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

 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce the signings of Australian 7s player Ben O’Donnell and Bay of Plenty Number 8 Abraham Papali’i.
 
The pair will link up with the squad before the start of the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season.
 
Ben O’Donnell joins from the Australian Sevens programme, having played 95 matches for his country since he was handed his debut in 2017 under Andy Friend. The 24-year old went on to score 47 tries in that time and has been a key figure in their progression through the World Rugby Seven Series over the past three seasons.
 
O’Donnell was voted Australian Sevens Player of the year in 2018 and subsequently went on to be the first Australian player ever nominated for the World Sevens Player of the Year.
 
New Zealander Abraham Papali’i arrives from Bay of Plenty where he was a key member of the squad that won the Mitre 10 Cup Championship last year. The Auckland-born duel code player started his Rugby Union career with North Harbour before being recruited into the New Zealand Warriors (Rugby League) pathway. In 2015 Papali’i signed a two year contract with the Sydney Roosters of the Australian National Rugby League (NRL).
 
Following his time with the Roosters, Papali’i joined Lézignan Sangliers in the premier French Rugby League competition before the 6’4” number 8 returned to New Zealand and successfully restarted his Rugby Union career with Bay of Plenty.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says today’s announcement is a significant boost ahead of the return to rugby.
 
“I am delighted to welcome Ben and Abraham to Connacht Rugby.
 
I got to know Ben very well on the Australian Sevens scene. It did not surprise me that he went on to become such an important player for them and I am thrilled that he has chosen to join Connacht.
 
Abraham is a powerful number 8 who has all the attributes to become a really valuable player for us while furthering our options in the back row. I know every Connacht supporter will be excited to see what he can offer.”

 
Friend expressed his excitement about the announcement and what the squad can achieve in the upcoming season.
 
“Today’s announcement comes on the back of discussions that started a number of months ago and we are delighted to eventually be able to share this exciting news with all of our supporters today.
 
These signings bring our squad up to 43 players for next season. We have freshened up and added depth to our squad in a number of key areas, having signed a healthy blend of young exciting players who have come through our Academy system as well as bringing in some additional quality and experience from further afield.
 
We are an ambitious group and I firmly believe we have all the tools we need to kick on to the next level and achieve success in what is going to be a really exciting season.”

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