Irish International Bundee Aki will make his 100th appearance for Connacht on Sunday after he was named to start in the Guinness PRO14 clash with Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (k/o 4.30pm).
 
Aki joined Connacht in 2014 and has gone on to play a central role in the province’s fortunes since then. He was named Guinness PRO12 Player of the Season in 2015/16, the same year he helped the team to their first ever title.
 
His form was rewarded with a first call-up to the Ireland squad in the 2017 Autumn Internationals. He has been an ever-present member of the squad since then, making 26 appearances and starting every game in the Grand Slam victory of 2018.
 
Elsewhere at least two players will make their Connacht Rugby debuts on Sunday with Alex Wootton and Academy graduate Peter Sullivan both named on the wings. They form a back three with John Porch who slots in at full-back.
 
Tom Farrell will partner Aki in the centre with Irish international Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty forming a formidable half-back partnership.
 
In the forwards there’s a return to action for prop Finlay Bealham after sustaining a serious injury against Edinburgh in February, and he makes up an experienced front-row with Denis Buckley and hooker Dave Heffernan.
 
Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury have been named in the second row, and the starting XV is completed by flankers Eoghan Masterson and captain Jarrad Butler, with Paul Boyle named at number 8.
 
Three more players could make their Connacht debuts off the bench, with props Jordan Duggan and Jack Aungier, and back row Conor Oliver all included.
 
The remainder of the replacements is made up of Jonny Murphy, Niall Murray, Stephen Kerins, Conor Dean and Tom Daly.
 
Connacht Rugby Head Coach Andy Friend says there’s huge excitement about returning to action:
 
“It has been almost 6 months since our last game and 2 months since we commenced pre-season training, so we are delighted our return has finally arrived. I have been really impressed with how the squad as a group have reacted to the uncertainty of the last few months, and it’s now our opportunity to show that hard work against an opposing team.”
 
Commenting on his team selection, Friend added:
 
“We have selected a squad of 23 that we believe can win this fixture. We have a neat blend of experience & youth, with the potential of five new debutants for Connacht, along with Bundee making his 100th appearance. It’s therefore a special occasion in many ways, and we intend to put out a performance that warrants that.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
16:30, Sunday 23rd August @ Aviva Stadium

15. John Porch
14. Peter Sullivan
13. Tom Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Alex Wootton
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion
1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Jarrad Butler (c)
8. Paul Boyle

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Jordan Duggan
18. Jack Aungier
19. Niall Murray
20. Conor Oliver
21. Stephen Kerins
22. Conor Dean
23. Tom Daly

Fixtures and kick-off times for the return of the Guinness PRO14 from August 21 can now be confirmed after consultation with clubs and broadcasters.
 
An abbreviated schedule will see the 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 regular season run to 15 rounds followed by Semi-finals and a Final across four consecutive weeks.
 
Round 14 will kick-off in Italy on Friday, August 21 with Benetton Rugby welcoming Zebre to Treviso live on DAZN and Premier Sports before a jam-packed Saturday schedule delivers a feast of mouth-watering derby action in the UK and Ireland.
 
In Wales, Scarlets face Cardiff Blues in Llanelli upon their return to rugby with head coach Glenn Delaney taking charge of the hosts for the very first time. That game will be followed by Edinburgh’s clash with Glasgow Warriors in the Scottish capital and the final game on Saturday sees Munster visit Aviva Stadium in Dublin, where Leinster are looking to extend their record unbeaten run of 14 games in the Guinness PRO14.
 
The opening weekend rounds off on Sunday with Ospreys taking on Dragons in Swansea and Connacht facing Ulster in Dublin (live on TG4). All games are live on Premier Sports, eir Sport and DAZN. Round 15 will again feature derbies across the UK, Ireland and Italy across Friday, August 28 to Sunday, August 30.
 
David Jordan, Tournament Director of the Guinness PRO14, said: “So far we have been encouraged by the developments that have allowed all of our teams to return to training. Thanks to the great efforts of our clubs and unions, the willingness of governments and the support of our broadcasters we now have a fixture list to look forward to.
 
“Everyone who makes our games possible has had to adapt to a new way of working under the restrictions of the pandemic and the response of all our key stakeholders has been very impressive. With these fixtures now confirmed we are all geared to safe delivery of these games and to the welcome return of rugby after such a long period without the sport.”

 
Guinness PRO14 Restart Fixtures – Round 14 & 15
 
All games live on Premier Sports, eir Sport & DAZN. Live game on TG4 indicated below
All kick-off times listed at UK/IRE unless stated
 
Round 14

Friday, August 21
Benetton Rugby v Zebre | Stadio Monigo, Treviso at 19:00 (20:00 ITA)

Saturday, August 22
Scarlets v Cardiff Blues | Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli at 15:00 UK
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors | BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh at 17:15
Leinster v Munster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 19:35

Sunday, August 23
Ospreys v Dragons | Liberty Stadium, Swansea at 14:15
Connacht v Ulster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 16:30 (live on TG4)
 
Round 15

Friday, August 28
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh | BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh at 19:35

Saturday, August 29
Dragons v Scarlets | Rodney Parade, Newport at 17:15
Ulster v Leinster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 19:35

Sunday, August 30
Munster v Connacht | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 15:00
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys | Rodney Parade, Newport at 17:00
Zebre v Benetton Rugby | Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma at 19:00 UK (20:00 ITA)
 
Guinness PRO14 Final Series
Semi-Finals: To be played on the weekend of September 4/5/6
Finals: To be played on Saturday, September 12

Check out some of the highlights below from last Saturday’s battling interpro win over Ulster in front of a sold out Sportsground.
 

