By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht will go into next week’s Heineken Champions Cup last 16-second leg at the Aviva Stadium trailing Leinster 26-21 after a physically intense and entertaining affair at the Sportsground tonight. 

 

Despite tries from John Porch and Leva Fifita, it was Leinster who eked out the win and who hold the lead going into the second instalment of the tie. 

 

With the returning Bundee Aki, along with Fifita, Conor Oliver and Porch, instrumental next weekend’s fixture should be similarly enthralling. 

 

Connacht started in a rip-roaring fashion and they made it count after only two minutes. A huge break from Aki, which was facilitated by a Gavin Thornbury offload,  gave the host’s field position, before Tom Farrell – following suit – punctured the visitor’s defence again. Leinster managed to eke a turnover and thought they escaped the danger, but Leva Fifita blocked down their clearing kick. 

 

Regaining possession, the hosts launched another attack, and the ball was worked to Porch on the left wing and the Australian danced over the line to give the home team a 5-0 lead, much to the delight of the loud sell-out crowd. 

 

Leinster attempted to work their way back into the game in what was an open and entertaining opening fifteen minutes, but their attempts were met with staunch Connacht defence. Aki best personified this when he ended a dangerous attack with a textbook breakdown jackal that saw the hosts earn a penalty. 

 

The away team did manage to get on the board near the twenty-minute mark, however, when Sexton kicked a penalty to reduce Connacht’s lead to two points, at 5-3. 

 

And with their tails up, Leinster made it two scores in a profitable few minutes halfway through the first half. Despite an excellent tackle by Finlay Bealham on Josh van der Flier, the eastern province worked the ball to Lowe and the Ireland winger managed to cut through for the try. Sexton added the extras and the away lead 10-5 with fifteen minutes of the opening period remaining. 

 

Leinster’s first-half purple patch continued when Irish international Hugo Keenan found Lowe with a pass and the winger managed to work his way over the line for this second try of the half. Sexton missed the conversion and the visitors lead 15-5 near the half-hour mark. 

 

Connacht weren’t deterred, though, and stuck to the principles, looking to attack. Mack Hansen was key and, after a beautiful kick and field, he made significant yardage before being forced into attack. The home side pressured the resultant line out and were rewarded with a penalty that Carty slotted the bring the score back to 15-7. 

 

Both teams swapped penalties in the minutes before halftime, meaning the score at the interval read, Connacht 11-18 Leinster. 

 

Connacht began the first half in an electric manner, and they began the second period similarly. A searing break from Conor Oliver, with Aki also adding his considerable carrying ability, carved through the Leinster defence and the hosts, on the attack, earned a penalty which Carty nailed to take the score to 14-18 and bring the home team closer to overturning Leinster’s lead. 

 

The away team, however, grew their lead further when Keenan collected a pass from Jamison Gibson Park and touched down. The conversion was wide and Leinster lead 23-14. 

 

The home side’s attitude, despite being behind was exemplary, and they kept their attacking ambitions up, a style that lead to a yellow card for Gibson Park, who tackled Marmion high on a Connacht attack. 

 

Andy Friend’s men didn’t take long to make their man advantage count and, after a line out, Fifita muscled his way over the line from close range. Carty slotted the extras, the scoreline stood at 23-21 in favour with twenty minutes remaining in a pulsating affair. 

 

Connacht, with Porch, Dowling and replacement Abraham Papali’i prominent in the ball carrying stakes, continued to press for the winner but Leinster held firm in defence and when Ross Byrne slotted a late penalty they held on to win 26-21. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Mack Hansen

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1) 

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Leva Fifita 

4: Gavin Thornbury 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Heffernan 

17: Tietie Tuimauga for Burke 

18: Jack Aungier for Bealham 

19: Oisin Dowling for Thornbury 

20: Abraham Papali’i for Butler 

21: Caolin Blade for Marmion 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for O’Halloran 

23: Sammy Arnold for Farrell

The Connacht Rugby management team have named their matchday 23 for tomorrow’s historic Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 1st leg with Leinster at The Sportsground (k/o 8pm)
 
A capacity crowd is expected to be in attendance for Connacht’s first appearance in the Champions Cup knockout stages, and Head Coach Andy Friend is able to welcome back a number of key players just in time for the occasion.
 
