied this influence again when his grubber kick through in the Edinburgh 22 found Wootton to touch down for his second try. Daly slotted the extras to take the score to 30-19.

 

With confidence coursing through the team, Connacht completed the win with their fifth try. A sharp and incisive line from Delahunt gave the Irishmen territory in the home teams 22. Then, after some hard carries from the pack, the hooker smashed his way over for a try that Daly, whose kicking was peerless throughout, converted.

 

Edinburgh would have the final score when Andrew Davidson powered over from close range, but it was Connacht’s night and they held out to secure a brilliant win, 26-37.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Sammy Arnold

13: Tom Farrell

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Conor Fitzgerald

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i i

7: Jarrad Butler

6: Paul Boyle

5: Gavin Thornbury

4: Eoghan Masterson

3: Jack Aungier

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Paddy McAllister for  Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Aungier, Johnny Murphy for Delahunt, Tiernan O’Halloran for Arnold, Peter Robb for Fitzgerald, Colm Reilly for Blade, Cian Prendergast for Masterson, Oliver for Papali’ii

The Connacht management team have as expected named a new-look side to face Munster at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (k/o 15:00). 

There are 14 changes from the side that impressively saw off Ulster last weekend, with Andy Friend keen to give game-time to more players after a long absence due to COVID-19.

Among those starting is Sammy Arnold who makes his first Connacht appearance at outside-centre. The Irish international arrived in the summer and his debut comes against the side he joined from.

There’s also an inaugural start for powerful number 8 Abraham Papali’i. The New Zealander was signed from the Bay of Plenty and he forms a back row with Conor Oliver and Eoghan Masterson who is the only player retained from last week.

Quinn Roux captains the side having recovered from injury to take his place in the second row alongside Niall Murray, with Paddy McAllister, Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson-McCoy completing the pack.

Sunday’s half-back pairing consists of Caolin Blade and Conor Fitzgerald, while Arnold will be partnered in the centre by Tom Daly.

The experienced Tiernan O’Halloran and Matt Healy are included in the back three, while there’s also a first appearance for Colm de Buitléar since January 2019. The winger from Carraroe played four times during 2018/19 while in the Connacht Academy, but hasn’t featured since suffering a serious achilles injury in the 2019/20 pre-season.

Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“Our key objective in these two games has always been to give players some much needed game-time while putting in two positive performances which reflects the work they’ve put in as a squad these past few months. Thankfully we’ve so far managed to do that after last week’s excellent result. Now is an opportunity for a new group of players to impress so I’m looking forward to seeing them in action.”

Regarding the game itself, Friend added:

“Interpros against our neighbours Munster are always keenly contested and Sunday will be no different. They have a Guinness PRO14 semi-final to clinch but we’ll be looking to end our 2019/20 campaign on a high. We’ve also got two players making their Connacht debuts in Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i so it’ll be a special occasion for them.”

 

CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 V MUNSTER RUGBY

15:00, Sunday 30th August @ Aviva Stadium

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Colm de Buitléar
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Tom Daly
11. Matt Healy
10. Conor Fitzgerald
9. Caolin Blade
1. Paddy McAllister
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Niall Murray
5. Quinn Roux (C)
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Conor Oliver
8. Abraham Papali’i

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Conor Kenny
18. Matthew Burke
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Sean Masterson
21. Stephen Kerins
22. Peter Robb
23. Conor Dean

 

Related

Abraham Papali’i signs contract extension with Connacht Rugby

Courageous Connacht Open Up Rainbow Cup Campaign With Ulster Win
APapalii

Courageous Connacht Open Up Rainbow Cup Campaign With Ulster Win

3 months ago
Connacht Fall To Narrow Scarlets Defeat
#SCvCON

Connacht Fall To Narrow Scarlets Defeat

4 months ago
Connacht Make It Consecutive PRO14 Wins With Cardiff Victory
APapalii

Connacht Make It Consecutive PRO14 Wins With Cardiff Victory

5 months ago