By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht wrapped up their United Rugby Championship campaign with a 22-20 win over Zebre at the Sportsground. 

 

It was an emotional day as the fans said goodbye to Ultan Dillane, Eoghan Masterson, Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i who will all depart the province but the team delivered the bonus point win to mark the occasion in style. 

 

The hosts scored four tries in total, through Kieran Marmion, Niall Murray, Masterson on his Connacht swansong and John Porch in a performance showcasing some excellent attacking play. 

 

The away team, meanwhile, scored three tries of their own and added a penalty, but it was the home team who held on for the deserved win. 

 

With the Sportsground bathed in balmy weather, both teams were content to play an open brand of rugby in the opening exchanges and it was Zebre who drew first blood. 

 

Strong breakdown work won the visitors a penalty and Carlo Canna made no mistake in slotting the kick and the Italian team worked themselves into a 3-0 lead with barely five minutes gone. 

 

Connacht, however, worked their way back into the game immediately in what was proving a highly entertaining opening seven minutes of the contest. 

 

After a clever line-out routine, Tom Daly carried hard and punctured through the Zebre defence. The centre was stopped eventually, but the hosts had an overload wide on the left and the ball was moved to Marmion who dove in the for the score to move Connacht 5-3 ahead. 

 

The home team were totally in the ascendancy after their try – with Daly and Cian Prendergast central to their ball carrying and playmaking efforts – and they made it two tries not long after their first. A beautiful sweeping move from right to left saw Prendergast acrobatically dodge a would-be tackle with a step before delivering an even better offload to Murray to touch down in the left corner and take the score to 10-3. 

 

The Connacht broken play attack looked superb, but so, too, did set-piece attacks and it showed just after the midway point of the first half. In his final appearance at the Sportsground, a well–constructed line–out maul saw Masterson touch down for a try manufactured by the pack. Carty slotted the extras and the hosts lead 17-3. 

 

Zebre, to their credit, didn’t baulk and they had the game’s next try, on the stroke of halftime. Full-back Lorenzo Pani was the benefactor of a quick move and he touched down in the corner. The conversion was wide and the teams went into the interval with Connacht 17-8 in the lead. 

 

Connacht wrestled momentum back at the beginning of the second half and their pressure told with the second period eight minutes old. The hosts spread the ball wide quickly first through Carty and then Oran McNulty, with the full-back feeding Porch, whose step and pace took him away from the cover defence and over the line for a try of both collective and individual brilliance. The home team were deserving of both their bonus point and their 22-8 lead. 

 

With both teams emptying their benches – Dillane, Papali’i and Arnold came on for their Connacht swang songs – the game became fractious and it was the visitors who were the team to snap out of the lull first and they went over for an unconverted try through their replacement tight-head Matteo Nocera muscled over from close range to see the home team’s score reduced to 22-13 with ten minutes remaining. 

 

With their tails up, the Italians went in search of more scores and they registered their third try with the game approaching the 80th-minute mark. Centre Enrico Lucchin showed great pace and strength to breakthrough for an individual try that Cana converted to cut the host’s lead to 22-20 with just over a minute left. 

 

The hosts, however, showed determination to pin Zebre in their own half and close off the game to take the win at 22-20. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Oran McNulty 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Cian Prendergast 

7: Sean Masterson 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Gavin Thornbury 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dylan Tierney Martin 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dave Heffernan for Tierney Martin 

17: Matthew Burke for Buckley 

18: Sam Illo for Bealham 

19: Ultan Dillane for Thornbury 

20: Abraham Papali’i for E. Masterson 

21: Colm Reilly for Marmion 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for Carty 

23: Sammy Arnold for Farrell

The Connacht matchday 23 has been named for tomorrow’s final game of the season against Zebre Parma at The Sportsground (k/o 5pm).
 
Andy Friend and his coaching staff have opted for a blend of youth and experience. Dylan Tierney-Martin is handed his first Connacht start at hooker, while there are also starts for Seán Masterson at openside flanker and Oran McNulty at full-back.
 
Centurions Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham partner Tierney-Martin in the front row, while locks Gavin Thornbury and Niall Murray are paired together. Masterson is accompanied in the back row by his brother Eoghan and Cian Prendergast at number 8.
 
Kieran Marmion and captain Jack Carty continue at 9 and 10 respectively, as do centres Tom Daly and Tom Farrell. The side is completed by wingers Alex Wootton and John Porch.
 
Included on the bench are departing players Ultan Dillane, Abraham Papali’i and Sammy Arnold who will make their final appearances for the club if called upon.
 
As is tradition in Connacht, all the departing players will be presented to the supporters after the final whistle – the first time since pre-COVID that such a presentation will be able to take place.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Even though we missed out on the playoffs we have plenty to play for tomorrow. Finishing with a 50% win record is important, but more so is finishing on a high at our home ground – both for our playing group and our supporters.
 
