The Connacht matchday squad has been named for tomorrow’s crucial URC meeting with DHL Stormers at The Sportsground (k/o 1pm).
 
There are four changes in all from the historic win over Scarlets last weekend. With Dave Heffernan and Jack Carty returning to Ireland duty, they’ve been replaced in the starting team by Shane Delahunt and Conor Fitzgerald respectively.
 
The other changes sees the return of Denis Buckley to the front row, while Alex Wootton comes onto the wing with John Porch moving to full-back.
 
The rest of the squad is unchanged, so Tietie Tuimauga, Niall Murray and Leva Fifita complete the tight five, while the back row consists of Cian Prendergast, captain Jarrad Butler and Paul Boyle.
 
Kieran Marmion remains at scrum-half, as do Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold in the centre. Peter Sullivan completes the side from the right wing.
 
The coaches have opted for a 6:2 split on the bench, with Abraham Papali’i wearing the number 23 jersey.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We are close to must-win territory for all our remaining games in the URC, so that’s why last week’s win was so important for us. We have done our scout on the Stormers and are very aware of the threats that they bring. We know that we will have to front up physically as they’re a big team.
 
We’re in a strong position in terms of available players outside the Irish contingent, so it’s a 23 I know are capable of a winning performance in front of our home fans.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS DHL STORMERS
Saturday 26th February, 13:00 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (50)
14. Peter Sullivan (19)
13. Sammy Arnold (31)
12. Tom Daly (55)
11. Alex Wootton (23)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (46)
9. Kieran Marmion (200)
1. Denis Buckley (202)
2. Shane Delahunt (115)
3. Tietie Tuimauga (6)
4. Niall Murray (28)
5. Leva Fifita (8)
6. Cian Prendergast (22)
7. Jarrad Butler (88) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (68)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (18)
17. Jordan Duggan (24)
18. Jack Aungier (24)
19. Oisin Dowling (18)
20. Conor Oliver (33)
21. Caolin Blade (142)
22. Tom Farrell (71)
23. Abraham Papali’i (19)

Ulster 32
Connacht 12

Connacht were defeated 32-12 in a physically intense interprovincial clash in Belfast tonight.

 

Despite tries from Oran McNulty and Alex Wootton and excellent performances from Conor Oliver and Cian Prendergast, it was the hosts – who secured a bonus-point win via tries from Robert Baloucoune(2) Greg Jones and Declan Moore – who sealed the win.

 

Connacht were temporarily reduced to 14 men early on when Peter Sullivan was shown a yellow card for a high tackle. They showed great defensive resolve, however, to keep Ulster at bay with Sammy Arnold completing a big defensive set by winning a penalty with some great work at the breakdown.

 

Similarly, brilliant work from Kieran Marmion prevented a certain Ulster try when he showed tremendous recovery pace to not only tackle Ethan McIlroy close to the try line but also to force a knock-on.

 

Ulster eventually did advantage of the extra man, however, just as the sin bin period was about to elapse. After a break from Mike Lowry, Jones managed to barge over for a try that Nathan Doak converted to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.

 

With their tails up, the hosts made it two tries in quick succession when Moore went over from close range from the tail of a maul. Doak made no mistake from the tee and the Westerners found themselves 14-0 behind with the first period halfway over.

 

With their line out an effective launchpad for attacks, Connacht worked their way back into the game. With two strong carries from Oliver after the set-piece, the Westerners gained field position deep in the Ulster 22. The ball was then worked quickly to McNulty – who replaced Sullivan earlier – who showed pace and awareness to touch down for an unconverted try that brought back into the contest at 14-5.

 

It was Ulster who would have the final say of the half, however, with their third try of the evening. With the clock in red, the Northerners flung the ball wide to Baloucoune and the Irish international winger showed great pace to touch down. Doak converted and the away team went into the interval 21-5 behind after a physical half of rugby.

 

Connacht began the second period looking to play with pace and directness and they had their second try of the night six minutes into the half. Brilliant work from Oliver snagged Connacht a turnover from which they went on the attack.

