By John O’Sullivan

Connacht were defeated 41-21 by the Cell C Sharks in an entertaining United Rugby Championship clash in Durban today.

 

Despite scoring two tries via Gavin Thornbury and Caolin Blade – one of which Conor Fitzgerald, who also added three penalties, converted – on his 150th appearance for the province and leading 21-10 at halftime, Connacht couldn’t hang on to make it two wins on their South African tour, after their win against the Lions last weekend.

 

The hosts added five tries of their own with an especially strong second half making it four league wins in a row for the South African side.

 

Connacht were intent to attack early and it paid dividends when Fitzgerald made no mistake from the penalty tee. With their line out an efficient attack launch pad, the Irish team went through phases from the set-piece – with Tom Daly and Jarrad Butler carrying hard – and they earned the penalty that brought them the lead.

 

The away team had the better of the opening ten minutes, but, from that point, the Sharks worked their way back into the contest and they opened their account for the afternoon when their fly-half, Curwin Bosch, kicked a penalty to level up the scores in what had been an open and entertaining opening fifteen minutes.

 

Connacht were making headway with big carries – where both centres, Daly and Tom Farrell – and threatening the Sharks’ defence and, with the first half at its halfway point, this is how they retook the lead. A big carry saw the Irish team establish field position in the opposition 22 and when the hosts attempted to stop that momentum with hands in the ruck, Fitzgerald punished them with his second penalty to take the score to 6-3 in favour of the visitors.

 

The opening half was an even affair and the Sharks were the next team to establish themselves in the ascendancy, especially after John Porch’s yellow card reduced Connacht to 14 men, and they scored the game’s first try when Gerbrandt Grobler, formerly of Munster, squeezed over the line from close range. Bosch kicked the extras and the South Africans lead 10-6.

 

Connacht’s reaction was instantaneous. Thornbury, who had been threatening to block down several of the Sharks clearing kicks and coming close on a few occasions, using his huge frame to good effect, charged down an attempted box kick and showed the dexterity to catch the bouncing ball and the pace to run in the score. Despite being a man in arrears, Andy Friend’s men lead 11-10 and, on the balance of play, it wasn’t undeserved as the game reached the half-hour mark.

 

Defensively, Connacht were resolute, both in terms of tackling and at the breakdown, and it was through their excellent jackal threat over the ball – an area where Conor Oliver characteristically showed his class – that they extended their lead. This time, it was Cian Prendergast who applied the vice grip over the ball and earned the penalty that Fitzgerald slotted to put the away team 14-10 to the good, with the Porch’s sin bin soon to elapse.

 

With their allocation of players back, the visitors packed even more punch in attack and, only moments after Porch’s return from the naughty step, Connacht had their second try. On a momentous day on his 150th cap for the province, Blade made a searing break through the guts of the Sharks defence. The Monivea man then played a give and go with Finlay Bealham, with the tight-heads beautiful pass landing flush in the scrum half’s hands for him to run in the try. Fitzgerald added the extras and the Irish province were eleven points up at 21-10.

 

Blade showed his use on the other side of the ball only seconds later. Winning their own kickoff, the Sharks attacked, but the scrum-half showed brilliant breakdown acumen and strength to superbly position himself over the ball and World Cup-winning Springbok Makazole Mapimpi to win the penalty and see out the half 21-10 in front.

 

The Sharks began the second half with intensity and it yielded a try only five minutes in when centre Marius Louw burst over for a try. Connacht’s initial defence was very impressive, holding the home team at bay, but eventually, the pressure told and Louw was at hand to provide the finishing touch. Bosch converted and the Irish team’s lead was cut to four points at 17-21.

 

Gaining confidence from their try, the Sharks pressed for more and their pressure told when Bongi Mbonambi, the South African international hooker, muscled over from minimal distance and Bosch kicked the conversion to give the hosts a 24-21 lead and crown a hugely profitable opening ten minutes to the half.

