By John O’Sullivan

 

New forward’s coach Dewald Senekal said the highly committed and professional environment at Connacht Rugby was one of the main factors behind his decision to join the club this summer. 

 

The South African native, a former Bayonne, Toulon, Golden Lions and Agen representative in his playing days, acquired a wealth of coaching experience in the French Top — plying his coaching trade at Bayonne, Grenoble, and Stade Francais — before accepting the offer to take the forward coaching reins at the Sportsground. 

 

The Westerners’ ambition to win and to develop was attractive to Senekal, who says that the players’ mindsets and hunger around improving their games has been a notable and positive aspect of his first few months in situ in his new post. 

 

“Through COVID, there was a lot of talk between coaches and a lot of time spent exchanging ideas. Having those discussions with some really good coaches, including some in Ireland, and having visited Munster a few years back on an upskilling mission, I just thought it was a great time for me to come and experience an Irish environment and an Irish professional environment,” he said. 

 

“It was a very big part of my decision, the profile of the team, and what makes me tick as a coach, which is coaching players, helping them, and seeing them progress. That was a big deciding factor for me. 

 

“My experience in this first eleven or twelve weeks of working with the team has been absolutely amazing. This team is immensely talented. Even our selection meetings at the moment are big headaches because we feel there are some really good players — younger and older — at the club and trying to choose the right players with the right balance is a positive headache. The hunger of the guys and the professionalism of the guys in the squad has been jaw-dropping for me.”

 

The defeat to Cardiff last weekend was disappointing, but Senekal is confident there were ample positives to build upon with his ultimate goal for the season to marry a physically dominant pack with the quick, exciting player of the backs. 

 

“If we just look at the process, and what we were trying to achieve, there was a lot of positives to take from it,” the South African said of the defeat at the Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

“I was really happy with our scrum. It’s been going against much bigger packs so far in our pre-season games and our first games and we’re looking to continuously build with that. Obviously, there was some good stuff from the front-rowers in the absence of Denis(Buckley), who obviously has a lot of experience. 

 

“A big work on for us has been around the maul and there have been some good pictures there that are positive. We feel we have the right path and I am sure we will see the fruits of our labour.

 

“From a team point of view, my goal is to keep growing our players individually and collectively and for us to have a lot of pride in the product that we want to put out there and for people to get excited to see our pack of forwards get rumbling with a really big maul and some big scrums. 

 

“There’s a real, and I feel it from the players, hunger there to produce some really match-winning performances from our forward pack, built on a dangerous, attacking gameplan.”

Head coach Andy Friend is confident in Connacht’s preparation ahead of the Westerners’ inaugural United Rugby Championship fixture away to the Cardiff Rugby at 7:35 PM on Friday evening. 

 

Connacht reshuffled their coaching staff over the course of the pre-season, with Dewald Senekal joining the province as a forwards coach, while Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler have both moved to the first team picture from the academy set up. Peter Wilkins, meanwhile, moved from defence coach to attack coach. 

 

Friend insists that the new coaches — most of whom have experience of working with the Westerners — will bring a fresh impetus that will prove beneficial as the new season starts and progresses. 

 

“Yeah, it’s a good feeling and it’s a fresh coaching group,” the Australian, who is going into his fourth season as head coach, said of Connacht’s pre-season preparations. 

 

“Pete(Wilkins) has been moved into that senior coaching role and he’s thriving in that. As you know, he’s done defence for four years here, but he felt he had done enough with the defence and wanted to get his hands onto the attack stuff and I was more than happy to accommodate him there. He has got great knowledge of the attack. He’s thriving in that position. 

 

“Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler, having come through the pathway in our academy which is a nice seamless transition, have come in. Two younger coaches with a lot of energy and a lot of good thought. That’s adding good value. 

 

“Dewald(Senekal) coming from France, played a lot of Rugby in France and South Africa, has added some newness to our forward pack. Across the board, I think it’s been a pretty seamless transition. I suppose the results will tell us in the next few weeks, but I’m really happy with the way the first ten weeks have gone.”