 

 

Big carries from Oliver and Tietie Tuimauga brought the away team into the Ulster’s 22 and a clever line from Fitzgerald broke closer to their line before the out half exquisitely offloaded to Wootton for the try. Fitzgerald then converted and Connacht brought the score back to 21-12.

 

Ulster managed to gain the upper hand thereafter and had two further Doak penalties to show their efforts, bringing the score to 27-12 in the hosts’ favour.

 

The home team then had the final say and wrapped up their bonus point when Baloucoune collected a cross field kick to touch for an unconverted try to bring the final score to 32-12 for Ulster.

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch
14: Peter Sullivan
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Kieran Marmion

(8-1)

8: Jarrad Butler
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Oisin Dowling
4: Niall Murray
3: Tietie Tuimauga
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Denis Buckley

Replacements:
Jordan Duggan for Buckley
Greg McGrath for Tuimauga
Oran McNulty for Sullivan
Leva Fifita for Murray
Paul Boyle for Butler
Jonny Murphy for Delahunt
Cathal Forde for Fitzgerald

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht were defeated 37-31 by Stade Francais in a hugely entertaining Heineken Champions Cup game in Paris today. 

 

Despite securing a try and losing bonus point, thanks to five pointers from Alex Wootton, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell and Jarrad Butler – with Jack Carty adding four conversions and a penalty – the Westerners, who had already qualified for the last sixteen prior to kick-off, lost out to the home team. 

 

The hosts, meanwhile, knew they needed a bonus-point win to potentially qualify for the next round and they kept their end of the bargain up.

 

Connacht looked to be aggressive from the very first whistle and they played with width and tempo. Their ambition was rewarded after six minutes when Sammy Arnold’s accurate cross-field kick – with an advantage accruing – found Wootton and the winger showed a great step to dart into the defensive gap and strength to dot down the ball. Carty added the extras and the away team were deservedly ahead, 7-0

 

Stade Francais knew that a bonus-point win – plus results going their way elsewhere – would give them a chance to qualify for the last 16 and they continued to pile on the pressure and it reaped rewards when Nicolas Sanchez added a penalty and then, only two minutes later, Adrien Lapegue crossed for a try. Sanchez converted and the home team lead for the first time at 10-7 in what was an entertaining opening twenty minutes in Paris. 

 

The away team were using their accurate line out as a launchpad for attacks and, after turning the screw for a few phases after the set-piece with Cian Prendergast carrying hard, they earned a penalty that Carty slotted to tie the score up at 10-10.

 

Stade Francais thought they had scored a second try when Leo Barre went over in the corner, but – upon a TMO check – the try was correctly disallowed when Tolu Latu was yellow-carded for a dangerous clear-out on Shane Delahunt in the build-up. 

 

With the man advantage, Connacht went for the jugular and their pressure yielded a score close to halftime. Once again, a safely secured line out gave the Westerners a platform, and, from the back of the maul, Blade showed bravery and strength to power over the line from close range. Carty kicked the extras and the away team went into the interval leading 17-10.

 

If Connacht ended the first half well, then Stade started the second period on the front foot and they had a try barely a minute in Laumape – the former All Black – went over in the corner. The conversion was wide, so the Westerners held onto their lead 17-15.

 

The Westerners’ dusted themselves off and looked to work their way back into the game and they had their third try of the afternoon not long into the second half. Latu had received a second yellow for the hosts for dissent and, sniffing blood, the away team looked to move the ball wide. Arnold’s beautiful offload found Farrell and the centre showed pace to canter over in the corner. Carty once again nailed the conversion and Connacht found themselves nine points ahead at 24-15.

 

To their credit, Stade kept fighting with fourteen men and they registered the next try when Kylan Hamdaoui crossed for an unconverted try that meant the Westerners still lead at 24-20.

 

Continuing the tit for tat nature of tries, it was Connacht’s turn next to go under the posts. A beautiful line from Butler saw him dart into space. The back row then combined with Conor Oliver and the openside unselfishly returned a pass to Butler to go in unopposed under the sticks. Carty made no mistake from the tee and the away team wrapped up their try bonus point and lead 31-20 after an hour. 

