Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that scrum-half Caolin Blade and winger Matt Healy have both signed two-year contract extensions that will keep them at the Sportsground until the end of the 2021/22 season.
 
Connacht native Caolin Blade came through the club structures in the province, playing for his local club Monivea RFC and from there went on to join the Connacht Academy. The 25-year-old has now made 109 appearances in the Connacht jersey and is one of only two Connacht players to feature in all 17 of the province’s games so far this season.
 
Winger Matt Healy is Connacht’s record try scorer with a total of 55 in 136 appearances across the Guinness PRO14 and European competitions. Healy joined Connacht from Lansdowne RFC in 2012 and went on to win a PRO12 medal with Connacht in 2016. He made his international debut during the summer tour of South Africa in the same year.
 
Commenting on the latest contract signings, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Caolin Blade and Matt Healy are two important players for us and are central to our ambitions over the coming seasons. Caolin has come through the Connacht pathway and has proven himself to be a top class player who brings huge energy to our attack. Matt Healy is another exciting player who has an excellent try scoring record in the Connacht jersey, and I think there is still more to come from him. We are delighted that both players have committed to the province for the next two seasons”.

Connacht Scrum Half Caolin Blade is set to captain Connacht as they travel to Kingspan Stadium to take on Ulster in the Pro14 on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
Blade has been a central figure for Connacht of late having taken part in all of the province’s 12 games of the current campaign. The 25 year old Monivea man will continue his half back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald for the trip to Belfast.
 
Elsewhere in the back line, Peter Robb has returned from injury to partner Tom Daly in midfield while Tiernan O’Halloran starts at full back in a back three that includes John Porch and Matt Healy on the wings.
 
Up front, Paddy McAllister is another to return from injury in time for the interpro clash. The loosehead prop joins a front row with hooker Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.
 
With Quinn Roux picking up a hand injury against Munster that will likely keep him out of action until the end of January, Andy Friend has been forced to make a change to his second row. Ultan Dillane will line up with Joe Maksymiw who came off the bench last weekend with 20 year old Roscommon man Niall Murray named among the replacements.
 
In the back row, Robin Copeland comes into the starting team at number 8. He will be flanked by Eoin McKeon and Paul Boyle at blindside and openside respectively.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We have had a short turnaround from the Munster game, and with Christmas in the middle of that, there isn’t a huge volume of training the squad can get through. We are boosted by the return of Paddy McAllister, Matt Healy and Peter Robb, and those fresh legs are important as we head into the tenth weekend in a row of Pro14 and Champions Cup action”.
 
“Ulster have a fantastic record at home and are unbeaten in Kingspan since we defeated them some 14 months ago. So, we’re looking forward to another competitive interpro game in front of a passionate home crowd.”

 
Connacht Matchday Squad V Ulster (Fri 27 Dec, 7:35pm)
 
(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Tom Daly, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt) (1-8): Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Stephen Kerins, Kyle Godwin, Stephen Fitzgerald.

The Ireland coaching group will host a 24hr mid-season stocktake at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Dublin across the 22nd and 23rd December ahead of a busy period of interprovincial and European fixtures.

The group includes five Connacht players; Bundee Aki, Quinn Roux, Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan and Caolin Blade.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commented, “The national coaches have been around the provinces watching games and having good conversations with players and the provincial coaches. 

We have limited opportunities across the busy provincial season to bring a broad group like this together but this 24hr window will allow us to plant a few seeds.   It will also give the coaches a better insight into a few players who been performing consistently well for their provinces.    

The next six weeks is the window for players to put their hands up for selection for our first squad which will be named in late January ahead of the 6 Nations.”

1 Day Mid-Season Stocktake Attendees

Connacht:

Bundee Aki, Caolin Blade, Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan, Quinn Roux

Leinster:

Ross Byrne, Will Connors, Max Deegan, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Jamison Gibson Park, Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Ronan Kelleher, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, Jonathan Sexton, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier

Munster:

Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Mike Haley, Dave Kilcoyne, Jean Kleyn, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, Niall Scannell, Rory Scannell, CJ Stander

Ulster:

Will Addison, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Stuart McCloskey, Marty Moore, Tom O’Toole, Jacob Stockdale

 

Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade is set to make his 100th appearance for his home province as his side take on Toulouse in the second round of the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday (k/o 1pm Irish time).
 