The likes of Dylan, Seán and Oran all deserve their opportunity tomorrow and I know the departing players involved will savour the experience as well.”
 

CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ZEBRE PARMA
Saturday 21st May, 17:00 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Oran McNulty (8)
14. John Porch (58)
13. Tom Farrell (78)
12. Tom Daly (60)
11. Alex Wootton (33)
10. Jack Carty (179)
9. Kieran Marmion (208)
1. Denis Buckley (207)
2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (5)
3. Finlay Bealham (173)
4. Gavin Thornbury (62)
5. Niall Murray (34)
6. Eoghan Masterson (118)
7. Seán Masterson (17)
8. Cian Prendergast (30)
 
Replacements
16. Dave Heffernan (164)
17. Matthew Burke (38)
18. Jack Aungier (31)
19. Ultan Dillane (126)
20. Abraham Papali’i (24)
21. Colm Reilly (8)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (52)
23. Sammy Arnold (37)

Following this afternoon’s team announcement for tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 clash with Zebre, the Connacht management team have released the latest squad update:

 

Prop:

Peter McCabe has a thigh injury and will be monitored by the medical and performance team this week.

 

Back Row:

James Connolly and Eoin McKeon are both rehabilitating from shoulder injuries and are a scheduled to return to play in late September/early October.

Robin Copeland (thigh) is progressing well in his rehabilitation and is due to return to training with the main squad next week.

Eoghan Masterson is continuing his rehabilitation following his thumb surgery and will be out of action until October.

 

Outhalf:

David Horwitz is undergoing rehabilitation for a hamstring injury and will look to return to training in mid-September.

Back row Sean O’Brien and lock Gavin Thornbury have both returned from injury and are named in Andy Friend’s Connacht side to face Zebre in the Sportsground on Saturday in the Guinness PRO14 (Kick off 5:15pm).

 

Centre Eoin Griffin and lock Quinn Roux, who came off the bench last week, are the other two changes to the side that lost by the narrowest of margins to Glasgow in Round One. 

 

O’Brien comes into a back row that includes captain Jarrad Butler at openside and Academy player Paul Boyle who moves to Number 8 for his second start of the season. New signing Colby Fainga’a increases Connacht’s back row options as he is named among the replacements for the visit of the Italians. 

 

Caolin Blade and Jack Carty continue their half back partnership with returning Irish international Kieran Marmion also named on the bench. 

 

In form winger Cian Kelleher is named in a back three that includes Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back. 

 

Announcing his team, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend spoke of the threat that Zebre bring; “We have picked a strong side again this week and I am satisfied that we are seeing some real competition in the squad. With the Eagles side playing Munster in the new Celtic Cup all of our available players will get game time this weekend”, Friend said.

 

“We are well aware of the challenge that Zebre pose. From what I have seen of them they are a big physical side who are well able to throw the ball around. We are expecting another big crowd in the Sportsground and a similar atmosphere to what we witnessed last weekend”, he added. 

 

#CONvZEB

Kick-off 5:15pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Kyle Godwin, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle.

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Conán O’Donnell, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Kieran Marmion, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun. 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that free admission will be provided to under 16s for the Guinness PRO14 clash with Zebre in the Sportsground on Saturday (Kick off 5:15pm).

 

The tickets will be available subject to availability to juveniles, accompanied by adults, in accordance with stadium guidelines. The offer comes as part of the “Month of Champions” which sees the PRO14 champions of the past four seasons all in action in the Sportsground during the month of September.

 

Commenting on the offer, Head of Commercial and Marketing at Connacht Rugby, Brian Mahony said: “We have four big home games in the five weekends of September in the Sportsground. We are very conscious that to make all our home games during the month, will place a financial cost on fans, particularly families. That is why we have decided to provide this unique offering of free juvenile entry to the game against Zebre. We look forward to a big crowd for the game on Saturday in what promises to be another exciting game. We are also asking fans to claim their tickets early to avoid disappointment”.

 

The following terms and conditions apply:

  • To avail of this offer, you must purchase an Adult or Student/Senior Ticket from Connacht Rugby.
  • Existing Match and Season Ticket Holders must email [email protected] to receive free complimentary eTicket before Friday 7th at 1pm.
  • Maximum 4 kids per Adult Ticket.
  • Capacity restrictions apply – Tickets are only available for Bohermore Terrace and College Rd Terrace with limited availability in Main Terrace.
  • Kids Go Free tickets are not available for the Clan Terrace.

The Month of Champions continues this weekend as we welcome Zebre to the Sportsground.

Ahead of the game, backs coach Nigel Carolan spoke about the importance of getting the season’s first win and not taking the Italians lightly.

Don’t forget juniors under the age of 16 go FREE when accompanied by an adult! Tickets available here.