 

An enthralling fixture had its next big moment when Ryan Chapuis, the back row, went over for a try in the corner. Sanchez kicked the conversion and Connacht’s lead was reduced to four points. The Westerners’ also lost Oliver to a yellow card in what was set up to be a tense finishing ten minutes. 

 

With the numbers even, the Parisians added another try when Lapegue crossed for his second try and the hosts took the lead at 34-31.

 

With their wind in their sails and an even number of players on the field, the hosts slotted a late penalty through Sanchez to give them the bonus point win and six-point margin of victory they needed to potentially qualify for the latter rounds. 

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran

14: Alex Wootton 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Sammy Arnold 

11: Mack Hansen 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Greg McGrath 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dave Heffernan for Delahunt

17: Charlie Ward 

18: Sam Illo for Greg McGrath

19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling

20: Paul Boyle for Prendergast

21: Colm Reilly for Blade

22: Conor Fitzgerald 

23: Diarmuid Kilgallen for Tiernan O’Halloran

Head coach Andy Friend said that the recent postponement of games has only made his squad of players more hungry for Saturday’s 5:15 PM Interprovincial clash against Munster at the Sportsground. 

 

Connacht were due to play Ulster in Belfast on St.Stephens’ Day, but the game was postponed due to positive COVID cases in the Northern provinces squad. 

 

But now the focus shifts to Munster – a team who the Westerners only narrowly last out to, 20-18, in their last meeting at Thomond Park in October – on New Years Day in a game which Friend expects to be physical. 

 

“It wasn’t overly disruptive, it was just more disappointing,” the Australian said of the Ulster postponement. 

 

 

“We all understand it, we understand that people’s wellbeing is at stake here, so we all need to respect that and we do respect that. The hard bit is and the disappointing bit is that you work really hard during the week to get a team and all the detail in the team.”

 

Friend expects the contrast in the style of play between his side and Munster to make for fascinating viewing come 5:15 PM on Saturday. 

 

For Connacht to win, they need to play their own style of Rugby but also match up to the physical credentials of their Southern rivals, he said. 

 

“Yeah, most people that watch the games closely can see the difference between the two styles. That’s our intention, is to try and play our style of Rugby. I have no doubt that Munster will try and play their style of Rugby. 

 

“As Alex(Wootton) says and I agree with him, it’s a great style to play. It does ask a lot of you but at the same time, it gives you a lot of freedom and a lot of opportunities to express yourself. Our intention is to try and continue to play in our way.”

 

Meanwhile, winger Alex Wootton is relishing a run of games for the first team after battling through a spate of injuries this season. 

 

The 27-year-old was a key figure for Connacht last season, running in eleven tries in all competitions and impressing with his all round play. 

 

However, injuries have limited the former Munster player’s involvement to just four games – and one try – this season, and Wootton, who also missed a chunk of pre-season,  is keen to make up for lost time towards the tail end of this campaign and fully acclimate to the on-field strategies brought by the new coaches, Mossy Lawler, Deawald Senekal and Cullie Tucker. 

 

“Yeah, last season was great,” the English-born speedster said. 

 

“A lot has changed since then, I moved up here. Pre-season was fairly tricky with a niggle in my calf and competition for the back three has really stepped up this season. I’m finding it tough to hit my straps or tough to get back to where I was last season, maybe with some of the new stuff that has been put in and just trying to find grips into that. 

 

“I’m doing all I can to get back up there, but normally with a good pre-season you can get back up there fairly easily, but obviously that was a bit tricky, so I’m just putting the effort in, seeing if I can get back up there.”

 

The Westerners have continued to play an expensive, quick brand of attacking rugby this season and Wootton – a former Sevens player – admits it is extremely enjoyable for the players to operate in such a system of play.

 

However, the winger admits that the tweaked game plan is still a work in progress and the players will need to work hard – both in training and in games – to further master it. 

 

The key, he believes, is that the Connacht squad have a common purpose and vision of where they want to go in the future. 

 

“Yeah, it’s one of those game plans that when it’s working, it’s really working,” he said. 

 

“When we’re humming it’s fantastic to watch and it’s about getting that consistency in games and in training where we’re all on the same page and it’s working. 

