The Connacht management team have again drafted the three representatives in the Ireland Six Nations squad straight into the starting team for tomorrow’s crucial Guinness PRO14 interpro away to Munster (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Bundee Aki is retained at centre following his release from Ireland duty last weekend, while Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane both start at hooker and second row respectively.
 
In all there are 7 changes from the side that secured a last-minute win at Benetton. Denis Buckley comes into an experienced front row with Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Gavin Thornbury in in the the second row alongside Dillane.
 
Conor Oliver starts at openside flanker to face his former club, joining captain Jarrad Butler and Paul Boyle to complete the pack.
 
There’s a new look half-back pairing of Caolin Blade and Jack Carty, while there are also new faces on the wings with Matt Healy and John Porch coming into the starting line-up. 12, 13 and 15 are unchanged from the Benetton win with Aki, Tom Daly and Tiernan O’Halloran all retained.
 
In all 9 of the starting 15 are Connacht centurions as the side look to extend an all-time club record of 5 straight wins away from home.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says the importance of the fixture is not lost on the squad.
 
“We know exactly what we need to do tomorrow night in Limerick. There has been barely any talk of securing Champions Cup qualification because our first objective has always been 1st place in the Conference B, so all our focus since last weekend has been on getting a win that gives us that fighting chance of a final spot.”
 
Regarding his team selection, Friend added:
 
“Thankfully we haven’t picked up any major injury worries in our last two games so we’ve a pretty healthy squad apart from our long-term absentees. We’ve named a very experienced starting XV but we’ve made sure to also reward those who showed good form in our last few games. Overall we’re in a positive place and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
 
Ahead of the game all Connacht players and management returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Friday 5th March, Thomond Park, kick-off 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (189)
14. John Porch (33)
13. Tom Daly (40)
12. Bundee Aki (108)
11. Matt Healy (145)
10. Jack Carty (151)
9. Caolin Blade (124)
1. Denis Buckley (194)
2. Dave Heffernan (138)
3. Finlay Bealham (152)
4. Ultan Dillane (108)
5. Gavin Thornbury (52)
6. Jarrad Butler (68) (C)
7. Conor Oliver (14)
8. Paul Boyle (52)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (92)
17. Matthew Burke (19)
18. Jack Aungier (11)
19. Niall Murray (11)
20. Eoghan Masterson (104)
21. Kieran Marmion (178)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (4)
23. Alex Wootton (15)

Benetton Rugby: 17

Connacht: 19

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

A last gasp Bundee Aki try saw Connacht defeat Benetton Treviso and set a club record for consecutive league away wins with five. 

 

Despite tries from props Finlay Bealham and Paddy McAllister, the away team trailed 17-14 with only a minute remaining against the resolute Italians. Reneging on the opportunity to kick a penalty at goal and claim a draw, Connacht were rewarded for their bravery when Aki touched down at the tail of a powerful rolling maul to seal the win. 

 

Conor Fitzgerald added four points to the tally, converting Bealham and McAllister’s tries, as the away team eked out a deserved win. 

 

Connacht began the game with an attacking mindset and they looked to play with pace and precision at every given opportunity. 

 

With a penalty advantage, Kieran Marmion’s clever grubber kick behind found Tom Daly and the centre powered into space and was stopped just short of the line by the hosts’ scramble defence. 

 

Connacht elected to take a scrum when the advantage didn’t yield an immediate score and the play was brought back. Paul Boyle picked from the back of the set-piece and was denied close to the line, but the visitors reloaded and applied more phases of pressure and Bealham eventually made it count when he surged over the line from close range. 

 

Fitzgerald made no mistake in adding the extras and the Westerners found themselves in a deserved 7-0 lead nearing the 20-minute mark. 

 

The visitors, with Marmion central to their attacking forays, poured forward in search of more tries but it was Benetton — who had a man advantage after Shane Delahunt’s yellow card — who struck next. After a series in the Westerners 22, Davide Ruggeri — the blindside flanker — bundled his way over the line for the Italians’ opening score, which was converted by Edoardo Padovani. 

 

With the wind in their sails, Benetton made it two tries when Leonardo Sarto’s searing run saw the Italian international winger speed up the flank and touch down for a score of individual brilliance which Padovani converted to put the hosts in the lead for the first time; 14-7.