 

The momentum was with the home team and they added their third try in quick succession when second-row Grobler showed good strength and opportunism and pick and go over the line from close range. Bosch made no mistake from the tee and Connacht trailed by ten at 31-21.

 

The game became broken as the game ticked on, with neither team really managing to assert themselves. Nevertheless, Bosch stretched the Sharks’ lead further – 34-21 – with a penalty with roughly five minutes remaining.

 

Le Roux Roets then sealed the win by showing great strength to burst over the line for a try that Bosch converted to take the score to 41-21 in favour of the Sharks, the score they held until the final whistle.

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: Mack Hansen
14: John Porch
13: Tom Farrell
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Jarrad Butler ©
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Leva Fifita
4: Gavin Thornbury
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley

Replacements:

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Heffernan
17: Jordan Duggan for Buckley
18: Jack Aungier for Bealham
19: Niall Murray for Fifita
20: Oisin Dowling for Butler
21: Kieran Marmion for Blade
22: Jack Carty for Fitzgerald
23: Tiernan O’Halloran for Wootton

Connacht 19

Stormers 17 

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht defeated the DHL Stormers in a physical encounter at the Sportsground in the United Rugby Championship today. 

 

Tries from Paul Boyle, Tom Daly and Peter Sullivan, as well as two conversions from the boot of Conor Fitzgerald sealed the win in front of a raucous home crowd. 

 

The visitors, through Sergeal Petersen, Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse, notched three tries of their own but it was the home team – through a mix of grit and skill – who deservedly took the victory.

 

Connacht, with Boyle and Cian Prendergast prominent in the ball-carrying stakes, were the aggressors early on but the visitors’ defence held firm in a scoreless opening ten minutes in a blustery Sportsground. 

 

The game featured regular set pieces in the opening half of the first period and Connacht – with their front row of Tietie Tuimauga, Shane Delahunt, and Denis Buckley also impressing in the loose – were more than a match for the South Africans whose pack featured Springbok internationals. 

 

The visitors grew more into the contest as we approached the mid part of the first half and they made it count when Petersen dove over for an unconverted try to open the scoring for the afternoon. 

 

Connacht, though, didn’t panic and they registered their first score of the afternoon after the half-hour mark. Electing to take a quick tap penalty close to the away team’s try line, the hosts kept the ball with their forwards and, after multiple phases, Boyle muscled his way over. Fitzgerald added the extras and the home team took the lead, much to the delight of their vocal supporters. 

 

The visitors recovered just in time to take the lead going into the break. A looping garryowen, which was caught in the wind, caused confusion in the home defence and Willemse benefitted by touching down after a hack through. The conversion was wide and the away team went into the interval leading 10-7.

 

The Stormers started the second half in a similar fashion and, after a fortunate bounce from a Connacht knock-on, they scored their third try when the ball fell sweetly for Libbok to run in. He added the conversion and the away team were 17-7 to the good. 

 

A raft of changes brought new impetus to Connacht and they worked their way back into proceedings near the hour mark. After try scorer Petersen was yellow carded for an intentional knock-on borne out of pressure the home team, Connacht worked their man advantage brilliantly. 

 

Replacement Caolin Blade made a searing break, which fellow sub Conor Oliver continued with a big carry. Oliver then brilliantly offloaded to Fitzgerald, whose line was clever. The out-half then carried close to the line before offloading to Daly to touch down. It was a beautiful try and it exhibited Connacht at their best. The conversion was added by conversion and the deficit was cut to three points, 17-14.

Connacht had the momentum behind them and, with the Stormers being reduced to fourteen men again – this time for a high tackle – they seized the initiative.

 

A sweeping move saw the ball worked left and Wootton brilliantly offloaded to Sullivan – who had replaced Fitzgerald, who was on the receiving end of the Stormers yellow card tackle, after initially going off – to touch down in the corner. The try gave Connacht a slender lead at 19-17 and it’s one they held to claim a big win. 