The 25 year old from Monivea picked up the Man of the Match award in the opening round win over Montpellier and he will be hoping for a repeat performance as he forms a half-back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald against the French Top 14 champions.
 
Connacht are boosted by the return of international lock Quinn Roux who will captain the side in the absence of Jarrad Butler. Roux will line up alongside Ultan Dillane in the second row after the latter came through the Montpellier game unscathed following a recent back injury.
 
In the front row there are two changes, with Dave Heffernan coming in at hooker and Peter McCabe at loosehead. Dominic Robertson-McCoy is retained at tighthead with Finlay Bealham named on the bench after a two week layoff with injury.
 
In the back row, the versatile Eoghan Masterson comes in at blindside with Colby Fainga’a at openside and Robin Copeland starting again at number 8.
 
There is a reshuffle in the backline, with Matt Healy at full back in a back three that sees Kyle Godwin and John Porch on the wings, while Tom Farrell comes into the midfield alongside Tom Daly.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said:
 
“We were happy with the character shown against Montpellier but we know we will need to improve as we travel away to Toulouse. We have seen the quality they have in the past few seasons in this competition and winning the Top 14 in France. However we are travelling with a squad that has a huge sense of belief that we can win the game on Saturday”.
 
“We are boosted this week with a number of players returning from injury and the real positive for us is that with a six day turnaround from the Montpellier game we have players coming in fresh into the squad. Saturday is another challenge for us but one we are really looking forward to”, he added.
 

Connacht Matchday Squad v Toulouse (Sat 23 Nov, 1pm Irish Time)

(15-9): Matt Healy, John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Kyle Godwin, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade. (1-8): Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Angus Lloyd, Jack Carty, Peter Robb.

Connacht 41
Benetton 5
 
Connacht secured a bonus point win over Italian side Benetton in their first home game of the Pro14 season. In a game that the home side dominated in all areas, they never looked like losing when they Kyle Godwin races into the corner to score the opening try after seven minutes.
 
That opening try was preceded by a penalty after three minutes from the boot of Conor Fitzgerald who controlled the game throughout with the aid of a powerful Connacht pack. That early lead gave Connacht huge confidence and after twenty minutes the attack was in full flow as the home side delivered another killer blow with Caolin Blade’s first of two tries.
 
By now the Connacht pack was completely dominant and the rolling maul was used to great effect resulting in a  Tom McCartney try. With 15 minutes to half time Connacht went in search of the bonus point try but Benetton did manage to hold them out by forcing a turnover on the stroke of half time albeit after giving away a succession of penalties.
 
With a 22 – 0 lead at half time, the result was never in question and it seemed inevitable that Connacht would drive on.
 
The home side didn’t have long to wait long in the second half as Caolin Blade picked up the ball at the base of a ruck on the Benetton 22. He showed a clean pair of heals to round three Italian defenders and touch down with the best try of the game.
 
Three minutes later Tom McCartney added his second and it was one way traffic from there. Kieran Marmion wrapped up the win with Connacht’s sixth try of the evening with four minutes remaining.
 
Next up for Connacht is an away trip to Dragons next weekend.
 
Connacht Scorers:
Tries: Caolin Blade x 2, Tom McCartney x 2, Kyle Godwin 1, Kieran Marmion 1.
Penalties Conor Fitzgerald 1
Conversions – Conor Fitzgerald x 3 Kyle Godwin 1
 
Connacht Team:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Stephen Fitzgerald (John Porch), Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald (Tom Farrell), Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion), (1-8) Paddy McAllister (Denis Buckley), Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt) Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson McCoy), Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (Ultan Dillane), Eoghan Masterson (Sean Masterson), Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Caolin Blade will lead out Connacht as captain for tonight’s pre-season friendly against Oyonnax Rugby at the Stade Charles-Mathon (k/o 7.30pm Irish time).
 