A capacity crowd turned out in force at The Sportsground last night to watch Connacht prevail in a hard fought victory over Ulster in the Guinness PRO14.
 
A 21-12 win moves the squad up to second in Conference A for 24 hours at least, and sets up a huge clash with conference rivals Munster on January 5th.
 
Check out some of the best pics from last night’s encounter in Galway.
 

MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO THE GUINNESS PRO14
 
Caolin Blade’s second-half try helped Connacht continue their impressive recent form with a hard-fought 21-12 Guinness PRO14 victory over Ulster at the Sportsground.
 
Connacht have now won six of their last seven games in all competitions – and bounced back in style from a heart-breaking last-gasp 33-29 defeat to Leinster a week ago – as scrum-half Blade added to first-half tries from Shane Delahunt and Bundee Aki.
 
Angus Kernohan had narrowed the visitors’ deficit to 14-7 at the break while Jordi Murphy was also mauled over the line in the final quarter, but defeat extends Ulster’s three-year winless streak in away games against fellow Irish provinces that begun on St Stephen’s Day 2015.
 
Victory is the third in a row for Connacht over Ulster – the first time since the 1950s that has happened – and means they jump up to second in Conference A, temporarily at least, behind only Glasgow Warriors.
 
After a cagey opening, Connacht took advantage of the promising attacking platform provided by turning over an Ulster maul in their own 22 as a number of phases ended with Delahunt burrowing over from close range.
 
The hosts had brought hooker Delahunt and tighthead Conor Carey into the starting line-up from the narrow Leinster defeat a week ago and the new-look front row impressed in the scrum.
 
That dominance in the tight yielded dividends on 20 minutes as Blade fed Aki off the back of a controlled five-metre scrum and the bruising centre powered his way through weak Ulster tackling to stretch out and dot down.
 
At 14-0 down, Ulster finally began to build a foundation and took advantage of a spell in the Connacht 22 when Johnny McPhillips’ 33rd-minute cross-field kick into the in-goal area went through Cian Kelleher’s hands, bounced off his head and Kernohan was able to touch down the loose ball.
 
John Cooney curled his touchline conversion attempt between the posts to narrow the deficit to seven but the hosts restored their two-try advantage almost straight after the break when Kyle Godwin’s dink over the top was collected by Jack Carty and he passed inside to Blade to run in the score.
 
Carty – who was so impressive in a man-of-the-match display against Leinster – missed the opportunity to extend the lead to three scores when his penalty from halfway drifted wide of the left upright but his astute kicking out of hand kept Connacht in the ascendancy as the half progressed.
 
However, persistent infringing in their own 22 saw Connacht reduced to 14 men – Ultan Dillane the man eventually sin-binned just a minute after coming on for taking out the lifter in the lineout – and Ulster took immediate advantage as they drove a maul over in the corner, with Murphy at the bottom of the pile.
 
Cooney couldn’t add a second touchline conversion but his side stayed in the contest with some desperate defence on their own try-line with six minutes remaining, eventually forcing a knock-on from the home side.
 
However, they couldn’t find a score of their own – and Connacht’s attempts to secure a four-try bonus point also failed – as they game ended 21-12 in favour of the hosts.

Lock Quinn Roux and flanker Sean O’Brien have returned to the Connacht starting team for the interprovincial clash at home to Ulster in the Sportsground on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
They are among four changes to the side which lost narrowly to Leinster in the RDS last weekend with hooker Shane Delahunt and tight head Conor Carey also named in the starting XV.
 
Carey and Delahunt come into a front row that also includes loosehead Denis Buckley while Roux partners Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
 
In the back-row O’Brien comes in at blindside with Captain Jarrad Butler reverting to the number 8 jersey.
 
Man of the Match in the Leinster game Jack Carty, continues his half back pairing with Caolin Blade. In the back three, Darragh Leader starts again at full back with Kyle Godwin, who was a late replacement for the Leinster game and Cian Kelleher retained on the wings.
 
Stephen Fitzgerald who joined Connacht on loan move this week, takes his place among the replacements.
 
Speaking ahead of the game, Head Coach Andy Friend says his side are fully aware of the challenge that an in form Ulster side will present “These interpro fixtures are massive occasions and when they take place over the Christmas period, they bring that increased level of excitement. We know there will be a big home crowd in the Sporstground and we will need to be up for the occasion with Ulster coming to town. This block of fixtures is hugely important in the context of our season, but we are not looking beyond Ulster on Friday evening.”
 
