Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has named an extended 40 player squad for the five game Tour of New Zealand this summer.
 
Johnny Sexton will captain the squad in what will be Ireland’s first tour since the 2018 series win over Australia. Ireland will play three Test matches against New Zealand in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington as well as two fixtures against the Māori All Blacks in Hamilton ahead of the first Test and in Wellington following the second Test.
 
Ireland have not toured New Zealand since 2012 and have never recorded a victory over the All Blacks in Aotearoa. Five players in the current squad toured New Zealand in 2012 – Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls while Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw were part of the British & Irish Lions squad who toured New Zealand in 2017.
 
There are five uncapped players included in the squad Ciaran Frawley, Joe McCarthy, Jimmy O’Brien (all Leinster), Jeremy Loughman (Munster) and Cian Prendergast (Connacht).
 
There are a further 12 players included who have won less than 10 caps for Ireland – Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, Gavin Coombes, Mack Hansen, James Hume, Michael Lowry, Ryan Baird, Dave Heffernan, Tom O’Toole, Dan Sheehan, Nick Timoney and Kieran Treadwell.
 
Robert Baloucoune, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell and Ronan Kelleher have been ruled out of the tour through injury.
 
Andy Farrell commented, “This is the start of our Rugby World Cup campaign and it is going to be a fantastic challenge for our group facing five massive tests across the three weeks.
 
Due to Covid we haven’t had an opportunity to tour and touring plays a massive role in teams gelling together and building cohesion on and off the field. This group could also be the last to play a Test series in New Zealand which makes it even more special.
 
We will learn so much about the players and the group as a whole as we have to front up for five incredibly tough fixtures, far from the comforts of home and in grounds where the home support will greatly outnumber travelling Irish fans.”

 
Connacht’s Senior Coach Peter Wilkins will join the national coaching group for the duration of the tour to assist in team preparation.
 
Mick Kearney has been re-appointed as Men’s National Team Manager following Gerard Carmody’s promotion to IRFU Director of Operations. Mick previously held the position between 2012 and 2016 and will fulfil the role through to the end of the Rugby World Cup in France. Geraldine Armstrong, will lead team operations for the tour to New Zealand while Gerard Carmody will continue to support team operations and planning for RWC23.
 
Ireland 2022 Summer Tour Squad
 
Backs (18)
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 37 caps
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) 2 caps
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 32 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 5 caps
Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 96 caps
Ciaran Frawley (Leinster/Skerries) uncapped
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 17 caps
Mack Hansen (Connacht) 4 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 57 caps
James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) 3 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 20 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 30 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 12 caps
Michael Lowry (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 96 caps
Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster/Naas) uncapped
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 42 caps
Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 105 caps CAPTAIN
 
Forwards (22)
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 8 caps
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 23 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 30 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 27 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 2 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 17 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 57 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 116 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 6 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 68 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 26 caps
Jeremy Loughman (Munster/Garryowen) uncapped
Joe McCarthy (Leinster/Dublin) uncapped
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 84 caps
Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 2 caps
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 43 caps
Cian Prendergast (Connacht) uncapped
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 43 caps
Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 7 caps
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) 2 caps
Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 5 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 40 caps
 
Ireland 2022 Summer Tour Fixtures
 
Māori All Blacks v IRELAND
FMG Stadium, Hamilton, Wednesday 29th June, 2022 (KO: 8.05am)
 
New Zealand v IRELAND
Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday 2nd July, 2022 (KO: 8.05am)
 
New Zealand v IRELAND
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, Saturday 9th July, 2022 (KO: 8.05am)
 
Māori All Blacks v IRELAND
SKY Stadium, Wellington, Tuesday 12th July, 2022 (KO: 8.05am)
 
New Zealand v IRELAND
SKY Stadium, Wellington, Saturday 16th July, 2022 (KO: 8.05am)

 

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

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are looking to end their season on a high with a win over Zebre Parma at the Sportsground in the United Rugby Championship on Saturday, kick-off at 5 PM. 

 

With several players leaving the province at the end of the season, the Australian is keen for them to feel the appreciation of the fans before they depart for new pastures. 

 

Abraham Papali’i, Eoghan Masterson, Peter Robb, and the retiring Matt Healy – among others – will be leaving Connacht and, given large swathes of the previous season were played in empty stadiums, they will be given their send-off in front of an atmospheric Sportsground crowd. 

 

Despite the game wrapping up the campaign, Friend says that training has been at a high level and the players’ focus is on putting on a good showing and securing the victory. 

 

“It’s a tricky period because you have players exiting,” the head coach said. 