 

“It’s still a work in progress and we all know where we need to go and that’s something we’ve lacked in the past, not necessarily knowing where we needed to go. We’ve got a clear vision and we’re really happy and we’re all going in the same direction.”

 

Leicester Tigers 48

Connacht 32

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht bowed out of the Challenge Cup at the last 16 stage after a 48-32 defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. 

 

Despite the Westerners registering tries through Kieran Marmion, Eoghan Masterson, Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle and twelve points from the boot of Jack Carty, it was the hosts who progressed through to the quarter-final.

 

Connacht began the game looking to play with their trademark ambition and pace and they were rewarded for this approach early on when Marmion touched down. 

 

Sean O’Brien made an incisive break, cutting through Tigers’ defence, and Marmion — running an intelligent trail line — caught the centre’s offload and showed great pace to sprint in for the try close to the left touchline. 

 

To their credit, Leicester responded well to conceding a try and responded with two quickfire scores of their own. First, from a rolling maul — a regular source of tries for the English side — Charlie Clare dotted down. 

 

Then, from a turnover in their own half, the hosts broke quickly and Guy Porter ran in a try down the blindside. This time, the Tigers converted via Zack Henry and — despite Connacht being in the ascendancy in terms of possession — lead 12-5. 

 

In an open game, the Westerners scored next when Carty — showing great accuracy from the tee — confidently slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four points. 

 

Connacht continued to probe in search of scores and their pressure lead to Care — the host’s first try scorer — receiving a yellow card for a high tackle. However, despite being a man in arrears, Leicester scored another rapid brace of tries. 

 

First, Matias Moroni reacted first to a spilled high ball and showed good awareness to swoop in for the try. Then, five minutes later, Henry touched down after another counter-attacking move saw Leicester quickly break and score. 

 

A heavy spell of pressure from the visitors followed and — after four penalties in the 22 — Carty eventually rewarded their patience when he bisected the posts with a penalty that took the half-time score to 24-11 in favour of the home team. 

 

Connacht started the second half with intent and attacked with gusto right from the start. 

 

A bludgeoning carry from Tom Daly established field position deep in Leicester territory. Masterson intelligently spotted a gap at the next ruck and sprinted into the space Ro touch down for a try borne of quick thinking. Carty added the extras to bring by the visitors back within touching distance.

 

Leicester responded by opening their second-half account with a Henry penalty, but Connacht didn’t let that change the course of the momentum and they added their second try of the half not long after.

 

A typically enterprising attack saw substitute Caolin Blade throw a sumptuous, against the grain pass which Wootton — running a sharp line — collected and showed searing pace to burst through and touch down. Carty added the conversion and cut the deficit to two points at 27-25.

 

The scoring was of a tit-for-tat nature and Leicester were next to bare their teeth with another rolling maul try with Clare touching down for his second. Henry converted and the scoreline read 34:25.

 

Connacht, though, kept plugging away and captain Boyle personified this when he — like Masterson beforehand — spotted a gap in a ruck and sped in for a try that Carty converted, leaving the score at 34:32.

 

The Tigers were the next to score when Harry Wells barged over from close range. Henry converted and Leicester broke the forty-point mark and took the game away from the visitors.

 

The hosts finished off in style when Jasper Wiese smashed his way over the line off the back of a scrum to rubber-stamp the win at 48-32. 

 

Connacht team: 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Matt Healy 

13: Sean O’Brien 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle ©

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: Caolin Blade for Marmion, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Abraham Papali’i for Conor Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that 21 players have re-signed for the province ahead of the 2021-22 season.

In all 19 players from the existing Professional squad have renewed deals for next season while a further two players, Oran McNulty and Cian Prendergast, have been promoted from the Connacht Academy.

Today’s announcement includes four Irish internationals – Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan – while joint-leading Guinness PRO14 try scorer Alex Wootton has signed on a permanent contract having joined on loan from Munster last summer.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“I am delighted to see so many of our current crop of players sign on for another season. This is still a very challenging time for everyone in Irish Rugby so to have them commit to Connacht Rugby again says it all about the belief we have as a group to continue the progress we’re making.