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

 

15: John Porch 

14: Peter Sullivan(Tom Farrell)

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Conor Fitzgerald (Peter Sullivan)

9: Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade)

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler (Conor Oliver)

6: Cian Prendergast (Abraham Papali’i)

5: Leva Fifita 

4: Niall Murray (Oisin Dowling)

3: Tietie Tuimauga (Jack Aungier)

2: Shane Delahunt (Jonny Murphy)

1: Denis Buckley (Jordan Duggan)

 

Replacements: 

16: Jonny Murphy 

17: Jordan Duggan 

18: Jack Aungier 

19: Oisin Dowling 

20: Conor Oliver 

21: Caolin Blade 

22: Tom Farrell 

23: Abraham Papali’i

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)

Tom Daly is one of a number of players returning to the Connacht starting team for tomorrow’s URC interpro against Ulster in Belfast (k/o 8.15pm).
 
Daly has missed the last three months with a knee injury he sustained against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, but now makes a welcome return to inside-centre alongside Sammy Arnold.
 
The starting XV also includes Denis Buckley for the first time since June, Conor Fitzgerald & John Porch who were unavailable last week, and Cian Prendergast who has returned from a stint with Ireland as a development player.
 
In all there are 11 changes to the side that disappointingly lost to Glasgow last weekend. Buckley is named in a new-look tight five with Shane Delahunt at hooker and Tietie Tuimauga who’s named at tighthead, while Niall Murray and Oisín Dowling are paired together in the second row. Jarrad Butler captains the side from number 8, with Prendergast and Conor Oliver on the flanks.
 
In the backs, out-half Conor Fitzgerald is handed his first start of the season with Kieran Marmion alongside him, while a new-look back three features Porch at full-back with Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan on the wings.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had an honest week with difficult conversations about what happened last weekend. The performance wasn’t nearly good enough and we need to see a major improvement tomorrow against a strong Ulster team who are on a good run of form.
 
We’re welcoming back a number of players for various reasons which is always a plus, and we can take confidence from a good record up in Belfast the last few years.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
Friday 4th February, 20:15 @ Kingspan Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (48)
14. Peter Sullivan (17)
13. Sammy Arnold (29)
12. Tom Daly (53)
11. Alex Wootton (28)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (45)
9. Kieran Marmion (198)
1. Denis Buckley (201)
2. Shane Delahunt (113)
3. Tietie Tuimauga (4)
4. Niall Murray (26)
5. Oisín Dowling (17)
6. Cian Prendergast (20)
7. Conor Oliver (32)
8. Jarrad Butler (86) (C)
 
Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (17)
17. Jordan Duggan (22)
18. Greg McGrath (3)
19. Leva Fifita (6)
20. Paul Boyle (66)
21. Colm Reilly (8)
22. Cathal Forde (1)
23. Oran McNulty (6)

Connacht 22
Dragons 35

Connacht were defeated 35-22 by the Dragons at the Sportsground in the United Rugby Championship tonight.

 

Despite four penalties from Jack Carty and tries from Mack Hansen and Conor Fitzgerald, it was the visitors who left Galway with the bonus point win.

 

Tries from Jonah Holmes(2), Jordan Williams and Maseke Doge, as well as the boot of Sam Davies adding fifteen points — via three penalties and three conversions — paved the way for the away team to seal the win in an enthralling game.

 

Connacht started the game with an attacking ambition and their approach yielded points after only two minutes. The Dragons were adjudged to be offside just inside their own half and the hosts were awarded a penalty. Making no mistake, Carty confidently slotted the long range kick to open the scoring at 3-0.

 

The Roscommon native soon after added a second penalty, accurately slotting the kick from just inside the Dragons’ half. The 6-0 lead was a worthy reward for Connacht who were the dominant team in the opening fifteen minutes.

 

The Welsh team, however, opened their scoring account not long after when Davies slotted a penalty with aplomb. With their tails up, the visitors grew into the game and they showed their attacking strengths near the half hour mark with a well constructed try.

 

Full back Williams’ kick over the blitzing defence of the hosts bounced back to the full-back and he then showed vision to pass to Holmes to touch down. The conversion was wide, but Connacht found themselves behind for the first time at 8-6.

