Leicester Tigers 48

Connacht 32

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht bowed out of the Challenge Cup at the last 16 stage after a 48-32 defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. 

 

Despite the Westerners registering tries through Kieran Marmion, Eoghan Masterson, Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle and twelve points from the boot of Jack Carty, it was the hosts who progressed through to the quarter-final.

 

Connacht began the game looking to play with their trademark ambition and pace and they were rewarded for this approach early on when Marmion touched down. 

 

Sean O’Brien made an incisive break, cutting through Tigers’ defence, and Marmion — running an intelligent trail line — caught the centre’s offload and showed great pace to sprint in for the try close to the left touchline. 

 

To their credit, Leicester responded well to conceding a try and responded with two quickfire scores of their own. First, from a rolling maul — a regular source of tries for the English side — Charlie Clare dotted down. 

 

Then, from a turnover in their own half, the hosts broke quickly and Guy Porter ran in a try down the blindside. This time, the Tigers converted via Zack Henry and — despite Connacht being in the ascendancy in terms of possession — lead 12-5. 

 

In an open game, the Westerners scored next when Carty — showing great accuracy from the tee — confidently slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four points. 

 

Connacht continued to probe in search of scores and their pressure lead to Care — the host’s first try scorer — receiving a yellow card for a high tackle. However, despite being a man in arrears, Leicester scored another rapid brace of tries. 

 

First, Matias Moroni reacted first to a spilled high ball and showed good awareness to swoop in for the try. Then, five minutes later, Henry touched down after another counter-attacking move saw Leicester quickly break and score. 

 

A heavy spell of pressure from the visitors followed and — after four penalties in the 22 — Carty eventually rewarded their patience when he bisected the posts with a penalty that took the half-time score to 24-11 in favour of the home team. 

 

Connacht started the second half with intent and attacked with gusto right from the start. 

 

A bludgeoning carry from Tom Daly established field position deep in Leicester territory. Masterson intelligently spotted a gap at the next ruck and sprinted into the space Ro touch down for a try borne of quick thinking. Carty added the extras to bring by the visitors back within touching distance.

 

Leicester responded by opening their second-half account with a Henry penalty, but Connacht didn’t let that change the course of the momentum and they added their second try of the half not long after.

 

A typically enterprising attack saw substitute Caolin Blade throw a sumptuous, against the grain pass which Wootton — running a sharp line — collected and showed searing pace to burst through and touch down. Carty added the conversion and cut the deficit to two points at 27-25.

 

The scoring was of a tit-for-tat nature and Leicester were next to bare their teeth with another rolling maul try with Clare touching down for his second. Henry converted and the scoreline read 34:25.

 

Connacht, though, kept plugging away and captain Boyle personified this when he — like Masterson beforehand — spotted a gap in a ruck and sped in for a try that Carty converted, leaving the score at 34:32.

 

The Tigers were the next to score when Harry Wells barged over from close range. Henry converted and Leicester broke the forty-point mark and took the game away from the visitors.

 

The hosts finished off in style when Jasper Wiese smashed his way over the line off the back of a scrum to rubber-stamp the win at 48-32. 

 

Connacht team: 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Matt Healy 

13: Sean O’Brien 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle ©

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: Caolin Blade for Marmion, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Abraham Papali’i for Conor Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty

The Connacht management team have picked a fully loaded side as they go in search of a win in tomorrow’s European Challenge Cup Round of 16 clash with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road (k/o 8pm).
 
In the absence of the suspended Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle captains the side in the number 8 jersey where he’s joined by flankers Eoghan Masterson and Conor Oliver.
 
There’s a wealth of experience in the tight five, with a front row of Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Ultan Dillane partners the in-form Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue their long-standing half-back partnership, while Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien start together at centre for the third straight game.
 