 

“You’ve got the last game, which is still an important game because it’s another chance to play in front of your family and friends and support, as well as putting on the Connacht jersey. 

 

“We know we can’t go any lower or any higher on the ladder(the table) but it is still an important game. In fairness to them all, they have been really good and their heads are definitely on, so let’s bring on Saturday.”

 

Mack Hansen and Cian Prendergast picked up awards at last Friday’s Connacht Rugby awards and Friend is looking forward to not only those players, but everyone in the squad making more strides next season. 

 

The Australian also detailed how pleased he was with individual improvements from players in the Connacht pack and the growth of players across the board will increase the level of competition next season and will complement the qualities brought by the new recruits. 

 

“Yeah, I think there were some great performances this year,” he said. 

 

“The boys you named(Hansen and Prendergast) and others as well. I thought the growth of our second-row stocks rose this year. I thought Matthew Burke and Jordan Duggan, when Denis Buckley was out for so long, had enormous growth throughout the course of the year. Jack Aungier came in and improved again. 

 

“There were some really good performers throughout the course of the year, but what’s important is if you have a poor game there are quality footballers sitting behind you. That’s when players tend not to have a poor game, because the pressure’s there. 

 

And that’s what we’re building here at Connacht Rugby where we’re going to have, I believe, a squad of 44 where there’s genuine competition across all positions and slip up, in terms of performances, next season and you might not get another chance.”

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Cian Prendergast has signed a long-term deal with the club until 2025.

Prendergast had 12 months remaining on his initial deal, but like Mack Hansen has also agreed to extend his time at the club by at least an additional two years.

The flanker has been a revelation at Connacht since first joining the Academy in the summer of 2020. After just a few months in the West he came on for his Professional debut away to Edinburgh in October 2020 – his first of 10 appearances for Connacht last season.

This year he has cemented his place in the first XV, starting at blindside flanker in 19 of Connacht’s 23 games this season. His consistently excellent performances also resulted in a call up to the Ireland squad as a development player for the start of their Guinness Six Nations camp.

Cian Prendergast has released the following:

“I’m delighted to commit to Connacht for at least another three years. I’ll be forever thankful to Eric Elwood and his Academy management for giving me the opportunity to join the setup when I wasn’t sure what the future held for me. A huge thanks also to Andy Friend and the coaches for giving me the chance to play regularly at the highest level.

We’ve got a really good group of players here and I firmly believe great things are on the horizon for us, and I can’t wait to play my part in it.”

Head Coach Andy Friend has added:

“Cian is everything you want in a rugby player. He’s a consummate professional and is consistent in everything he does on and off the field. It was clear from his early days in the Academy that he was ready to make an impact with the Pro team and since then he’s gone from strength to strength.

He’s still only 22 so will only get better, and it’s another show of faith in what we aim to achieve as a group in the coming years.”

Emirates Lions 30

Connacht 33 

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht became only the second northern hemisphere team to win in South Africa in the United Rugby Championship this season after a brilliant 33-30 win over the Emirates Lions. 

 

The away team dotted down three tries via Cian Prendergast, a penalty try, and Tom Daly with Jack Carty showing great nerve to slot four penalties. 

 

The hosts scored four tries – two of which were converted – of their own alongside two penalties, but it was Connacht – whose set-piece efficiency and attacking prowess made the difference – who deservedly held out for the win. 

 

Connacht began the game at a rate of knots and they had a try only two minutes in. Carty elected to go to the line from a penalty in midfield and, from the resultant line out, the Irish team launched an attack deep in the Lion’s 22. Hard carries from Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen drew them closer to the line before Caolin Blade’s cutting pass met the incisive line of Prendergast and the back row skipped in for the try. Carty converted and the away team were 7-0 ahead. 

 

Not content with one score, Connacht were ambitious in search of tries and they were rewarded for their mentality with a second try in what was proving a bountiful opening ten minutes. 

 

Carty turned down the shot at goal in the Lions’ 22 after the forwards powerfully won a scrum penalty and instead opted for a kick to the line for a line out. The away team pack powerfully drove their opponents backward and, when the maul collapsed, the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try and brandishing a yellow card to the hosts for Ruan Dreyer. With the guaranteed seven points, Andy Friend’s men were one man and 14 points to the good. 

 

The Lions, back to their full allocation of players after Dreyer’s time in the sin bin elapsed, managed the wrestle back some momentum as the half neared its midway point and Jordan Hendrikse opened their account for the afternoon with a sweetly struck penalty, to take the score to 3-14 in Connacht’s favour. 

