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.

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.”

By John O’Sullivan

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 37-26, bonus-point win away to Edinburgh. 

 

A brace of tries from Alex Wootton, as well as a touchdown apiece from Caolin Blade, Sammy Arnold, and Shane Delahunt —  with Conor Fitzgerald(3) and Tom Daly (9) both adding points from the tee — sealed the win for Andy Friends Westerners in a performance of brilliant attacking execution.

 

Without seven of their Irish contingent, the visitors — who made several changes to their team after the loss to Cardiff Blues two weekends ago — started with intent and they scored the first points of the night when Fitzgerald confidently slotted a penalty.

 

Edinburgh responded well, however, and scored the first try of the night when Nick Groom — the Scots’ captain — sniped over from short range after his pack put significant pressure on the Connacht line. Jaco van der Walt added the extras to make the score 7-3 in favour of the hosts.

 

Fitzgerald, making his first start of the campaign, was running the Westerners backline with authority and with a massive penalty kick for touch gave the visitors a line out in the Edinburgh 22.

 

Blade, after the line-out gave Connacht possession close to the hosts line, then scored the Irish teams first try of the game when he, in a move of sheer ingenuity,  — tight to the touchline on the blindside — cleverly grubber kicked ahead, before catching his own kick to touch down.  The conversion was wide, but the score was deserved for the Westerners after a strong start.

 

One try soon became two when Fitzgerald, who was given territory by the powerful carries of the pack — with Abraham Papali’i especially prominent in the carrying stakes — stabbed a grubber kick through that Arnold caught to give Connacht their second try.

 

The Westerners were playing with a huge degree of pace and confidence and they scored their third try of a highly entertaining half when Wootton — whose intelligent trail line saw him collect an offload  — touched down after brilliant run from John Porch down the left-hand touchline.  Daly, who had moved to out-half to replace the injured Fitzgerald, slotted the conversion and Connacht found themselves 20-7 to the good.

 

There were further scores in a highly engaging half when Daly accurately kicked a penalty at goal and Mike Willemse — touching down at the tail of a rolling maul — powered over for the hosts to take the half time score to 23-14 in favour of Connacht.

 

Chasing the victory, Edinburgh started the second period in strong fashion and had their third try when Willemse — once again the benefactor of a strong rolling maul — crossed the whitewash. The conversion was wide, but at 23-19 the game was delicately poised.

 

Blade was managing the game excellently for the Westerners — with his accurate box kicks a great source of territorial gains — and he applied this influence again when his grubber kick through in the Edinburgh 22 found Wootton to touch down for his second try. Daly slotted the extras to take the score to 30-19.

 

With confidence coursing through the team, Connacht completed the win with their fifth try. A sharp and incisive line from Delahunt gave the Irishmen territory in the home teams 22. Then, after some hard carries from the pack, the hooker smashed his way over for a try that Daly, whose kicking was peerless throughout, converted.

 

Edinburgh would have the final score when Andrew Davidson powered over from close range, but it was Connacht’s night and they held out to secure a brilliant win, 26-37.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Sammy Arnold

13: Tom Farrell

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Conor Fitzgerald

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i i

7: Jarrad Butler

6: Paul Boyle

5: Gavin Thornbury

4: Eoghan Masterson

3: Jack Aungier

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Paddy McAllister for  Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Aungier, Johnny Murphy for Delahunt, Tiernan O’Halloran for Arnold, Peter Robb for Fitzgerald, Colm Reilly for Blade, Cian Prendergast for Masterson, Oliver for Papali’ii

Gloucester 26

Connacht 17

A strong second half Gloucester performance turned around Connacht’s three point half time lead as the English side claimed the bonus point win in this Champions Cup Round 3 clash. After the first of the crucial back to back fixtures, the return leg in the Sportsground next Saturday now becomes a must win for Connacht.

Gloucester drew first blood just 4 minutes into the game when Tom Marshall raced onto a pass outside the 22 and ran in under the posts. Amazingly though, Cipriani’s conversion was to prove their final score of the opening half for Gloucester as Connacht mounted a massive defensive display.

Connacht responded with their opening try after 8 minutes when John Porch scored his third try in two games. Porch looked confident in his new full back position and looked an attacking threat throughout.

While Gloucester made a handful of visits inside the Connacht 22 throughout the first half, they couldn’t break down a resolute defence. Connacht had their chances too and their period of pressure was rewarded on 18 minutes when Carty converted a penalty to leave the visitors 3 points to the good – a lead they held to the break.

It was a different Gloucester side that emerged for the second half and within seven minutes of the restart, Louis Rees-Zammit was in for the home side’s second try.

Connacht to their credit tried to stay in touch, but the English Premiership side had found a new level of confidence matched by greater accuracy.

At the game hit the 60 minutes mark, Gloucester were in again just after Kyle Godwin was sent to the bin following a succession of Connacht penalties – the final quarter was always going to be an uphill challenge from here. The home side capitalised on that numerical advantage and in the 65th minute Jake Polledri claimed the bonus point try with Cipriani scoring the conversion to leave it 24 – 10 with 15 to go.