Prop Finlay Bealham is set to make his 100th appearance for Connacht as they host Zebre in the Sportsground on Friday (K.O 7:35pm). Kieran Keane’s Connacht side are aiming to make it eight home wins in a row in all competitions in a run that stretches back to September.

Bealham is one of four changes to Connacht’s starting XV from the side that beat Ospreys last week. With Tiernan O’Halloran sidelined with a hamstring injury, Darragh Leader comes in at full back to join a back three that includes wingers Cian Kelleher and Matt Healy.

Sean O’Brien’s return from injury is a further boost as he starts at number 8 after picking up a shoulder injury in the win over the Southern Kings in September. O’Brien will be joined in the back row by openside Naulia Dawai and blindside Eoghan Masterson who captains the side.

The only other change is the inclusion of lock Gavin Thornbury who came on as a substitute in the victory over Ospreys.

Keane has named a strong squad with Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Quinn Roux named among the replacements. Also named on the bench is John Muldoon and Conor Carey who continues his record of being named in every match day squad for Connacht so far this season.

Bealham is looking forward to leading the team out in front of a packed sportsground. Speaking to reporters ahead of the milestone game he said: ““To be in that bracket of players that have reached the 100 appearance milestone is something I’m really honoured to be a part of. From my family’s perspective, they’re really proud. To walk out there for the hundredth time in front of a Sportsground crowd in the great atmosphere they always create is something I’m really looking forward to”.

 

#CONvZEB

Kick-off 7.35pm:

(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Craig Ronaldson, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Coulson, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson (Capt), Naulia Dawai, Sean O’Brien.

Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Pita Ahki.

 

 

 

 

The Connacht Medical Team have issued a Squad Update ahead of the Guinness PRO14 clash with Zebre in the Sportsground on Friday (Kick Off 7:35pm).

 

Prop:
Denis Buckley progressing well in his recovery from ankle surgery and will return to training in the coming weeks.

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 sustained a shoulder injury in the game versus Ospreys and will be out of action for 4-6 weeks.

 

Back Row:
Jarrad Butler has returned to team training this week following his hand injury versus Worcester in January.

Eoin McKeon is progressing well in his rehabilitation from a calf injury and will return to team training in the coming weeks.

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

 

Centre:
Peter Robb is continuing his rehabilitation from his recent hamstring injury and will return to training in the coming weeks..

 

Back Three:

Niyi Adeolokun has returned to team training this week following his hamstring injury versus Oyonnax in January.

Tiernan O’Halloran sustained a hamstring injury in the game versus Ospreys and will be out of action for a number of weeks.

 

 

 

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.

 

Connacht secured a 10-try bonus point win over Zebre in round 5 of the Champions Cup. The 66 – 21 win keeps Connacht hopes alive of reaching the last eight of the competition ahead of a trip to Toulouse next Sunday.

While Matt Healy set the tone for the game with a try after one minute, Zebre showed their attacking strengths and got two tries in quick succession in the first quarter, each on the back of a solid scrum in the 22.

But Connacht found their rhythm and shape and the four-try bonus point was secured today after 27 minutes when Finlay Bealham scored from a five-metre rolling maul to add to earlier backline scores from Healy, John Cooney and Tiernan O’Halloran.

Kieran Marmion and Craig Ronaldson also crossed the whitewash before the break with Cooney, playing out of position at outhalf today, knocking over five from six conversions.

Half time: Connacht 40 – 14 Zebre  

Pat Lam’s man came out firing after the break and Healy and O’Halloran got over for a second try each within three minutes, Cooney converting on both occasions.

Zebre got over for a late consolation score on the hour mark but with Marmion and his replacement Caolin Blade adding to the tally, the game was out of reach.

Full time: Connacht 66 – 21 Zebre

Referee: Tom Foley (England)

Man of the Match: Tiernan O’Halloran

Attendance: 5, 607

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran (Danie Poolman ’57);  Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Craig Ronaldson (Tom Farrell ’42),   Matt Healy; John Cooney,   Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade ’54)

Denis Buckley (JP Cooney ‘37), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan ’46), Finlay Bealham (John Andress ’46); Lewis Stevenson,   James Cannon;  Sean O’Brien, Eoin McKeon, (James Connolly ’68), John Muldoon (Naulia Dawai ’46)

Zebre: Kurt Baker, Lloyd Greeff,   Edoardo Padovani,   Mattia Bellini, Guglielmo Palazzani;  Carlo Canna (Serafin Bordoli ’63), Marcello Violi (Carlo Engelbrecht ’70)

Andrea Lovotti (Andrea de Marchi ’55), Carlo Festuccia (Oliviero Fabiani ’46), Pietro Ceccarelli (Dario Chistolini ’59), Gideon Koegelenberg (Josh Furno ’46), Valerio Bernabo (Derick Minnie ’59). Maxime Mbanda, Johan Meyer (George Biagi ’74), Federico Ruzza.

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