 

Given the structure of the Rugby United tournament, Friend is eager for Connacht to start quickly with a win, but the former Australian Sevens coach is wary of the threat posed by Friday’s opponents in Wales. 

 

The head coach highlighted the Welshmen’s fitness, their fast style of rugby and their familiarity with their 4G pitch as their particular strengths.

 

Last season, the sides finished on a win apiece in their two meetings and the Australian is expecting a similarly tight contest at the Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

“We’ve been guilty in the last few years of maybe not getting the start we wanted, we’re very aware of that,” Friend said. 

 

“We’ve got Cardiff away, as we know, on Friday night. That’s going to be a really tough game. They’re a formidable outfit and they’re very hard to knock over over there. I think we’ve had two successes there in the last ten years, so it’s not an easy game. We’re all aware of that, but our intention is to start well and hopefully — if we’re at our best — it will be a really impressive win for us.”

 

Meanwhile, club captain Jarrad Butler says the players have enjoyed the pre-season schedule and working with the new coaches ahead of the season’s curtain-raiser. 

 

The back row, 30, says that there is an air of positive energy around the training camp and he is confident that it will stand the squad in good stead for the season ahead. 

 

“Even from the start of the pre-season, there was a lot of changes,” the Australian said. 

 

“But I think it’s been pretty refreshing for the group to have some new voices around the place, new drills, new energy. We’ve definitely gotten that from all the coaching staff. D(Dewald Senekal) has come in with a lot of energy and philosophies he’s had from coaching over in France. 

 

“Everyone knows Mossie and Collie, having come through the academy, but they were highly regarded, given the stuff they were with the academy, so there was a real eagerness for them to be involved and work on some of the things we felt we needed to work on, come the end of last season. It’s been good.”

 

With nine new players in the Connacht squad this season, including academy graduates moving to the senior team, the transition isn’t just off the pitch. 

 

Butler, though, says he enjoys the role of being the club captain and helping these new players — whether they are local or from overseas — to adjust to life with the Westerners. However, the former Brumbies back-row says the environment in Connacht allows for all players, whether young or old, to show their leadership credentials. 

 

“A lot of new guys have come into the setup and they have been integrated well. I think having a new coaching set up in there has made that transition a little bit easier because everyone has kind of been on the same page. 

 

“The last couple of years, we have been able to roll onto the following year. This year has been a real change of direction and a real change of style from the coaches, so it’s been new for everybody. 

 

“In saying that, we had a lot of guys who performed really well last year — you think of guys like Paul Boyle, who had a great year and got himself involved with the Irish squad — you think of guys like Tom Daly and Caolin Blade. 

 

“You’ve got these younger guys coming in and stepping up to leadership roles as well. It opens the door for them to have a voice. It opens the door for new guys to come in and have a voice as well and I think it works best for everybody.”

With just three sleeps until the start of the new season, the squad gathered at the gym this morning for their headshots, walk-ups, jersey signings and celebration pics.
 
We’re getting close now!
 

The Connacht U18s management team have announced a 26-man squad for the upcoming U18 Inter-Provincial Series.

In a first for the competition the series will take place in its entirety across eight days at University of Limerick, with the squad travelling to their base tomorrow morning ahead of the series opener against Leinster U18s on Saturday (k/o 11am).

Next up is a meeting with Munster U18s on Wednesday 22nd August (k/o 3pm), followed by the concluding game against Ulster U18s on Sunday 26th August (k/o 1pm).

Connacht U18 Head Coach Colm Tucker says:

“We are looking forward to the upcoming challenge of the inter-pro series in UL. It will be the first time this format has been employed with 3 games over 8 days and it presents a very exciting and tough challenge with all teams boarding and training in UL for the duration. The squad have worked hard this summer and have prepared well. We are looking forward to getting to Limerick and getting the games underway. We would hope to see as many Connacht supporters there as possible to support the team.”