 

The Westerners were only behind for a matter of moments and retook their lead when Carty confidently stroked a penalty between the sticks and in a double whammy, the away team were reduced to 14 men after a yellow card to Rhodri Williams

 

Connacht seized on the man advantage and stretched their lead to four points when Carty notched his fourth penalty of the half and they held that 12-8 lead going into the interval.

 

The Dragons started the second half with renewed vigour and their efforts were rewarded when full-back Williams — with a sharp slight of foot — skipped in to touch down for a try that Davies converted to see the visitors edge 15-12 in front after ten minutes of the second period.

 

The away team went from strength to strength and they had their second try in a profitable second half period when Mesake Doge — the Fijian — barged over from close range. Once again, Davies — who continued his 100% record off the tee — made no error and the Dragons were 22-12 to the good.

 

With fresh impetus from replacements Conor Oliver, Shane Delahunt and Jordan Duggan, The Westerners upped the tempo in search of their opening try and they had it close to the hour from a familiar source. Carty’s slicing looping pass found Hansen and the winger sold two dummies to skip in for the try and Connacht brought the score back to 22-17.

 

The Dragons, though, were proving themselves adept from the kicking tee and Davies continued his fine form with the boot with a long range penalty to give the Welsh team an eight point lead at 25-17.

 

With their confidence up, the Welsh team flexed their attacking muscles and completed their bonus point when Holmes — pouncing on a bouncing ball — touched down for his second try. Davies made no mistake from the tee and the scoreline read 32-17 to the away team.

 

Connacht knew they had to go in search for tries to attempt to mount a comeback in the remaining ten minutes and they started that period well when Fitzgerald fielded Sammy Arnold’s beautiful offload to touch down to take the score to 22-32

 

However, the Dragons soon extinguished that hope with a Davies penalty and they stretched their lead further to 22-35 and that’s how the game finished.

 

 

Connacht team:

15-9

15: Tiernan O’Halloran
14: Ben O’Donnell
13: Tom Farrell
12: Tom Daly.
11: Mack Hansen
10: Jack Carty
9: Caolin Blade

8-1

8: Paul Boyle
7: Jarad Butler
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Oisin Dowling
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Matthew Burke

Replacements: Duggan for Burke, Delahunt for Heffernan, Aungier for Bealham, Oliver for Butler, Fifita for Dowling, Fitzgerald for Farrell, Arnold for Daly

Munster 20

Connacht 24

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht completed the clean sweep of away interprovincial victories this season after a 24-20 win against Munster in the Rainbow Cup at Thomond Park. 

 

The visitors registered three tries via Sammy Arnold, Conor Fitzgerald, and Kieran Marmion with Fitzgerald tagging on a further nine points via three conversions and a penalty. 

 

The hosts scored two tries and two penalties, but it was Connacht — with their defence solid, especially the line out maul — who sealed a deserved victory.

 

The away team started brightly and after their pressure earned them a shot at goal,  Fitzgerald nudged them ahead with a sweetly struck penalty.

 

Munster responded well and they powered over for the first try of the night when James Cronin barrelled over from close range. With the conversion successful, the home team lead 7-3 in an entertaining opening to the game.

 

Connacht responded brilliantly, however, and from the subsequent restart they opened their try-scoring account. A high restart from Fitzgerald caused confusion in the home team’s ranks and after the ball was spilled, Arnold showed sharpness of mind to claim the ball. The Ireland international, who started the game on the wing, powered through would-be tackles and touched down. Making no mistake,  Fitzgerald slotted a difficult conversion from the corner and the Westerners lead 10-7. 

 

Showing confidence in the attack, the pressure being applied by the Westerners forced Munster into conceding penalties and it culminated in Shane Daily being yellow carded for an intentional knock-on. 

 

With the man advantage and Fitzgerald and captain Tom Daly managing the game superbly with sharp territorial kicking, Connacht were establishing field position deep in the hosts’ half. The away team kicked a penalty to the line and — after an intricate move — the ball was worked to Daly and the centre found Fitzgerald on a loop move. The fly half ran an angled line then stepped and sped into space for a try which he converted to give the visitors a 17-7 lead. 

