Connacht made it the perfect mini-tour of South Africa on Saturday after a 21-17 win against the Cheeaths, sealing back-to-back wins and a third straight win in all competitions.
 
Check out some of the best pics from the game below!
 

Match report from the GUINNESS PRO14
 
Connacht clinched a third successive Guinness PRO14 victory for the first time since March 2017 with a 21-17 victory over Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
 
In an open contest, the Irishmen unearthed a ruthless streak before the break as Tom Farrell and Gavin Thornbury’s tries proved enough to earn Connacht’s first victory over the Free State side on South African soil.
 
Cheetahs’ Shaun Venter provoked a late rallying call for the hosts with a try ten minutes from the end, but it proved in vain as the hosts fell to a seventh loss of the season.
 
Connacht flew out the blocks and they had the lead inside six minutes when Farrell skipped his way through the Cheetahs pack before spectacularly dummying his way around Malcolm Jaer to reach the try line. Jack Carty kicked for two.
 
Cheetahs steadily grew into the game and they almost broke back when Darren Adonis made his way to the line but was thwarted by a crunching challenge from Niyi Adeolokun.
 
Carty extended the lead with his boot midway through the tie before Thornbury struck a telling blow by bursting over the line with a rolling maul to score his first try of the season.
 
Cheetahs finally took one of their chances when the ball was threaded to speedster Jaer to guile his way over the whitewash and hold off an injured Adeolokun to reduce the deficit to 15-5.
 
Then when Connacht carelessly gave away a penalty in their own half, Cheetahs grasped the chance to score again as Joseph Dweba bulldozered his way down the blindside of the maul to score his fourth career try.
 
Both Cheetahs and Connacht threatened after the break, but a spate of individual handling errors scuppered the try scoring ability of both sides until replacement David Horwitz kicked a 57th minute penalty.
 
Another defensive error from the Cheetahs, this time from Joseph Dweba for not releasing, allowed Horwitz to kick his second penalty of the afternoon and stretch Connacht’s advantage to 21-10.
 
Franco Smith’s men began to fade, but out of nowhere with under ten minutes to go William Small-Smith popped up to bring the game back to life as he released Venter away to score the only try of the second half. Tian Schoeman converted, but it proved too little too late to have an effect.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made five changes to his starting team to face the Cheetahs in the Guinness PRO14 in Bloemfontein on Saturday (kick-off 3pm Irish time).
 
Into the side comes hooker Tom McCartney, lock Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle and Robin Copeland in the back row and winger Niyi Adeolokun. Connacht are aiming to back up their bonus point win over the Southern Kings last week with a second win on their South African tour.
 
The inclusion of the experienced McCartney sees him join a front row alongside props Denis Buckley and Conor Carey. In the second row, Ultan Dillane joins Thornbury who is set to start his first game since returning from a shoulder injury that he picked up in the win over Scarlets earlier in the season.
 
In the back-row Copeland at number 8 and Boyle at blindside will line up alongside skipper Jarrad Butler.
 
Adeolokun is the only change in the backline with his inclusion on the wing. He will be part of a back three that incudes Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Jack Carty, man-of-the-match last week, continues his half-back partnership with Caolin Blade as do the midfield duo of Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell.
 
While Head Coach Andy Friend was satisfied with the bonus point win last weekend, he says they were still left with plenty of areas for improvement this week: “The win against the Kings last week was hugely important for the morale among the group and it sets us up for the challenge of taking on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The players have worked really hard in training over the two weeks. They have been hugely challenged in the intensity and physicality that we have worked on and they have responded really well. Coming over here we set ourselves the target of two wins and that firmly remains our goal.”
 
Friend is not underestimating the challenge that his side face, against the Cheetahs whose home form has been extremely competitive since joining the PRO14 last season: “We will need a step up in intensity and execution from where we were last weekend to challenge the Cheetahs. They are a competitive side who are well able to throw the ball around and open teams up and the boys are well aware of that. But we will continue to focus on our game and constantly improving ourselves and delivering a result”, Friend added.
 