The scrum-half starts the challenge game alongside half-back partner David Horwitz, with Peter Robb and Kyle Godwin paired together at centre. All-time Connacht try scorer Matt Healy is named on the wing with Niyi Adeolokun and Darragh Leader completing the back three.
 
In the pack there’s a start for Connacht Academy player Seán Masterson who is selected at blindside flanker, with Paul Boyle and Robin Copeland also in the back row. Irish international Ultan Dillane partners Joe Maksymiw in the second row, with Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney and Dominic Robertson-McCoy completing the side.
 
A squad of 30 travelled to France on Wednesday with every player expected to see game-time as preparations for the start of the season crank up a gear.
 
Connacht Rugby will have live updates of the game on our Twitter account @ConnachtRugby.
 
CONNACHT RUGBY TEAM VS OYONNAX RUGBY
(15-9): Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, Caolin Blade (c).

(1-8): Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Seán Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

(Replacements): Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Rory Burke, Cillian Gallagher, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler, Angus Lloyd, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly, Seán O’Brien, John Porch, Tiernan O’Halloran.

The Guinness PRO14 Dream Team will be revealed tomorrow night in a TV special broadcast on Premier Sports 1 and eir sport 1.
 
A panel of over 75 media members were invited to take part in the voting. A group that included many former players and coaches alongside some of the most trusted and respected writers involved in covering rugby from across the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa.
 
The voting has now closed and three nominees have been identified at every position for the Guinness PRO14 Dream Team with 12 teams represented across all five participating countries.
 
The voting has been closer than ever thanks to the rich form of the near 300 internationals who compete in the Championship each season. The 2018/19 season has seen heightened levels of competitiveness across the Guinness PRO14 with Benetton Rugby becoming the first Italian team to reach the knock-out stages which saw Kieran Crowley voted as the Coach of the Season by his peers while the club also have seven nominations.
 
Benetton received the highest nominations, followed by Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh (both six), Ulser, Munster and Connacht (all with five).
 
The best talent from eir sport and Premier Sport will break down the Dream Team selections and discuss who has rightly won their spot, and who was unlucky to miss out. Murray Kinsella, Rory Lawson, Sean Holley and Luke Fitzgerald, who were all part of the 75-plus voting panel, will come together for this TV special to voice their opinions on the best performers in the Guinness PRO14.
 
Please note: The show will be broadcast on Premier Sports 1 at 20:00 in the UK and on eir sport 1 at 19:00 in the Rep of Ireland.
 
Nominations (listed by alphabetical order):
 
Loosehead Prop
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster); Eric O’Sullivan (Ulster); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh)
 
Hooker
Epalahame Faiva (Benetton Rugby); Rob Herring (Ulster); Ken Owens (Scarlets)
 
Tighthead Prop
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), WP Nel (Edinburgh), Marco Riccioni (Benetton Rugby)
 
Second Row
Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Federico Ruzza (Benetton Rugby)
 
Second Row
Scott Fardy (Leinster); Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors); Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys)
 
Blindside Flanker
Max Deegan (Leinster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster); Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues)
 
Openside Flanker
Colby Fainga’a (Connacht), Braam Steyn (Benetton); Hamish Watson (Edinburgh)
 
No 8
Marcel Coetzee (Ulster), Bill Mata (Edinburgh), CJ Stander (Munster)
 
Scrum-Half
Caolin Blade (Connacht); John Cooney (Ulster); Dewaldt Duvenage (Benetton)
 
Out-half
Jack Carty (Connacht); Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors); Jaco van der Walt (Edinburgh)
 
Left Wing
Darcy Graham (Edinburgh); James Lowe (Leinster); Rabz Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs)
 
Inside Centre
Bundee Aki (Connacht); Willis Halaholo (Cardiff Blues); Stuart McCloskey (Ulster)
 
Outside Centre
Tom Farrell (Connacht); Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues); Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors)
 
Right Wing
Monty Ioane (Benetton Rugby); Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets); Ratuva Tavuyara (Benetton Rugby)
 
Full Back
Dan Evans (Ospreys); Mike Haley (Munster); Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues)

Voting is now OPEN for the Connacht Rugby 2018/19 Supporters’ Player of the Year Award, sponsored by Elverys.
 