 

Munster were next to score and they decreased the margin to three points when Rhys Marshall crossed the line from close range and Ben Healy converted. The teams went into the break with Connacht leading 17-14 after an enthralling half of rugby.

 

The Westerners began the second half in blistering fashion and they had a try scarcely a minute in. Strong defence forced a Munster knock-on and from the loose ball Cian Prendergast kicked through. The ball fell to Marmion and the scrum-half pinned his ears back and ran in the try. Fitzgerald kept his 100% success rate off the tee up and Connacht established a 24-14 lead.

 

The scoring was going tit for tat and Munster were next to trouble the scoreboard when Healy drove a long-range penalty between the sticks to reduce the deficit to 24-17.

 

With their tails up, the home side cranked up the pressure and laid siege to the visitors’ 22, but Connacht were stout and committed in defence. Replacement Denis Buckley completed the defensive set when he brilliantly turned over the ball with Munster pushing for a try with fewer than ten minutes remaining. 

 

The hosts weren’t disheartened, though, and they registered a score when replacement Joey Carbery shortened the gap with a penalty to bring the score to 24-20.

 

Munster continued to push and probe, but the Connacht defence — with centre Sean O’Brien and lock Ultan Dillane particularly impressive — held firm to seal the win and complete the sweep of away victories for the Westerners in interpro’s this season. 

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Sammy Arnold 

13: Sean O’Brien

12: Tom Daly (C)

11: Alex Wootton

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Niall Murray 

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Paddy McAllister 

 

Replacements: Denis Buckley for McAllister, Finlay Bealham for Robertson McCoy, Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Sean Masterson for Oliver. Jack Carty for Fitzgerald.  Caolin Blade for Marmion. Peter Sullivan for Arnold. Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht 21

Leinster 50

 

Connacht fell to a 21-50 defeat to Leinster in a GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup clash at The Sportsground.

 

Despite the hosts leading 16-0 early in the first half, the away team recovered to score eight tries in an impressive performance. Caolin Blade and Peter Sullivan touched down for tries for the home team and the boot of Conor Fitzgerald tacked on eleven points through three penalties and a conversion.

 

The home team began with a physical and attacking intent and their ambition yielded early points through two Fitzgerald penalties, both of which were slotted home with conviction. 

 

If Connacht’s beginning to the game was marked by aggression in attack, they were equally hungry to impose themselves on the other side of the ball. 

 

With their defensive line keen to blitz, the hosts forced an interception and Blade — showing an intelligent reading of the game — plucked a Leinster pass and ran in for the try. Fitzgerald once again showed composure with the boot and the Westerners lead 13-0.

 

With their tails up, Connacht continued to push and probe for more scores. A puncturing run from Sean O’Brien blasted through the visitor’s defence and established field position for the hosts in the 22. From there, they earned a penalty and Fitzgerald kept his 100% rate off the tee up with a kick that nudged the home team into a 16-0 lead. 

 

To their credit, though, Leinster recovered and began to exert themselves into the game after a powerful opening 15 minutes from Connacht. The Eastern province ran in five tries in a twenty-five-minute period with Irish international Hugo Keenan(2), and James Treacy touching down while Ross Molony and Cian Kelleher also crossed the whitewash. Ross Byrne was accurate with four of his five conversions and the away team went into the halftime break leading 33-16.

 

The away team began the second half in a similar manner and they had their sixth try when recently selected Lion Andrew Porter touched down at the tail of a rolling maul and — with Byrne adding the extras — Leinster broke the forty-point mark.

 

With all the momentum behind them, the away team added their seventh score of the evening when Scott Fardy touched down after a rolling maul surged towards the line. 

 

Connacht — with replacement Abraham Papali’i prominent in the ball carrying stakes — improved thereafter and they dotted down their second try after Fitzgerald’s looping pass found Sullivan and the winger showed both pace and strength to burst through the defence and touch down to take the score to 21-45.