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Kick-off 3pm (Irish Time):
 
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Cian Kelleher.

The Connacht squad have returned to their base in Cape Town and have taken part in training ahead of Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 clash with conference rivals Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
 
The side enjoyed a bonus-point win in Port Elizabeth on Sunday with victory over Southern Kings, and a second win at the weekend would be a huge boost before they return for two European Challenge Cup clashes with Perpignan.
 
Here are some of the pics from today’s session.
 

Toyota Cheetahs 26

Connacht 25

 

Two tries from winger Matt Healy and one from Eoin Griffin, combined with two penalties from the boot of Jack Carty, looked to have sealed Connacht’s second away win in a row.

But their efforts were not enough to see off the South Africans, who scored early through Uzair Cassiem and again in the second half through Sibhale Maxwane, with Marais kicking fourteen points for the win.

Cassiem opened the scoring for the Cheetahs after just three minutes, picking and going on the blindside of a ruck five metres out to trot in untouched.

Niel Marais converted the try then added three more points to give the hosts a 10 point lead within 10 minutes.

Connacht responded through Healy, who was put in down the left after some fluid hands, and Jack Carty added the extras.

After Marais slotted another penalty, Healy then got his second in the same corner after the ball was spun out to him, but Carty couldn’t convert to take the lead.

Marais knocked over yet another kick at goal after an explosive break from Craig Barry forced a penalty for Cheetahs, but Carty responded and converted an effort of his own just before half time.

Carty then took the opportunity to take the lead for the first time after the break, slotting his penalty to go 16-18 up.

He then made a slicing break after waves of pressure on the Cheetahs defence and off-loaded to Griffin who ran in under the posts.

The hosts’ replied instantly with some great running, as Barry cut inside from his wing and passed to substitute Maxwane to cross the whitewash, with Marais adding the extras to close the gap to two points.

Connacht looked to have kept the Cheetahs out and were on track for just their second victory on the road, but the Cheetahs pushed on and were rewarded for their determination.

Clayton Blommetjies’ monstrous kick to touch from a penalty meant the hosts had a line-out five metres out and managed to win a late penalty when Connacht failed to release on the floor.

Marais stepped up as the clock ticked towards 80 minutes and calmly slotted the ball between the posts to seal a dramatic victory at the death.

 

Irish international lock Ultan Dillane has returned to the Connacht starting team to face the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in the Guinness PRO14 on Saturday (Kick Off at 5:35pm – Irish Time). The inclusion of centre Pita Ahki is the only other change to the side that beat Benetton Rugby in Treviso last weekend. Ahki will form a centre partnership with Eoin Griffin who scored a 74th minute try against the Italians.

The back three remains unchanged with wingers Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher and full back Tiernan O’Halloran all being retained.

O’Halloran, Denis Buckley, Jarrad Butler, and Niyi Adeolokun, all featured last weekend after returning from respective injuries and all four are fully fit to face the Cheetahs this time out.

With an extended squad of 25 players, Connacht travelled from Italy last Sunday on to Bloemfontein in South Africa where they have been training this week and acclimatising to soaring temperatures of up to 30 degrees.

Having previously coached in Super Rugby, Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane, has faced the Cheetahs on a number of occasions and is well aware of how difficult it is to beat the South African side on home soil. “I think everyone is familiar with their style of play. They play some really exciting and attacking rugby. They played like that when they came to the Sportsground and they were hard to beat. They are even harder to beat when they are playing at home and only one team has managed it since they joined the PRO14”, said Keane.

“It’s a massive challenge but one we are really relishing. We will be focusing on our game plan and what we can control and hopefully delivering a winning performance on Saturday”, he added.

It what will his last occasion playing rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, Connacht Captain John Muldoon is determined to come away from Bloemfontein with a victory. “The game will be kicking off at 7.35pm in the evening South African time so hopefully heat won’t be as big of a factor as during the day. We have trained in the middle of the day all week so by the time the game comes on Saturday evening we should be well adjusted to it. But the conditions are only one part of the game and it can be an excuse if you want it to be. There is no doubt that Cheetahs are a very good attacking side. If you give them time and space they will hurt you. We have to be smart in how we play the game and we don’t want to give them huge opportunities to run the ball. If we fall into that trap we will be in big trouble regardless of other factors”, the veteran captain said when speaking to local reporters during the week.