Three players who have excelled on the field this year have been put forward for nomination by the official Connacht supporters group The Connacht Clan, and now it’s up to you to decide who’ll receive the accolade.
 
Caolin Blade, Jack Carty and Tom Farrell are your three nominees, so to vote just pick who you think deserves the award in the link below. Voting closes at lunchtime on Thursday 11th April.
 
The winner will be announced at the sold-out Connacht Rugby Awards Ball at The Salthill Hotel in Galway this Saturday!
 

Who should win the 2018/19 Connacht Rugby Supporters' Player of the Year Award?

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made a host of changes to the side that lost to Sale Sharks in the European Challenge Cup Quarter Final last weekend. His side travel to Zebre for a vital Guinness PRO14 clash on Saturday (Kick Off 5:30pm Irish time) – the result of which will have a huge bearing on Connacht’s hopes of reaching the knock out stages of the competition and ultimately qualifying for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
 
Among those recalled is Captain Jarrad Butler at number 8, who comes into a back row alongside Eoin McKeon and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
 
Ireland international lock Ultan Dillane comes back into the second row alongside Gavin Thornbury, while in the front row, props Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson-McCoy are selected alongside hooker Dave Heffernan.
 
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade form the half-back pairing, with Carty shaking off an arm injury that caused him to be withdrawn last weekend.
 
In the midfield, Peter Robb comes in for his third start of the season alongside the impressive Tom Farrell.
 
In the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is named at full-back with Matt Healy and Darragh Leader on the wings.
 
Ahead of the game, the Connacht Head Coach says that a win this weekend is vital as his side fight it out for a PRO14 playoff spot; “We have picked a strong side and a side capable of going to Zebre and winning the game. We are fully aware of the dangers that Zebre can present, particularly when they are at home. There are a number of our boys who were not involved in Europe last weekend, so they are coming back in fresh after that break and that brings more energy to the group”, Friend said.
 
On Connacht’s overall performance this season, Friend added; “We said all along that we want to be in the knockout stages of the PRO14 and with three games to go, our destiny is still in our own hands. If we keep winning we will be in that playoff spot so that is our sole focus away to Zebre on Saturday”.
 
 
Kick-off 5:30pm (Irish Time)
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher.

Connacht have been boosted by the return of Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane for the Guinness PRO14 clash with Benetton at The Sportsground on Friday night.
 
The return of the trio is a welcome boost to Connacht’s match day squad as they face an in-form Benetton side who have already registered ten wins this season and sit in 2nd place in Conference B of the PRO14.
 
Carty and Marmion will start on the bench, as Caolin Blade and Kyle Godwin are named as the starting half-back partnership.
 
Peter Robb and Tom Farrell start again in the Connacht midfield following the bonus point win over Ospreys in the last round. Meanwhile in the back three, Tiernan O’Halloran is named at full-back with Matt Healy and Darragh Leader on the wings.
 
Dillane’s inclusion sees him named in a second row alongside James Cannon, with Gavin Thornbury returning from injury to take his place on the bench.
 
In the front row, props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham are selected with Shane Delahunt at hooker.
 
The back row has a familiar look to it with captain Jarrad Butler at number 8 and Eoin McKeon and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
 
Ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend says his side are expecting a huge challenge from an in-form Benetton side. “They have been great all year,” said Friend. “I’m not surprised they’re sitting in second spot. They’re playing a physical yet attractive brand of rugby. They’ve got a lot of quality players, so we are preparing for a top side coming to the Sportsground. We are in a similar situation, they are sitting second in their conference and we are third in ours so both teams will be looking for a win.”
 
With four rounds of games left in the PRO14, Friend is satisfied that Connacht’s destiny is in their own hands. “We said at the start of the year we wanted to be there at the business end and we’re there or thereabouts, but we need to keep winning to make sure we control our destiny. If we keep winning we stay in control. If we don’t, then we have to start looking at points and seeing where we can scrounge some. At this stage it’s just about the win.”
 
#CONvBEN

Kick-off 7:35pm:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Kyle Godwin, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Stephen Fitzgerald.

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