CONNACHT U18’s 2018/19
Name Position Club School
Alan Duffy Prop Ballina RFC Jesus and Mary Enniscrone
Aodha Hession Scrumhalf Creggs RFC CBS Roscommon
Caolan Hopkins Prop Ballina RFC St. Josephs, Foxford
Cathal Fleming Backrow Monivea RFC Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew
Cathal Forde Outhalf Corinthians RFC Colaiste Iognaid
Cian Scanlon Prop Corinthians RFC Scoil Chuimsitheach, Chiaran
Conal O’Grioffa Backrow Corinthians RFC Scoil Chuimsitheach, Chiaran
Conor O’Shaughnessy Fullback Galweigans RFC St Jarleths
Daragh Hanrahan Centre Corinthians RFC Colaiste Iognaid
Daragh Murray Second Row Buccaneers RFC Colaiste Chiaran
Diarmuid McCormack Backrow Corinthians RFC Colaiste Iognaid
Donnacha Byrne Backrow Sligo RFC Summerhill College
Eoin de Buitléar Hooker Corinthians RFC Scoil Chuimsitheach, Chiaran
Harry Balsiger Fullback Buccaneers RFC Gallen CS
Hubert Costello Backrow Corinthians RFC Calasanctius College
Hubert Gilvarry Fullback Sligo RFC Sligo Grammar
Jack Power Centre Galweigans RFC Colaiste Iognaid
Kacper Palamarczuk Number 8 Westport RFC Rice College
Leo McFarlane Scrumhalf Buccaneers RFC Marist College, Athlone
Luke Hogge Centre Sligo RFC Colaiste Mhuire
Martin Fallon Second row Buccaneers RFC Marist College, Athlone
Matthew Earley Hooker Carrick on Shannon RFC Sligo Grammar
Oisin McCormack Backrow Ballinasloe RFC Garbally
Rory McCleane Wing Oughterard RFC Colaiste Einde
Sam O’Sullivan Centre Creggs RFC Marist College, Athlone
Dylan Keane Centre Ballinrobe RFC Roscrea
MANAGEMENT 2018/19
Colm Tucker Head Coach
Lyndon Jones Assistant Coach
Richard Doyle Manager
Ann Caffrey S&C
Ryan Worden Lead Physio
Sheosaimh McDonagh Analyst
Shane O’Reilly Physio

Fixtures 

Saturday 18th August
Connacht U18s v Leinster U18s (kick-off 11am)

Wednesday 22nd August
Connacht U18s v Munster U18s (kick-off 3pm)

Sunday 26th August
Connacht U18s v Ulster U18s (kick-off 1pm)

Live rugby action returns to the Sportsground next Friday for the first of Connacht’s pre-season friendlies for the 2015/16 season, against French side FC Grenoble. Get your season ticket before then, and you’ll get into this game for free!

Former Connacht players Bernard Jackman, head coach at Grenoble, and Andrew Farley, team manager, will bring their Top 14 side to Galway on Friday August 7th for a 5:15pm kick off.

It’s been ten years since Grenoble last played in Galway when the French side were drawn in the same Challenge Cup pool. Connacht were 19 – 3 winners that day in January 2005 and Michael Swift got over for one of the two tries scored.

Jackman’s side, featuring South African international winger Gio Aplon and Tongan prop Sona Taumalolo will provide Pat Lam and the coaching team an opportunity to test their players against different opposition. Supporters can also look forward to watching young Ireland-born players James Hart, Chris Farrell and Denis Coulson in action.

Remember, the best way to secure your place at this match, and all 11 PRO12 and 3 European fixtures at the Sportsground is to get your Season Ticket for 2015/16. Enjoy 14 live rugby games, €40 off other tickets and much more. Buy before Friday August 7th to get into the Grenoble game. Treat yourself, or give the gift of Connacht Rugby to your family or friends. Adult prices start at €269, a huge saving on regular tickets.

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