Gavin Thornbury will captain Connacht for the first time in tomorrow’s BKT URC opener against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The lock will make his 64th appearance for the province in a squad that includes three debutants and a possible two more off the bench.
 
Peter Dooley, Josh Murphy and Byron Ralston have all been handed their first Connacht cap, with Shamus Hurley-Langton and David Hawkshaw also potential debutants off the bench.
 
Dooley is named in a front row with Jack Aungier and hooker Dave Heffernan, while Leva Fifita partners Thornbury in the second row. The pack is completed by flanker Conor Oliver and number 8 Paul Boyle.
 
Kieran Marmion and Conor Fitzgerald are paired together at 9 and 10, while the two Toms – Daly and Farrell – start at centre. Ralston’s first game will be on the right wing, with John Porch on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had a very positive pre-season and there’s now a huge sense of excitement among the group. There’s a genuine belief and optimism about what we can achieve in this first block of games, which all starts in Belfast tomorrow night.
 
Ulster are a quality side and our battles against them are always hard fought. We’re really looking forward going head-to-head with them in what should be a great season opener for us both.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY SQUAD VS ULSTER RUGBY
Saturday 17th September 2022, 19:35 @ Kingspan Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (206)
14. Byron Ralston *
13. Tom Farrell (79)
12. Tom Daly (61)
11. John Porch (59)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (53)
9. Kieran Marmion (209)
1. Peter Dooley *
2. Dave Heffernan (165)
3. Jack Aungier (31)
4. Gavin Thornbury (63) (C)
5. Leva Fifita (15)
6. Josh Murphy *
7. Conor Oliver (41)
8. Paul Boyle (73)

16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (6)
17. Denis Buckley (208)
18. Sam Illo (2)
19. Niall Murray (35)
20. Shamus Hurley-Langton *
21. Caolin Blade (150)
22. David Hawkshaw *
23. Oran McNulty (9)

Five Connacht players will represent the province for the first time in tomorrow’s pre-season friendly away to Castres (k/o 7pm Irish time).
 
Grant Stewart, Shamus Hurley-Langton, David Hawkshaw, Byron Ralston and Adam Byrne have all been selected in the starting XV for the first outing of the campaign.
 
Ralston partners Tom Daly in the centre who captains the side, while Byrne is selected on the wing with Alex Wootton on the opposite wing and Oran McNulty at full-back. Hawkshaw starts at out-half with scrum-half Caolin Blade alongside him.
 
Ciaran Booth and Hurley-Langton are selected at blindside and openside respectively with Sean Masterson at number 8. Niall Murray and Oisín Dowling are paired together in the second row, and the squad is completed by props Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson-McCoy.
 
11 players are named among the replacements, five of whom are in the Academy. They are Eoin de Buitléar, Josh O’Connor, Charlie Ward, Bart Vermeulen and Donnacha Byrne.
 
CONNACHT SQUAD VS CASTRES OLYMPIQUE
Wednesday 24th August @ Stade de la Chevaliére, Mazamet (k/o 19:00 Irish time)
 
15. Oran McNulty
14. Adam Byrne
13. Byron Ralston
12. Tom Daly (c)
11. Alex Wootton
10. David Hawkshaw
9. Caolin Blade
1. Denis Buckley
2. Grant Stewart
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Niall Murray
5. Oisín Dowling
6. Ciaran Booth
7. Shamus Hurley-Langton
8. Seán Masterson

16. Eoin de Buitléar
17. Matthew Burke
18. Sam Illo
19. Darragh Murray
20. Oisín McCormack
21. Colm Reilly
22. Shane Jennings
23. Josh O’Connor
24. Charlie Ward
25. Bart Vermeulen
26. Donnacha Byrne

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce a further new arrival for the 2022/23 season, with the signing of Irish-qualified back Byron Ralston from the Western Force.
 
Ralston, a former Australia U20 International, has made 14 Super Rugby appearances for the Force scoring 5 tries. Prior to the Force’s move to Super Rugby he was also in brilliant form for the club in the National Rugby Championship, scoring 7 tries in 8 games as he helped them to win the 2019 Grand Final.
 
Ralston has played most of his rugby on the wing and at outside-centre. He was born in Darwin and then moved to Brisbane where he played High School and Club rugby, before coming through the ranks at the Force.
 
Byron Ralston has released the following statement:
 
“Moving to Connacht Rugby and the West of Ireland is a brilliant opportunity for me. The style of rugby that they play will suit me down to the ground, and it gives me a chance to reconnect with my Irish roots. I’m obviously aware of the positive experience other Aussies have had after moving to Connacht, and so I will be doing all I can to make a similar impact and help the club achieve the level of success they are all working towards.”
 
Andy Friend has also welcomed the move:
 
“I’m delighted that Byron has chosen to further his career with us. He’s been playing as a winger for the Force, but also plays 13, so he’s yet another player we have who has great versatility. Given he’s only 21, he will get a great opportunity to grow his game here and be an important part of our setup.”

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