Another centurion Matt Healy is named on the wing, forming a back three combo with the exciting Alex Wootton and John Porch.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We had difficult decisions to make across the park with our starting XV. It’s a testament to our squad that we’ve got a really strong bench while others will miss out entirely, and that’s what you want going into knock-out European rugby.
 
“It’s no secret that the Connacht record in Europe needs to improve, but this is a group of players that know how to break hoodoos on the road. Leicester Tigers in Welford Road is one of the great challenges in European rugby and I have full confidence in the squad to get the win and really put us in the mix for silverware at the end of the season”.

 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Saturday 3rd April, Welford Road, kick-off 8.00pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (35)
14. Alex Wootton (18)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (6)
12. Tom Daly (43)
11. Matt Healy (147)
10. Jack Carty (154)
9. Kieran Marmion (181)
1. Denis Buckley (196)
2. Dave Heffernan (139)
3. Finlay Bealham (154)
4. Ultan Dillane (109)
5. Gavin Thornbury (55)
6. Eoghan Masterson (106)
7. Conor Oliver (16)
8. Paul Boyle (54) (C)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (95)
17. Jordan Duggan (10)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (62)
19. Oisin Dowling (4)
20. Abraham Papali’i (9)
21. Caolin Blade (126)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (31)
23. Peter Sullivan (11)

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to stick to their own game plan and processes in Saturday’s European Challenge Cup last 16 clash away to Leicester Tigers. 

 

The Tigers are known for their physical approach and boast a massive set of forwards and — with former England forwards coach Steve Borthwick at their coaching helm — possess a strong and consistent set-piece. 

 

Friend, however, is confident that playing with their trademark speed and creativity is the Westerners’ best course of tactical action while warning that the team will need to be disciplined in order to limit the hosts attacking options. 

 

“Work rate is going to be really important, we’re going to have to put move them,” the Australian said of Connacht’s game plan.

 

“Not too dissimilar to what you saw when we beat Leinster at the RDS, we outworked them and we outworked them early and we got some scores on the board and then they had to chase.

 

“Our intent, both with and without the football, we’ll be able to see that. If we don’t have the footy, our desire is to go up and shut down their time and space. When we do have the ball, we’ll have to win those collisions, but if we do we’ll have to be brave enough to play as well. 

 

Friend maintains that the Challenge Cup, which he describes as chapter two of the Westerners campaign, provides Connacht with the opportunity to win silverware this season and fulfill their ambition of winning a trophy, a goal they set at the beginning of the rugby year. 

 

“This is chapter two of our season, chapter one is finished,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“We didn’t make that final(PRO14), and it was disappointing. We keep talking about it as a squad, winning silverware, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re in the top 16 and if you win five games you win silverware. That would be the intention — certainly, it is my intention — and I know as a group of coaches and players that is our collective intention. We want to go and win it. 

 

“So, there is pressure on the game. We know that Connacht’s form against English sides hasn’t been great over the course of history, so we get an opportunity to go and correct that. We know we’re up against a very formidable side, so it’s no mean feat but we’re going there — and I want us to put pressure on ourselves — to perform because this is the mark of sides that can show the growth that I believe is taking place here.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that Connacht have put a huge focus on their defence heading into the European showdown against Leicester. 

 

In the Westerners last outing — a 41-36 defeat at the Scarlets — Boyle felt their defence let the team down, but the former Irish international said that the players are keen to apply the lessons they’ve learned from that game at Welford Road at 8 pm on Saturday evening. 

 

“I would be very confident to say it’s not going to happen again,” the Gorey native said of Connacht’s defensive prospects against the Premiership team. 

 

“We put a huge focus on it this week and we have trained really well. We’re looking forward to going after them this week defensively.”

 

Boyle — who represented Ireland at under 20’s level — said that the remaining games, both in Europe and the Rainbow Cup, will be a shop window for Connacht players to put their hands up for international selection.

 

“That is obviously one of my main goals at the moment(earning Irish selection),” the 24-year-old said. 