Commenting on his team selection he added: “Quinn Roux and Sean O’Brien are fit and ready to go and they come back into the side. They have been two of our top performers this season, so they will give us increased options. In the front row we also have Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey coming in. These are two other players who have been going really well over the past few weeks. We have some real depth in these positions so it is great for us as coaches to have these options and to bring in fresh legs and know that they are ready to go. Ulster are coming off the back of a great win over Munster and I’m sure they will come to the Sportsground full of confidence.”
 
#CONvULS
 
Kick-off 7:35pm:
 
(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
 
Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Stephen Fitzgerald.

Connacht Rugby have announced that additional temporary terracing is to be installed in the Sportsground to meet the high level of ticket demand for the interprovincial clashes against Ulster and Munster over the Christmas and New Year period.
 
Connacht take on Ulster on Friday December 28th at 7:35pm and Munster on Saturday 5th January, also kicking off at 7:35pm.
 
The additional terracing can increase the total capacity in excess of 8,000 spectators.
 
Making the announcement, Communications Manager for Connacht Rugby, Brendan Loughnane said: “There is always a high demand for tickets for the interprovincial games and another surge for the Christmas fixtures so when the two events coincide we need to increase capacity to meet that demand. With Clan Stand and Main Stand Tickets already sold out for both fixtures, we are installing additional terracing at the College Road and Bohermore Ends. Tickets for the additional terracing are available to purchase immediately through connachtrugby.ie/tickets so we advise people to purchase early to secure tickets. This season we also have a special offering for a three match pack which is proving extremely popular as a Christmas gift.
 
The announcement of the additional terracing comes a day after Connacht Rugby confirmed they have formally submitted a planning application to Galway City Council for the redevelopment of the Sportsground. The redevelopment will involve a €30m investment in a 12,000 capacity Stadium and High performance Training Centre.
 

 

Christmas Time means Christmas Rugby, and this season is no different with a feast of action coming to The Sportsground over a two week period.

After we head to Leinster on the 22nd it’s full steam ahead for three huge home fixtures – two interprovincial derbies and a massive European Challenge Cup clash – so we’re offering you the perfect Christmas package to treat the special person in your life, or even yourself!

First up is the visit of Ulster on December 28th for our first Friday night fixture of the season. Our provincial neighbours will be gunning for revenge after our win in Belfast last October, so it’s sure to be another hotly contested clash. Don’t forget our last Sportsground meeting was a memorable 44-16 win last season, so fingers crossed for more of the same.


Then it’s our first clash of the season with Munster which historically is a fixture that needs no introduction. Like Ulster we also came out on top in our Galway meeting last season, overcoming a slow start for a 20-16 victory. The Reds are our conference rivals in the Guinness PRO14 so another win could go a huge way in our chase for Champions Cup rugby next season.


Finally it’s on to European Challenge Cup rugby as Sale Sharks pay a visit for a game which could have huge ramifications in our hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals. The English side got the better of us at the AJ Bell Stadium, so Andy Friend and his players will be going all out to make sure we return the favour.

You can purchase a Connacht Christmas Three pass for just €89, which gives you access to the Main Terrace ticket for all three games. That’s less than €30 each for three of our biggest games of the season.

Tiernan O’Halloran talks to CRTV after an impressive 44-16 victory over Interpro rivals Ulster.

 

Connacht v Ulster – Saturday 23rd Dec, 19:35. Gates open at 17:35.

The big festive Interpro is here. Following a good two weeks in European action, we’re back for a triple header of Interprovincial clashes starting tonight at the Sportsground. There are still tickets available in the Bohermore Terrace and there will be some available on the gate. But you save up to 20% by purchasing in advance online.

 

For all the buildup to the big game, visit our match centre where you’ll also be able to follow live stats during the game.

 

How they’ll line up . . .

Connacht

Tiernan O’Halloran returns to the XV having signed a two year extension to his contract yesterday

 

 

View full team details here

 

Ulster
(1-8): Andy Warwick, John Andrew, Wiehahn Herbst, Matthew Dalton, Robbie Diack, Iain Henderson (Capt), Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney;
(9-15): John Cooney, Peter Nelson, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Louis Ludik, Craig Gilroy, Jacob Stockdale.

Replacements (16-23): Adam McBurney, Schalk van der Merwe, Ross Kane, Matthew Rea, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Johnny McPhillips, Rob Lyttle.

 

Matchday at the Sportsground

 

Autography Alley

Stacey Ili and Cormac Brennan  will be down at Autograph Alley to meet fans. Keep your eyes peeled for signs to the locations. The lads will be there from 19:00.

  • Clan Terrace Autograph Alley: Outside the clubhouse entrance.

 

Catch It If You Can

Sitting in the Grant Thornton Seated Stand this Saturday? Be in early and you may be 1 of 10 lucky winners of a Rhino rugby ball thrown into the stand by Connacht Rugby Players Eoin McKeon and Andrew Deegan courtesy of our Official Partners Grant Thornton.

 

 

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