From here Connacht went in search of a losing bonus point but and were unlucky not to have a try with 5 minutes remaining. The try did eventually come though when Quinn Roux drove at the Gloucester line 2 minutes into injury time. Unfortunately though, even with Fitzgerald’s conversion success, Connacht left with nothing.

So Gloucester draw first blood in the back to back battle. Both sides have just six days to regroup for the return leg in the Sporstground next Saturday.

For tickets to the crucial Champions Cup clash clash – Click here

Connacht scorers

Tries: J Porch, Q Roux

Conversions: Jack Carty (1), Conor Fitzgerald (1)

Penalties: J Carty (1)

Gloucester: Tom Marshall,  Louis Rees-Zammit,  Chris Harris (B Twelvetrees),  Mark Atkinson,  Ollie Thorley,  Danny Cipriani (M Banahan), Joe Simpson (Callum Braley ) Val Rapava Ruskin (Josh Hohneck), Franco Marais (Todd Gleave), Fraser Balmain (Jamal Ford-Robinson) Gerbrandt Grobler,  Franco Mostert (Alex Craig), Ruan Ackermann (Lewis Ludlow), Jake Polledri,  Ben Morgan.

Connacht:  John Porch,  Niyi Adeolokun,  Bundee Aki, Peter Robb (Tom Daly,  Kyle Godwin,  Jack Carty (Conor Fitzgerald) , Caolin Blade (Stephen Kerins)  Denis Buckley (P McCabe), Tom McCartney (Jonny Murphy), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy) Joe Maksymiw (Ultan Dillane ), Quinn Roux,  Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a (Robin Copeland), Jarrad Butler.

 

A Conor Fitzgerald try which he duly converted 10 minutes from time gave Connacht a hard-earned win away to Oyonnax in the squad’s opening pre-season game of the 2019/20 season.
 
With all 30 players of the travelling party seeing at least 20 minutes of action, it was clear this was a game in which the focus was on giving players an opportunity to impress after the first month of pre-season.
 
Connacht found chances had to come by in the 1st half against a physical French outfit who are just one week out from the start of their league campaign. They led 7-0 at the break after a converted try after 23 minutes, and that could have been more after they saw two of their penalties hit the post.
 
Mass changes took place at the break with almost an entirely new team taking the field – among them Connacht Academy player Seán O’Brien and summer signing John Porch. The intensity increased almost immediately from the restart and the pressure eventually told after 45 minutes when Colby Fainga’a ran a great line inside the 22 to touch down underneath the posts.
 
Oyonnax responded well to that try and almost immediately regained the lead from a penalty, and that was then stretched to 6 points after a further shot at goal 15 minutes later.
 
However Andy Friend’s side found an extra gear when needed, as a well-worked play released Kyle Godwin out wide who showed good pace before finding Conor Fitzgerald on his inside to score their second try.
 
Fitzgerald’s resulting conversion was no gimme, but he made no mistake to give Connacht the slenderest of leads which they never relinquished.
 
1st half team:
15. Darragh Leader, 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Kyle Godwin, 12. Peter Robb, 11. Matt Healy, 10. David Horwitz, 9. Caolin Blade.
1. Matthew Burke, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 4. Joe Maksymiw, 5. Ultan Dillane, 6. Seán Masterson, 7. Paul Boyle, 8. Robin Copeland.

2nd half team:
15. Tiernan O’Halloran 14. Niyi Adeolokun / Kyle Godwin, 13. Seán O’Brien, 12. Tom Daly, 11. John Porch, 10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Angus Lloyd.
1. Denis Buckley, 2. Dave Heffernan, 3. Finlay Bealham / Rory Burke, 4. Cillian Gallagher, 5. Gavin Thornbury, 6. Eoghan Masterson, 7. Colby Fainga’a, 8. Jarrad Butler (c).
 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that three players from the NUIG sponsored Connacht Academy have signed their first professional contracts. Matthew Burke, Conor Fitzgerald and Conor Kenny have signed contracts with the province for the 2019/20 season. These latest signings follow Paul Boyle’s graduation to the senior squad earlier this season.
 
Matthew Burke has made eight appearances for the senior team so far this season having made his debut away to Sale in the Challenge Cup back in October. The 22 year old prop is a native of Ballinrobe and plays his club rugby with Corinthians.
 
Having joined the Connacht Academy at the start of the season, Conor Fitzgerald is another player who has already made a significant contribution to the senior side. The out-half made four appearances in the European Challenge Cup and a further two in the PRO14.
 
Prop Conor Kenny has come up through the underage structures in Buccaneers before going on to represent the senior side in the All Ireland League. He also represented Garbally College in Ballinasloe prior to joining the Connacht Academy three years ago.
 