 

“It comes off the back of playing well enough and I am always a big advocate of ‘if you’re playing well enough for your province you’re going to get picked’. I’m working hard and I’m just trying to play my best every week and those games are a good showpiece for yourself and a good showpiece for the team to try and get those international honours.”

 

Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler — two of the Westerners’ most experienced players — will miss the Tigers fixture through suspension, but Boyle says that their presence in training is beneficial to the team. 

 

“Those guys have been brilliant in training. Those guys have been on team two and they’re brilliant players when they’re defending and when they’re attacking and they’re really challenging us. Even in the chats we’ve had, they’re giving us really good insight and they’re really helping us this week. 

 

“They have been brilliant since they’ve come back. Obviously they’re disappointed that they can’t play but they have been really good for the team.”

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend insists that Connacht can finish their season on a positive note, despite last weekend’s narrow defeat to Munster meaning the Westerners cannot win domestic silverware this term. 

 

After the 20-17 reversal at Thomond Park, Connacht now sit 12 points behind their Southern rivals in Conference B in the PRO14, which — with two games remaining — is an unassailable lead. 

 

However, with the Westerners drawn away to Leicester Tigers in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup and the remaining PRO14 fixtures providing the opportunity to nail down second place, Friend believes that the Sportsground team can still have a successful season, starting with Edinburgh at home on Saturday night.

 

“I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for us,” The Australian said of Connacht’s prospects in the Challenge Cup, which will restart on the weekend of April the second, third or fourth.

 

“We started out, at the front end of the year, in The Champions Cup and as the way the year has fallen we’ve moved back into the Challenge Cup. We also now know we won’t be competing for silverware in this initial period of the PRO14.

 

“Silverware and podium finishes is where we want to be, especially looking at this Challenge Cup as a real opportunity for us to go and win something. We have actually broken a few records this year — some good, some not so good — home losses and away wins. If we broke another one and that’s cracking a win in England; fantastic, I would be all for that.”

 

Connacht defeated Edinburgh 37-26 in the reverse fixture in October and Friend insists that the clash with the Scots is a match that the Westerners will look to win. But the game will also see the Sportsground team rotate players who have seen less game time recently given the opportunity to start. 

 

“We’re certainly going to be picking a team that we want to win in this contest, but I think it is a really good opportunity for us to provide a platform to certain individuals. That’s not taking anything away nor disrespecting Edinburgh at all,” the former Australian sevens coach said.

 

“We’ll wait to see what that side is when we put it out there, but I see these last two games as being a really good chance in a year where we haven’t had a lot of rugby for certain people to give people some game time and hopefully we can see a good performance from them as they have been waiting for an opportunity to deliver.”

 

Meanwhile, prop Denis Buckley says that Edinburgh will provide a stern test for the Connacht pack and they will have to be at their physical best to defeat the Scotsmen. 

 

The Roscommon native also highlighted the set-piece as an area where the Scots — who are coached by former England international hooker Richard Cockerill — are particularly strong and the Westerners, he says, will have to come out on top of that battle in order to win.

 

“I know it’s a bit of a cliche to say around rugby games, but they are a pretty, direct physical team, so to match that will be vital. It starts with the forwards.

 

“They have a good set-piece and they play a forward-oriented game. We have to meet fire with fire there and try to get on top in that part of the game will give us a pretty good foundation to get a victory”.

 

Reacting to Connacht’s Challenge Cup draw away to Leicester Tigers, Buckley acknowledged the size of the challenge in facing the Tigers, one of European Rugby’s most storied clubs. 

 

However, the loose-head believes that the Westerners can win the competition, especially with their strong away form this season. Should the Sportsground men progress they will face either Newcastle Falcons or Ospreys at home in the quarter-final.

 

“They’re obviously a really good side. It would have been nice to have a home draw, but this is the card we have been dealt. Look, we have two big games in the league first and we want to tie down that second place. 