British & Irish Lion Bundee Aki returns for his first appearance since before the Six Nations, while there’s also a first start of the season for Gavin Thornbury after an impressive cameo off the bench last weekend following an 11 month absence.
 
The third and final change is the inclusion of club captain Jarrad Butler after missing the win over Benetton through injury.
 
He forms a back row with flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver, while Leva Fifita partners Thornbury. The front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged.
 
Match captain Jack Carty starts at 10 beside Kieran Marmion, while Aki will have Tom Farrell for company at outside centre. A back three of full-back Tiernan O’Halloran and wingers Mack Hansen and John Porch completes the side.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Andy Friend says:
 
“There’s a huge sense of excitement among all the players and management for tomorrow night. These are the type of games you want to be involved in, and with a capacity crowd behind us it’s going to be a great occasion and one we firmly believe we can win.
 
We have over 45 players training between our Pros and integrated Academy players so that’s a great place to be at this stage of the season, and it’s given the coaches some headaches for our squad selection as well.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Friday 8th April, 20:00 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (203)
14. John Porch (54)
13. Tom Farrell (75)
12. Bundee Aki (115)
11. Mack Hansen (10)
10. Jack Carty (175) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (204)
1. Matthew Burke (36)
2. Dave Heffernan (160)
3. Finlay Bealham (170)
4. Gavin Thornbury (59)
5. Leva Fifita (11)
6. Cian Prendergast (26)
7. Conor Oliver (37)
8. Jarrad Butler (91)

Replacements
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (2)
17. Tietie Tuimauga (9)
18. Jack Aungier (27)
19. Oisín Dowling (21)
20. Abraham Papali’i (22)
21. Caolin Blade (146)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (48)
23. Sammy Arnold (35)

The Connacht squad to take on Leinster in the URC tomorrow (7.35pm) at The Sportsground has been named, with the club beginning a season-defining block of games across two competitions.
 
Andy Friend and his coaching team have opted for seven changes from the side that lined out against Edinburgh three weeks ago. Denis Buckley, Niall Murray, Jarrad Butler, Kieran Marmion, Oran McNulty, Tom Farrell and Tiernan O’Halloran all come into the starting 15.
 
The backs are completed by captain Jack Carty, centre Tom Day and winger John Porch, while the tight five features hooker Dave Heffernan, tighthead prop Jack Aungier, and lock Oisín Dowling. There’s no changes on either flank meaning Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver are retained.
 
Saturday will see Connacht and Leinster face-off for the first of three encounters in the space of four weeks, with the historic Heineken Champions Cup knockout games beginning in two weeks’ time.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“It’s been three weeks since our last game so we’ve had a long time to dwell on the Edinburgh performance and understand what happened, and we’ve had two good weeks of training under our belt since then.
 
There’s been no talk about the Champions Cup games because tomorrow is a massive fixture in its own right. Our backs are against the wall if we’re to reach the playoffs and with a massive crowd behind us I’m sure all 23 men will put in a performance I know they’re capable of.”

 
Only a handful of tickets remain available for tomorrow’s game at connachtrugby.ie/tickets, and we do not anticipate any tickets being available outside the ground.
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Friday 26th March, 19:35 @ The Sportsground

Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (201)
14. John Porch (52)
13. Tom Farrell (73)
12. Tom Daly (57)
11. Oran McNulty (7)
10. Jack Carty (173) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (202)
1. Denis Buckley (203)
2. Dave Heffernan (158)
3. Jack Aungier (26)
4. Oisin Dowling (20)
5. Niall Murray (30)
6. Cian Prendergast (24)
7. Conor Oliver (35)
8. Jarrad Butler (90)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (19)
17. Matthew Burke (34)
18. Greg McGrath (4)
19. Ultan Dillane (125)
20. Paul Boyle (70)
21. Caolin Blade (144)
22. Sammy Arnold (33)
23. Diarmuid Kilgallen (6)

The Connacht side to face Leicester Tigers tomorrow (k/o 3.15pm) has been named, with Andy Friend’s side aiming to go one step closer to a first appearance in the knockout stage.
 
There are three changes from the side originally named to face Munster on New Year’s Day. Two of those come in the tight five where Shane Delahunt starts at hooker and Niall Murray comes into the second row. Props Matthew Burke and Finlay Bealham and lock Oisín Dowling retain their places.
 