Announcing the contract signings, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “I have been very impressed with the talent I have seen coming through the club and academy structures in the province. Earlier in the season, Paul Boyle signed his first professional contract and we are delighted to announce that Conor Fitzgerald, Matthew Burke and Conor Kenny will be added to our professional squad for next season. We have used Academy players throughout the season and my message to the next crop of players is that there will be opportunities for them to show what they can do. Our announcement today is great news for the players involved but the door is still open for others to make that step up. The recent Grand Slam success for the Ireland U20s, and the involvement of Connacht representatives Dylan Tierney-Martin, Niall Murray, Colm Reilly, and Ryan Lomas, is a further example of the further depth in our academy ranks.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has named Academy players Conor Fitzgerald and Kieran Joyce in his starting team and Matthew Burke on the bench for the trip to Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup on Friday (k/o 7pm Irish time).
 
Joyce is retained in the midfield following his debut in the win over Perpignan last weekend while Fitzgerald is also set for his second start having been previously handed the number 10 jersey against Sale Sharks in October.
Joyce and Fitzgerald come into a back line that shows a blend of youth and experience. Joyce will partner David Horwitz in the midfield as the Australian makes a positional switch from out-half where he played last week.
 
In the back three, Darragh Leader is retained at full back, as are wingers Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher.
 
In the pack, hooker Dave Heffernan captains the side again with the Ballina native joined by props Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy in the front row. In the second row, James Cannon comes into the side as does the impressive Gavin Thornbury
In the back row, Robin Copeland returns from injury to start at number 8, alongside Sean O’Brien and James Connolly who played the full 80 minutes in the win in the Sportsground last week.
 
Connacht go into the game against Perpignan with four wins in a row in all competitions, and Head Coach Andy Friend says it is important to keep that momentum as Connacht face into the Christmas interpro series; “We have gained some real momentum with four wins in a row that included our back to back victories in South Africa. It was important to get the win over Perpignan last weekend to keep our interest alive in this competition, but we know that the return fixture will be a completely different game. Perpignan are in search of a win and the longer they go without that win, the more dangerous they are. They are a different proposition when they are playing at home and we will need a huge performance to challenge them”, Friend said.
 
Commenting on his team selection Friend added: “We have selected a blend of youth and experience in our side. We are seeing strong competition within the squad and that is hugely important as we head into the second half of the season. There are a few academy players in our match day squad again this weekend and that has been a feature of our selections this season. Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Joyce and Matthew Burke have performed well when called on so far and that is why we have selected them again”.
 
#PERvCON
 
Kick-off 7pm (Irish Time):
(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Kieran Joyce, David Horwitz, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, James Mitchell, (1-8) Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan (Capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Gavin Thornbury, Sean O’Brien, James Connolly, Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, Joe Maksymiw, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Kyle Godwin.

Scrum-half Caolin Blade is set to captain Connacht for the first time as his side take on Sale in the European Challenge Cup on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).

 

With Jack Carty rested after playing seven games in a row, Blade will form a half back partnership with Academy player Conor Fitzgerald who made his debut off the bench in the win over Bordeaux-Begles last weekend. Connemara man Colm De Buitléar is named on the wing in what will also be his first competitive start for his province.

 

The back line is also boosted by the return of centre Tom Farrell who forms a midfield partnership with Kyle Godwin. The versatile Godwin scored two tries in a Man of the Match performance on the wing in the opening round.

 

Tiernan O’Halloran also returns from injury to take his place at full back. He is part of a back three that includes twenty year old De Buitlear and Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing.

 

In the forwards, the experienced Denis Buckley returns at loosehead alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey at tighthead. Behind them will be Irish international Ultan Dillane and James Cannon.

 

In the back row, Paul Boyle moves to blindside while openside Colby Fainga’a and Robin Copeland at number 8 are both retained.

 

Two more players are in line to make their Connacht debuts off the bench. Academy prop Matthew Burke is included in the matchday 23 while summer arrival David Horwitz is also in the squad for the first time, after the out-half made an appearance for the Connacht Eagles last weekend. The bench also includes scrum-half former Sale player James Mitchell, who could make an appearance against his former club.

 

 

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend feels he has picked the right blend of youth and experience to challenge Sale: “Sale are an impressive side and they are top of the pool after the bonus point win away to Perpignan last weekend. We have picked a strong side. We have a few new players coming in who are there on merit and then we have a few more experienced guys coming back from injury. We have picked a side that we think can win the game and that is our intention going over to Sale”, Friend said.

 

“With ourselves and Sale both winning in the opening round, this game will have a big say in the final standings”, he added.

 

#SALvCON

 

Kick-off 3:00pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Kyle Godwin, Colm De Buitléar, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt), (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, James Connolly, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Eoin Griffin.

 

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Connacht name strong side for Challenge Cup R16 tie with Leicester Tigers
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Connacht name strong side for Challenge Cup R16 tie with Leicester Tigers

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PREVIEW: Leicester Tigers V Connacht
AFriend

PREVIEW: Leicester Tigers V Connacht

2 weeks ago