 

The hosts held the lead for the final minutes of the half and the half time score read: Benetton Rugby 14-7 Connacht. 

 

The Westerners, still down a man, started the second half with attacking intent and they registered their second try barely seconds after the beginning of the half. After a number of strong carries close to the line after a break Boyle established Connacht field position, McAllister powered his way over for a try which Fitzgerald converted the level the sides at 14-14. 

 

With the Benetton defence strong, Connacht were unable to regularly establish territory in the hosts half and the home team grew stronger in attack as the half progressed. After applying pressure to the Westerners’ defence with five minutes remaining, the hosts were awarded a penalty. Stepping up, Padovani made no mistake in firing the Italians into a 17-14 lead with scarcely five minutes remaining at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo.

 

 Aki then won Connacht a penalty immediately after the game restarted the away team elected to kick to the corner for the line out. The line out was stolen, but the away team’s excellent breakdown work saw them awarded another penalty not long after. This time, the set-piece worked a treat and Aki put the finishing touches on a powerful rolling maul for the game-winning score. 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler ©

6: Eoghan Masterson

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Paddy McAllister 

 

Replacements: Denis Buckley for McAllister, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Caolin Blade for Marmion, John Porch for Sullivan, Niall Murray for Thornbury, Sean Masterson for Masterson.

Bundee Aki has been released from Ireland duty to start for Connacht in Friday evening’s Guinness PRO14 clash away to Benetton Rugby (k/o 5.30pm Irish time).

Aki started in last week’s bonus point win over Cardiff Blues and will again play tomorrow in boost to Andy Friend’s side who look to make it three wins on the bounce in the PRO14.

Oisin Dowling has also been handed his first start for the province, having featured off the bench in the last two games.

Dowling is joined alongside Gavin Thornbury in the second row, with Paddy McAllister, Shane Delahunt and Finlay Bealham completing the tight five. The back row is unchanged from the win over Cardiff Blues last time out, with Paul Boyle at number 8 alongside flankers Eoghan Masterson and captain Jarrad Butler.

There’s a new-look half-back pairing with Kieran Marmion alongside Conor Fitzgerald, while Tom Daly partners Aki in the centre. Finally Tiernan O’Halloran is handed his first start in nearly two months after recovering from injury, taking his place at full-back with Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan on the wings.

There’s an experienced look to the bench with centurions Denis Buckley, Caolin Blade and Jack Carty all included.

Head Coach Andy Friend says they are keen to give game-time to some players without disrupting the flow of a number of impressive team performances:

“This is a big day for Oisin getting his first start, and with Bundee released from Ireland duty and the likes of Tiernan and Kieran coming into the team also they bring a lot of experience with them. Overall we’ve named a very strong squad that is capable of keeping our winning run going.”

Friend also stressed the importance of treating each game like a cup final during this final run-in:

“I said at the start of this block of games that we realistically need 5 wins from 5 to have a chance of finishing top of the Conference, so this game is just as important as what’s gone before. Italy is always a tough place to get a win and we’ve seen from their last few performances that they’re getting closer to that first victory this season, so we have to be at our best to make sure that doesn’t come against us.”

CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS BENETTON RUGBY
Friday 26th February, Stadio Monigo, kickoff 5.30pm Irish time / 6.30pm local

Name/Number/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (188)
14. Peter Sullivan (9)
13. Tom Daly (39)
12. Bundee Aki (107)
11. Alex Wootton (14)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (29)
9. Kieran Marmion (177)
1. Paddy McAllister (15)
2. Shane Delahunt (91)
3. Finlay Bealham (151)
4. Oisin Dowling (2)
5. Gavin Thornbury (51)
6. Eoghan Masterson (103)
7. Jarrad Butler (67) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (51)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (12)
17. Denis Buckley (193)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (60)
19. Niall Murray (10)
20. Sean Masterson (9)
21. Caolin Blade (123)
22. Jack Carty (151)
23. John Porch (32)

Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan will all start for Connacht in tomorrow’s crucial inter-conference clash with Cardiff Blues at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
 
With 6 points separating the two sides between 2nd and 3rd in Conference B, the Connacht management team have drafted the trio straight into the starting team for tomorrow’s clash.
 