The back row as well as the half-back and centre pairings are all unchanged. Jarrad Butler is at number 8 with flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver alongside him, while Jack Carty captains the side beside scrum-half Kieran Marmion. Bundee Aki and Sammy Arnold start at 12 and 13 respectively.
 
The final change is in the back three where Connacht’s all-time record try scorer Matt Healy comes in for his first appearance of the season, starting on the wing with John Porch on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
 
Among the replacements is Paul Boyle who has recovered from injury to return to the matchday 23 for the first time since the end of November.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“This is a huge game and a huge opportunity for the club, but we’ve been treating this like any other game that we want to win. We’ve grown as a group even in the last month since we visited Leicester, so now it’s all about executing and playing as well as I know we’re capable of.
 
We’ll no doubt miss the few extra thousand supporters who would’ve been at The Sportsground without the current restrictions, but I’m sure those lucky enough to have a ticket will make their voices heard.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Saturday 15th January, 15:15 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (197)
14. John Porch (47)
13. Sammy Arnold (26)
12. Bundee Aki (114)
11. Matt Healy (150)
10. Jack Carty (169) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (196)
1. Matthew Burke (33)
2. Shane Delahunt (110)
3. Finlay Bealham (168)
4. Oisín Dowling (14)
5. Niall Murray (24)
6. Cian Prendergast (18)
7. Conor Oliver (30)
8. Jarrad Butler (83)

Replacements
16. Dave Heffernan (153)
17. Tietie Tuimauga (2)
18. Jack Aungier (22)
19. Ultan Dillane (123)
20. Paul Boyle (63)
21. Caolin Blade (139)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (44)
23. Tom Farrell (67)

The squad were out training yesterday at the Sportsground ahead of their clash with Leicester Tigers this Sunday 19th December at 1pm. Check out the gallery below:

Tickets are now on General Sale for Connacht’s first three fixtures of 2022, all of which fall on three consecutive Saturdays at The Sportsground.
 
First up is a New Year’s Day interpro with Munster – an annual game which is always one of the hottest tickets in town. Kick-off will be at 5.15pm.
 
A week later on Saturday 8th January we welcome another of the newest arrivals from South Africa with the DHL Stormers visiting the West. That one gets underway at the slightly earlier time of 3pm.
 
Then on Saturday 15th January it’s the visit of Leicester Tigers to The Sportsground in what’s set to be a huge Heineken Champions Cup fixture, and will go a long way to determining which teams make it to the knockout stages. Kick-off there is at 3.15pm.
 
 
BUY MUNSTER MATCH TICKETS HERE
 
BUY STORMERS MATCH TICKETS HERE
 
BUY LEICESTER TIGERS MATCH TICKETS HERE

The Connacht management team have made five changes to their starting XV for tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup interpro with Leinster at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Captain Jarrad Butler will make his first appearance in nearly 2 months following suspension and injury – he comes straight into the starting XV. Denis Buckley comes into the front row for his 198th appearance, while Niall Murray starts in the second row. Conor Fitzgerald starts at no.10 following an impressive cameo off the bench against Ulster, while the man who scored the match-winning try in that game, Peter Sullivan, is also handed a starting berth on the wing.
 
There’s also a 150th appearance for Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy who is named on the opposite wing.
Buckley lines up alongside Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Gavin Thornbury completes the tight five. Butler starts at number 8 alongside flankers Eoghan Masterson and Conor Oliver.
 
Caolin Blade partners Conor Fitzgerald, while Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien play together at centre for the 5th straight game. With Healy and Sullivan on the wings, John Porch completes the side from full-back.
 
There’s also a welcome return among the replacements for Sammy Arnold, who hasn’t featured for four months since undergoing chest surgery.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We had a great win last time out in Belfast, but as always this year it’s now about backing that up and getting some consistency going. Leinster will travel to The Sportsground wanting to avoid three defeats so that’s a challenge in itself, but we’re also confident we can put in a performance capable of getting a win.
We’ve got a few players returning from injury which is always good, and Matt Healy hits a significant milestone as well so we’re very pleased with the team we’re able to select.”

CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Saturday 8th April, The Sportsground, kick-off 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (37)
14. Peter Sullivan (13)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (8)
12. Tom Daly (45)
11. Matt Healy (149)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (33)
9. Caolin Blade (128)
1. Denis Buckley (197)
2. Dave Heffernan (141)
3. Finlay Bealham (156)
4. Niall Murray (14)
5. Gavin Thornbury (57)
6. Eoghan Masterson (108)
7. Conor Oliver (18)
8. Jarrad Butler (70) (C)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (14)
17. Matthew Burke (21)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (64)
19. Cian Prendergast (6)
20. Abraham Papali’I (11)
21. Kieran Marmion (183)
22. Sammy Arnold (12)
23. Oran McNulty (1)

The Connacht Rugby squad gathered at The Sportsground on Tuesday kicking off their preparations for Saturday’s  Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup game against Leinster  (k/o 7.35pm).

Here’s a look at some of the best pics from Tuesday’s session…

 

 

Ireland internationals Jack Carty and Bundee Aki are both named in the Connacht matchday squad to face Leinster in the Sportsground on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
Carty comes straight back into the side at out half while Aki is named among the replacements for the first interpro clash of the season.
 
Carty plays his first game since Ireland’s win over Russia in the World Cup and he forms a half back partnership with Caolin Blade. At midfield, Peter Robb is retained after his recent outstanding performances and he will be partnered by Tom Farrell.
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE
Elsewhere in the back line Stephen Fitzgerald comes in on the wing with Darragh Leader at full back and the in-form Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing.
 
Up front, there is a highly experienced front row with Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham filling the loosehead and tighthead spots respectively and Tom McCartney named at hooker.
 
In the second row, Sligo man Cillian Gallagher comes in for his first start of the season alongside Joe Maksymiw. The back row has a familiar look to it with flankers Eoghan Masterson and Jarrad Butler lining up alongside Paul Boyle at number 8.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We are happy with the start we have made in the PRO14 with four wins in a row. What is even more satisfying is the depth we have already displayed, with 35 players already used in the opening five games. With Jack Carty, Bundee Aki and Sean O’Brien all coming back in this week, that number will hopefully go to 38”.
 
“We obviously face another huge challenge this weekend against Leinster but our challenge is to just maintain the consistency we have seen over the past few weeks both at home and away. We take huge pride in our home record, with just one loss in thirteen games and we expect a massive crowd again on Friday night”, he added.
 

Connacht Matchday Squad V Leinster (Fri 8 NOV, 7:35 PM)

(15-9): Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Stephen Fitzgerald, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (1-8): Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Cillian Gallagher, Joe Maksymiw, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (C), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin.

The first interprovincial derby of the season is almost upon us, and what a way to start.
 
Reigning Guinness PRO14 champions Leinster visit The Sportsground, in a widely anticipated game between two of the Championship’s in-form sides.
 
Here’s everything you need to know about the tie.
 
When’s the game?

Kick-off at the Sportsground is at 7.35pm on Friday 8th November – our first Friday night fixture of the campaign.
 
What’s the state of play so far?

Leinster sit top of Conference A with 5 wins from 5, while after a disappointing opening loss to Scarlets, Connacht have hit back with 4 wins in a row. Those victories have propelled Andy Friend’s side up to 2nd place in Conference B, just one point behind Munster.
 
How’s our recent record against them?

Connacht have won 3 of the last 5 games between the two sides in Galway, most recently the famous 47-10 victory in John Muldoon’s last game with the province 18 months ago. Leinster got the better of the the two teams in their last game at The Sportsground, coming up on top 3-20 last season.
 
How will the two teams line up?

The Connacht management team will announce their squad at 12pm the day before the game when it will be named on connachtrugby.ie and the Connacht Rugby social channels.
 
Are tickets still available?

Yes but you need to be quick! As with every interpro game tickets are very sought after so the sooner you book the better.

FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE
What if I can’t make the game?

TG4 will have live coverage, and if you can’t get to a TV then Galway Bay FM will have you covered with live commentary.
 
How can I get there?

There is plenty of car parks within walking distance to The Sportsground, all of which are listed below. Please note that local restrictions will be in place so please respect our neighbours at all times.
 

 
Anything else I should know?

Please note that NO SMOKING is allowed in any of our stands at The Sportsground. Thank you for your co-operation.

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