 

The Toyota Cheetahs versus Connacht kicks off at 5:35pm Irish time on Saturday and is live on Sky Sports.

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt).

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Denis Coulson, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, James Mitchell, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun.

A squad of 25 players travelled to Treviso for the win against Benetton Rugby on Saturday. All 25 travelled on to South Africa to the squad’s training base in Bloemfontein, including Ultan Dillane who has been released from the Ireland Training Camp for the clash with the Cheetahs this coming Saturday.

 

Denis Buckley (ankle), Jarrad Butler (hand), Tiernan O’Halloran (hamstring) and Niyi Adeolokun (hamstring), all played last weekend after returning from respective injuries and all have had no ill effects from the game.

 

Returning Players:

Eoin McKeon (calf) and Peter Robb (hamstring) will integrate into team training this week back in Galway as they near a return from their respective injuries.

 

Prop:
Conor Carey injured his shoulder in the game versus Zebre and will be out of action until the end of March.

JP Cooney is recovering from hamstring surgery and will be out of action until April.

Hooker:
Pat O’Toole is continuing his rehabilitation for his hamstring injury under the supervision of the medical and performance team.

Lock:
Andrew Browne is continuing his recovery from the shoulder injury he sustained against Ospreys and will be out of action until the end of March.

Back Row:
Jake Heenan is continuing his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery and will be out of action until April.

An extended Connacht Squad of 25 will travel to Italy to take on Benetton Rugby on Saturday (K.O. 12pm – Irish Time). From there they will make the journey to South Africa where they will take on the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein for the very first time on Saturday 3rd of March.

Ahead of the tour, our Medical Team have issued the following Squad Update.

Prop:
Denis Buckley will integrate into team training this week following his recovery from ankle surgery in early January.

Conor Carey injured his shoulder in the game versus Zebre and is awaiting the results of a scan to determine the extent of the injury.

 

JP Cooney is recovering from hamstring surgery and will be out of action until April.

Hooker:
Pat O’Toole is continuing his rehabilitation for his hamstring injury under the supervision of the medical and performance team.

Lock:

Andrew Browne is containing his recovery from the shoulder injury he sustained against Ospreys last week and will be out of action for 4-6 weeks.

 

Back Row:
Eoin McKeon is nearing a return to team training following his calf injury.

Jake Heenan is continuing his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery and will be out of action until April.

Centre:
Peter Robb will integrate into team training this week following his recovery from a hamstring injury last month.

 

Back Three:

Tiernan O’Halloran is nearing a return to team training following his hamstring injury.

 

The fixture details have been confirmed for Rounds 14-17 of the Guinness PRO14 Championship, which include a back-to-back double header at The Sportsground against Conference A rivals in February.

 

On Friday 9th February we host Ospreys in the first of two vital Conference A clashes. After a 7 day turn around, Michael Bradley’s Zebre will visit the Sportsground for a Friday night fixture.

 

The following weeks sees two significant away fixtures. First stop is Treviso where we will take on Benetton Rugby at the the Stadio Comunale di Monigo on Saturday 24th March. The squad will travel from there to Bloemfontein in South Africa for the first time in the return fixture against the Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday 3rd March.

 

GUINNESS PRO14 ROUNDS 14-17

Friday 9th February, 7.35pm
Connacht v Ospreys

Friday 16th February, 7.35pm
Connacht v Zebre

Saturday 24th February, 1.00pm (12.00pm Irish Time)
Benetton Rugby v Connacht

Saturday 3rd March, 7.35pm (5.35pm Irish Time)
Toyota Cheetahs v Connacht

 

Ticket details for these fixtures will be announced soon.

Remember you can give the perfect gift this Christmas with the Connacht Christmas Cracker which includes access to all five home games in the new year.

 

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