Jarrad Butler returns to captain the side from openside flanker, with Eoghan Masterson and Paul Boyle forming the rest of the back row. Dillane is partnered by Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while Heffernan is joined by props Jordan Duggan and Finlay Bealham to complete the pack.
 
Duggan will make his first start for the province with his 7 previous appearances coming off the bench.
 
Caolin Blade and Jack Carty start at 9 and 10 respectively, while Bundee Aki forms an exciting centre partnership with Tom Daly. John Porch continues his run of starting every game this season, forming a back three with wingers Matt Healy and Alex Wootton.
 
Tiernan O’Halloran, who picked up some game-time for the Eagles last week, is named among the replacements having last played against Ulster during the Christmas interpros.
 
This week all Connacht players and management returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“It’s great to welcome Dave, Ultan and Bundee back into the fold, and they’re re-joining an already healthy group of players. We had tough news for Quinn Roux and Peter Robb this week but overall we’re in a good spot and that’s allowed us to pick a squad based on form.”
 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“Tomorrow marks the start of a block of games that will ultimately define our season. We have a great opportunity to keep the pressure on Munster at the top while opening some daylight between ourselves and the chasing pack. We know our home form isn’t where it should be so this is our opportunity to put that right”.
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS CARDIFF BLUES
Saturday 20th February, The Sportsground, k/o 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (31)
14. Alex Wootton (13)
13. Tom Daly (38)
12. Bundee Aki (106)
11. Matt Healy (144)
10. Jack Carty (150)
9. Caolin Blade (122)
1. Jordan Duggan (7)
2. Dave Heffernan (137)
3. Finlay Bealham (150)
4. Ultan Dillane (107)
5. Gavin Thornbury (50)
6. Eoghan Masterson (102)
7. Jarrad Butler (66) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (50)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (90)
17. Denis Buckley (192)
18. Jack Aungier (10)
19. Oisin Dowling (1)
20. Abraham Papali’i (6)
21. Kieran Marmion (176)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (3)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (187)

Bundee Aki and Conor Oliver have both been named in the starting XV to face Bristol Bears in Sunday’s pre-Christmas Heineken Champions Cup clash at The Sportsground (k/o 5.30pm).
 
Their inclusions are the only changes Andy Friend has made to the team that started in last Sunday’s losing bonus point defeat to Racing 92 in Paris. The squad features the same 23 players from that day, with Tom Daly and Jarrad Butler named among the replacements.
 
That means Paul Boyle again captains the side from the number 8 position, while Sean Masterson completes the back row with Boyle and Oliver. Sean’s brother Eoghan and Ultan Dillane again pair up in the second row, and Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham complete the pack.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue at scrum-half and out-half respectively, while Aki is partnered by Sammy Arnold at outside-centre. The back three is again made up of Matt Healy, Alex Wootton and John Porch.
 
The Connacht management have kept faith with the same replacements that impressed off the bench in Paris, including the young trio of Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier and Cian Prendergast in the pack.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“While you’re never happy with a defeat, there was a huge amount to like about that performance in France last week. It makes sense for us to stick with those same group of players, so the key thing now is we bring that level of consistency to our game and produce it in week in week out. 14 of this squad of 23 came through the Connacht Academy which says it all about the trust we put in our systems at the club to play back-to-back Champions Cup games of this nature”.
 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“European games under The Sportsground lights are always special occasions so no doubt we’ll miss our supporters again on Sunday. Both ourselves and Bristol know only a win will do if we want to reach the quarter-finals so it should be a great contest and hopefully we’ll come out the right side of the result.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS BRISTOL BEARS
Sunday 20th December, The Sportsground, k/o 5.30pm
 
Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (25)
14. Alex Wootton (8)
13. Sammy Arnold (8)
12. Bundee Aki (104)
11. Matt Healy (140)
10. Jack Carty (145)
9. Kieran Marmion (171)
1. Denis Buckley (186)
2. Dave Heffernan (133)
3. Finlay Bealham (145)
4. Eoghan Masterson (98)
5. Ultan Dillane (102)
6. Sean Masterson (6)
7. Conor Oliver (8)
8. Paul Boyle (46) (C)
Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (84)
17. Jordan Duggan (4)
18. Jack Aungier (8)
19. Cian Prendergast (3)
20. Jarrad Butler (63)
21. Caolin Blade (116)
22. Tom Daly (32)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (185)

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.”