17 of the 21 players were once part of the Connacht Academy, and in that group we have a mix of established Irish internationals, experienced players within the province and plenty of young players still in the early stages of their careers.

I have been very impressed by Cian Prendergast and Oran McNulty, and their first Professional contracts is the culmination of years of work from grassroots level to where they are now. Congratulations not just to them but their parents, coaches and all the other volunteers who helped them along the way.

We are continuing to shape the squad for next season, with further discussions ongoing, and supporters should expect more positive news in the weeks and months ahead.”

Connacht Rugby’s retention and recruitment remains ongoing and further announcements will be made in due course.

CONFIRMED NEW CONTRACTS FOR 2021-22

Finlay BEALHAM
Paul BOYLE
Denis BUCKLEY
Matthew BURKE
Jack CARTY
Shane DELAHUNT
Ultan DILLANE
Jordan DUGGAN
Conor FITZGERALD
Dave HEFFERNAN
Eoghan MASTERSON
Sean MASTERSON
Oran MCNULTY
Niall MURRAY
Conor OLIVER
John PORCH
Cian PRENDERGAST
Colm REILLY
Peter SULLIVAN
Gavin THORNBURY
Alex WOOTTON

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.”

 

Connacht 20-26 Ospreys

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht fell to a narrow defeat to the Ospreys in a bruising Guinness PRO14 clash at the Sportsground. 

 

Tries from Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle — as well as two conversion and two penalties from Conor Fitzgerald — was enough to earn the hosts a losing bonus point, but the Westerners couldn’t quite eke out the victory, despite a physical performance.

 

The Welshmen, meanwhile, scored four tries of their own to earn both the win and a try bonus point.

 

From the early moments, both teams were keen to test each other’s ability in the air. John Porch excelled here, making some big catches and bringing calm to the back-field.

 

The visitors put a lot of offensive pressure on the Connacht defence in the opening minutes and the home team — with Tom Daly especially prominent in defence — held firm until the 10th minute when the Ospreys pressure finally told. George North putting the finishing touches on a sweeping move and touched down in the right-hand corner. Stephen Myler’s conversion was wide, but the away team found themselves 5-0 to the good.

 

The home team reacted well to conceding a try and mounted attacks of their own. Wootton almost crossed in the left-hand corner after an incisive move including Daly and Porch freed him up in the 22. The winger looked poised to score, but he was bundled into touch by a last-ditch tackle. Connacht didn’t have to wait long for a score, though, as Fitzgerald slotted a penalty to open their scoring account for the day.

 

Buoyed by their score, the Westerners continued to up the pressure and it yielded a try on the half-hour mark. Aggressive line speed in defence from Connacht forced an Ospreys knock-on. The ball spilt just outside the 22 and Fitzgerald reacted first and picked it up before feeding Wootton a pass. The winger proceeded to run almost the entire length of the pitch to touch down for a try that Fitzgerald converted to give the hosts the lead for the first time, 10-5.

 

One try quickly became two as the home team began to move into the ascendancy in the scrum. Two scrum penalties in the Ospreys 22 saw them reduced to 14 men with Justin Tipuric sin-binned. From the third scrum, Kieran Marmion picked from the base and fed Boyle an against the grain pass. The number 8 then powered his way over the line — forcing his way through some would-be tackles — from close range. Fitzgerald slotted the conversion to see Connacht go into the break leading 17-5.

 

The Welshmen began the second period in a strong fashion and they registered their second try not long after the resumption. Mat Protherhoe collected North’s offload in the 22 and skipped in under the posts for a try which Myler converted to bring the visitors to 17-12 on the scoreboard.

 

Confident, the Ospreys notched their second try of the half shortly after their first. Peeling the ball off the back of a rolling maul, Welsh international Rhys Webb ran over a try from just inside the 22. Myler once again added the extras to regain the lead for the Welshmen, 17-19.

 

The lead changed hands once again soon after in what was becoming a tit for tat affair. Fitzgerald — whose game management and kicking were superb throughout — bisected the posts with a sweetly struck penalty to make the scoreboard read: 20-19.