 

Leinster had the last say when Keenan completed his hattrick and capped the win for the Eastern province at 21-50.

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: John Porch 

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Sean O’Brien

12: Tom Daly 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Conor Fitzgerald

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler(C)

7: Conor Oliver

6: Eoghan Masterson

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Niall Murray

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: Jonny Murphy for Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke for Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Finlay Bealham, Cian Prendergast for Conor Oliver, Abraham Papali’i for Jarrad Butler, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sammy Arnold for John Porch, Oran McNulty for Matt Healy.

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 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.

By John O’Sullivan

Backs coach Nigel Carolan says Connacht will need to be at their physical best if they are to win Saturday’s 7:35 PM Guinness PRO14 kick-off at home to Benetton Rugby.

 

The Westerners will look to make it back to back wins after their 52-7 victory away to Zebre last time out and ahead of their European campaign kicking off at Racing 92 on December 13th.

 

Benetton, meanwhile, were defeated 26-19 by the Dragons in their last game, but Carolan says that Connacht will need to be at their best and follow the same game plan that saw them defeat the Italians 41-5 last season.

 

“Last year we played them and we won 41-5, in the second or third game of last year. We referred it to briefly during the week. What won us that game last year was physicality. It was an extremely physical game. Looking back at the end of last season, that was one of the most physical games of the season,” he said.

 

In that game in October 2019, the Sportsground team also kicked intelligently and Carolan says that accuracy — as well as being efficient when presented with try-scoring opportunities — will be the key to victory again on Saturday evening.

 

“We know we’re going to need to match them physically. They have a huge pack and they need to be moved around the pitch,” the former Connacht player said.

 

“We need to match them physically upfront and in the set-piece. That level of accuracy, every time you get a chance you’re going to need to take them. They have a dangerous back three and if you kick loosely to them you’re going to create problems for yourself. We have to make sure that when we kick, we kick accurately and we get contests in the air.”

 

In Connacht’s last home game, a 20-14 loss to the Scarlets, the weather alternated between strong winds and torrential rain. Carolan maintains that his team’s gameplan respects the weather, but they will stick to their principles.

 

“You’ve got to respect it,” the former Ireland under 20’s head coach said of the conditions.

 

“Obviously, the wind has a big influence on how we play the game. It’s just the types of kicks you gotta put in. If you gotta kick the ball into the breeze, it’s a more contestable kick and you set yourselves up quite differently. That’s nearly on a weekly basis and daily basis in training as well. It’s something that comes with the territory here and we have to deal with the weather and we manage that the best we can.”

 

Elsewhere, centre Tom Daly says that he is enjoying covering multiple on-pitch roles for Connacht this season. Already, the 27-year-old — who scored a brace of tries in the victory away to Zebre — has played at centre and fly half and has covered the wings from the bench.

 

Daly — as shown in the win away to Edinburgh — is also comfortable with kicking for goal and he says that he enjoys the responsibility.

 

“Yeah, obviously it’s something(goal kicking) I have done for a long time. I would have kicked for the Irish under 18’s, 19’s and 20’s and throughout my time at Leinster I would have done a lot of goal kicking,” the Carlow native said.

 

“Obviously here, Jack(Carty) and Fitzy(Conor Fitzgerald) have been going really well so maybe the opportunity hasn’t always come to place kick, but I have always been practicing and I knew I was going to be ready when the chance did come. That came pretty early against Edinburgh and that went pretty well, so hopefully, Friendy(Andy Friend) and Nige(Nigel Carolan) will look at that and see it as a viable option for me to goal kick and to cover ten.

 

“I think some people thought I was just thrown in at ten against Edinburgh and it was something I had never done before. But it’s something a practice quite a lot here and it’s something I would have done quite a lot of coming up through the age grades. I feel pretty comfortable there(at ten) and pretty confident. If it means I get more game time and I’m on the pitch more often then I’m happy to play wherever,” the former Irish Sevens player said.

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