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

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

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

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

Irish International Bundee Aki will make his 100th appearance for Connacht on Sunday after he was named to start in the Guinness PRO14 clash with Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (k/o 4.30pm).
 
Aki joined Connacht in 2014 and has gone on to play a central role in the province’s fortunes since then. He was named Guinness PRO12 Player of the Season in 2015/16, the same year he helped the team to their first ever title.
 
His form was rewarded with a first call-up to the Ireland squad in the 2017 Autumn Internationals. He has been an ever-present member of the squad since then, making 26 appearances and starting every game in the Grand Slam victory of 2018.
 
Elsewhere at least two players will make their Connacht Rugby debuts on Sunday with Alex Wootton and Academy graduate Peter Sullivan both named on the wings. They form a back three with John Porch who slots in at full-back.
 
Tom Farrell will partner Aki in the centre with Irish international Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty forming a formidable half-back partnership.
 
In the forwards there’s a return to action for prop Finlay Bealham after sustaining a serious injury against Edinburgh in February, and he makes up an experienced front-row with Denis Buckley and hooker Dave Heffernan.
 
Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury have been named in the second row, and the starting XV is completed by flankers Eoghan Masterson and captain Jarrad Butler, with Paul Boyle named at number 8.
 
Three more players could make their Connacht debuts off the bench, with props Jordan Duggan and Jack Aungier, and back row Conor Oliver all included.
 
The remainder of the replacements is made up of Jonny Murphy, Niall Murray, Stephen Kerins, Conor Dean and Tom Daly.
 
Connacht Rugby Head Coach Andy Friend says there’s huge excitement about returning to action:
 
“It has been almost 6 months since our last game and 2 months since we commenced pre-season training, so we are delighted our return has finally arrived. I have been really impressed with how the squad as a group have reacted to the uncertainty of the last few months, and it’s now our opportunity to show that hard work against an opposing team.”
 
Commenting on his team selection, Friend added:
 
“We have selected a squad of 23 that we believe can win this fixture. We have a neat blend of experience & youth, with the potential of five new debutants for Connacht, along with Bundee making his 100th appearance. It’s therefore a special occasion in many ways, and we intend to put out a performance that warrants that.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
16:30, Sunday 23rd August @ Aviva Stadium

15. John Porch
14. Peter Sullivan
13. Tom Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Alex Wootton
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion
1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Jarrad Butler (c)
8. Paul Boyle

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Jordan Duggan
18. Jack Aungier
19. Niall Murray
20. Conor Oliver
21. Stephen Kerins
22. Conor Dean
23. Tom Daly

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has named the match day 23 to travel to London to take on England at Twickenham on Sunday 23rd February.
 
Captain Johnny Sexton is named in the half-backs alongside Conor Murray. Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw start their ninth Test match as the midfield partnership.
 
Jordan Larmour lines out at fullback with Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale on the wings.
 
Cian Healy, Rob Herring and Tadhg Furlong start a third consecutive Test match with Iain Henderson and James Ryan in the row. CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier make up the backrow combination.
 
The replacements on Saturday are Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Caelan Doris, John Cooney, Ross Byrne and Keith Earls.
 
Tom O Toole and Will Addison will return to Ulster to prepare for their Guinness PRO14 game against the Cheetahs with the rest of the non-matchday 23 remaining in camp for the team’s final training session on Friday.
 
England v IRELAND, Twickenham Stadium, Sunday 23rd February 2020, KO 15.00
2020 Guinness Six Nations Championships
 
15. Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 23 caps
14. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 20 caps
13. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 42 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 25 caps
11. Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster) 27 caps
10. Jonathan Sexton (St Marys College/Leinster) 90 caps CAPTAIN
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 80 caps

1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 97 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 10 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 43 caps
4. Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster) 55 caps
5. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 25 caps
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 66 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 25 caps
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 40 caps

Replacements:
16. Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster) 2 caps
17. Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 38 caps
18. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 25 caps
19. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 69 caps
20. Caelan Doris (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 1 cap
21. John Cooney (Terenure College/Ulster) 10 caps
22. Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster) 5 caps
23. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 83 caps

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