 

The Ospreys, though, sealed their win and bonus point with ten minutes remaining. Webb, once again, was the benefactor of a rolling maul and the scrum-half touched down at the base. Myler converted and the visitors held their lead 26-20 lead until the final whistle.

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: John Porch 

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Peter Robb

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Jarrad Butler ©

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt f0r Heffernan, Matthew Burke for Buckley, Conor Kenny for Bealham, Niall Murray for Dillane, Abraham Papali’i for Butler, Caolin Blade for Marmion, Bundee Aki for Robb, Matt Healy for Wootton.

Leinster 24-35 Connacht

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht registered their first interprovincial victory of the season after a bonus point, 35-24 win away to Leinster at the RDS Arena in the Guinness PRO14. 

 

Two tries from Guinness player of the match Jack Carty — who also kicked three penalties and three conversions — and a try apiece from Alex Wootton and Tom Daly condemned Leinster to their first domestic defeat of the season.

 

The hosts scored four tries of their own via Scott Penny, Luke McGrath, Ryan Baird, and Ed Byrne, but it was the Westerners who deservedly triumphed in a performance built on a foundation of defensive intensity and attacking efficiency.

 

From the outset, it was clear that Connacht would play with tempo on and off the ball and it didn’t take long for that approach to yield try-scoring fruit.

 

Intelligently reading a Leinster move, Carty intercepted the ball on halfway and — backing his pace — ran in a try that he converted himself to give the visitors a more than merited early lead.

 

Leinster, who were unbeaten in the 26 prior PRO14 games, were keen to attack but Connacht were resolute in defence, especially at the breakdown. Conor Oliver was proving especially strong in defence and the Westerners rolled with the host’s punches before they claimed their second try in a fruitful opening 22 minutes.

 

After a line out in the defending champions’ 22, Connacht were patient in possession before working the ball to the flank. Assisted by the considerable size of Quinn Roux, Carty claimed his second try as he powered over from close range in the left-hand corner. The Roscommon was marginally wide with his conversion, but the visitors established a 12-0 lead.

 

Leinster got themselves back into the contest when Penny — spotting a gap at ruck  — smiped in for a try. Connacht, though, realigned themselves and scored on three more occasions before the interval.

 

Carty slotted two penalties before — on the stroke of half time — Wootton touched down for a try in the left corner in a brilliant ten-minute sequence before the break. Once again showing patience in the opposition 22, the ball was worked to the winger and he crossed for a score that Carty nailed from the touchline to see the Westerners go into the break leading 25-5.

 

Leinster started the second half in strong fashion and had a try only three minutes after the resumption. McGrath showed sharp instincts to run in near the posts. Jimmy O’Brien converted and the hosts were within 13 points at 12-25.

 

Connacht’s work at the breakdown was effective and after they won another penalty at the coalface, Carty stepped up and made no error from the tee to extend the Westerners lead further, 12-28.

 

The game was played in an end to end fashion and Leinster were next to score when Baird peeled off a rolling maul to touch down in the corner. O’Brien converted to bring the score to 17-28.

 

With their tails up, the hosts continued to pile on the pressure, but the visitors defence — where Gavin Thornbury, the Masterson brothers, Sean and Eoghan, and Daly were rock solid — was well drilled and eager for contact.

 

Connacht’s line speed was forcing errors from Leinster and it was through this aggressive approach that Andy Friend’s men wrapped up their bonus-point win.

 

Running a hard defensive line, Daly managed an interception and, despite the attention of two Leinster defenders, powered his way over the line for a try which Carty converted to bring the score out to 35-17.

 

Leinster would have the final say with a score from Byrne from close range, but it was Connacht who held out for a deserved win, their first away to Leinster since 2002.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Sammy Arnold

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

8: Sean Masterson

7: Conor Oliver

6: Eoghan Masterson

5: Quinn Roux

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Matthew Burke for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Conor Kenny for Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane for Quinn Roux, Cian Prendergast for S.Masterson, C.Reilly for Blade, Diarmuid Kilgallen for Wootton, Ben O’Donnell for Sullivan

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