 

“But then, it’s a really exciting game to start building towards. Our away form has been really good this year and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be looking to win that competition. It’ll start with a good performance against them, hopefully.”

In less than two months time we head back across the Irish Sea for our third meeting of the season with Sale Sharks in the European Challenge Cup, with the biggest saved til last.
 
A semi-final place in Europe is up for grabs when the two sides meet at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday 29th March (k/o 7.45pm) and as always the Connacht faithful will be making the trip over to help us across the line.
 
Sale Sharks have sent us the below document with plenty of useful info for Connacht fans heading to the game. It includes info on local hotels, getting to/from the stadium, and food and drink in the area amongst others.
 
CLICK HERE FOR THE FAN GUIDE

The EPCR have confirmed the date and kick-off time for the European Challenge Cup quarter-final between Sale Sharks and Conancht Rugby.
 
The game will take place at the AJ Bell Stadium in Sale on Friday March 29th with kick-off at 7.45pm, and there will be live TV coverage via the eir sport pack.
 
Sale will release details on how to purchase tickets for the game this coming Monday.

Watch a live stream of Bordeaux Bègles v Connacht

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Connacht lock Quinn Roux is set to captain Connacht for the first time ahead of Saturday’s final European Challenge Cup pool game away to Bordeaux-Begles (k/o 3pm Irish time). Roux has played 90 times for Connacht since making his debut in 2014 and signed a two-year extension to his contract earlier in the season.

Andy Friend’s team selection also includes a debut for Academy scrum-half Stephen Kerins. The 22 year old Sligo man forms a new-look half-back partnership with out-half David Horwitz. Caolin Blade and Jack Carty have been named among the replacements.

The midfield partnership is made up of Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell, both of whom were named in Ireland’s Six Nations squad this week. While in the back three Matt Healy and Darragh Leader will start on the wings and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.

In the pack there is a return to action for number 8 Eoin McKeon who starts his first game since suffering a shoulder injury against Glasgow on the opening day of the season. He forms joins a back row alongside flankers Paul Boyle and James Connolly. Up front props Pete McCabe and Finlay Bealham are joined by hooker Shane Delahunt. In the second row Gavin Thornbury will partner the captain Quinn Roux.

Among the replacements is hooker Jonny Murphy who is named in the Connacht matchday squad for the first time, while Eoin Griffin has returned from injury to take his place on the bench.

Connacht go into the game knowing a win will guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals, and Head Coach Andy Friend says his team must be completely focused on the task at hand.
“We know that a win of any description will secure a quarter final spot”, he said.

“Achieving any win away in France is difficult. French teams pride themselves on their home record and make it difficult for the opposition and we expect Bordeaux to be no different. Having said that we will be sticking to the approach that has served us well this season and we will be focusing on our own game.”

A win would mean a number of potential opponents in the last eight, but Friend has stresses that their focus remains solely on this weekend. “We haven’t really looked at all the different permutations, all we know is we need to get to Bordeaux and do a job. Ideally it would be a bonus-point win but a win is all we’re focusing on at the minute.”

#BORvCON  (Kick-off 3pm Irish time)

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, Stephen Kerins. (1-8) Pete McCabe, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (C), Paul Boyle, James Connolly, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements (16-23): Jonny Murphy, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Connon, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.

The EPCR have confirmed the time, date and location for Connacht’s final European Challenge Cup pool game against Bordeaux-Begles next month.
 
The game will be played on Saturday January 19th 2019 at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, with a kick-off time of 4pm local time (3pm Irish time).
 
Connacht have won 3 of their 4 pool games so far and are in the hunt for top spot in the pool.

Connacht return to action at The Sportsground for the first time in over a month this Saturday when Perpignan pay a visit for our third game in the European Challenge Cup.
 
Ahead of the tie Andy Friend spoke to the media at the pre-match press conference, discussing the challenge that lay ahead of what kind of team will take to the field.
 
You can watch his thoughts below:
 

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