 

The remainder of the half was an even affair, with both teams enjoying spells of pressure, only for the defences to come out on top until, on the stroke of halftime, Maxwane ran a clever support line to run in a try in the right-hand corner. The conversion was wide, so Connacht were 8-14 ahead going into the break.

 

Connacht began the second half in fine fettle and they were the first to add the scoreboard when Carty – from just inside the Lions’ half – powerfully hit a penalty between the posts to stretch the away team’s lead to 8-17. 

 

 The Lions joined in on the act soon after and Hendrickse’s penalty had them on the scoreboard for the first time in the half as we approached the 50th minute, cutting Connacht’s lead to six points at 11-17.

 

Carty, whose use of the boot – both from the tee and in open play – was superb through, added Connacht’s next score, by expertly dispatching a penalty that saw them break the twenty-point mark. 

 

The Lions, though, began to turn on the pressure from that point and, after a penalty they chose to kick to the line, they launched an attack that ended with scrum-half van Den Berg opportunistically sniping in over the line. The conversion from Hendrickse was good and the lead Connacht had built was reduced to two points at 18-20.

 

The flow of the game was even and Connacht were the next side to trouble the scoreboard when Carty once again showed his prowess from the kicking tee with a beautifully hit penalty that stretched the Irish team even further ahead, leading by five points at 18-23 with the game an hour old. 

 

With their bench bringing a fresh impetus and new energy, the visitors showed great fitness in the closing stages and they registered their third try of the afternoon with a beautifully worked seven-pointer. Using a line out as an attacking platform, the ball was worked to Aki, and – showing a great understanding with his fellow centre – the Irish international brilliantly found the cutting line of Daly, and the Carlow native powered over the line. Carty added the extras and Connacht found themselves 18-30 up with fifteen minutes remaining. 

 

The Lions, to their credit, dusted themselves off quickly and they worked a neat move that saw winger Van Der Merwe collect a pass to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try that took the score to 23-30. 

 

With their tails up, the hosts added a second try in quick succession when their captain, Odendaal, burst through to touch down. Hendrickse added the conversion and the score was level at 30-30 with ten minutes remaining. 

 

Connacht, though, didn’t panic and they regained their lead with five minutes remaining when Carty accurately slotted a penalty to take the score to 33-30 to the away team. A brilliant counter ruck allowed Fifita to carry through and earn the penalty that the Roscommon man made no mistake with. 

 

Despite the hosts throwing the kitchen sink at it, Connacht held out firm to record a brilliant win in South Africa. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Mack Hansen 

14: John Porch 

13: Bundee Aki 

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Jack Aungier 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: 

 

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Dave Heffernan 

17: Jordan Duggan for Denis Buckley

18: Greg McGrath for Jack Aungier 

19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling 

20: Conor Oliver for Paul Boyle 

21: Kieran Marmion for Caolin Blade 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for Alex Wootton 

23: Shayne Bolton for Bundee Aki(temporarily for HIA)

Senior coach Pete Wilkins praised the mentality of the Connacht squad after last weekend’s win over the DHL Stormers in the United Rugby Championship and ahead of Friday evening’s league trip to Edinburgh, kick-off 7:35 PM. 

 

The host’s 19-17 win – which was secured after trailing 17-7 early in the second half – was their second league win in succession and also the second game on the spin where they managed to be victorious after coming from behind. 

 

Wilkins believes that the Sportsground teams’ ability to back themselves and their processes, even when losing, is evidence of the growth and maturation of the squad.

 

“I think it was important for us to get the win from coming from behind,” the former Queensland Reds coach said. 

 

“It was a tight game that we came out on the right side of. It was only a few weeks ago that we were sitting here, lamenting some of those tight losses. 

 

“So I think the fact that two weeks in a row, from slightly different scenarios, that we have been able to see out two tight games is really important to show that there is growth in this team going on all the time.”

 

Wilkins expects an entertaining game against a quality Edinburgh side who sit fifth in the United Rugby Championship(URC) table, especially given the artificial surface at the Scots’ stadium.

 

“It is built for fast rugby,” he said of Edinburgh’s pitch at the DAM Health Stadium. 

 

“The players are excited about playing on it and excited, in the context of this weekend, of us being able to play on a fast pitch and getting our game on that kind of surface. But also the feeling of what might come for us down the tracks(with the stadium redevelopment).

 

“We have proved we can play decent rugby in any kind of conditions, but going to what is hopefully a dry Edinburgh with a decent 4G pitch, we’ll get a chance to do that.”

 

Meanwhile, back row Cian Prendergast praised the work of the Connacht pack in last weekend’s victory over the DHL Stormers. 

 

The visitors’ pack boasted an array of talented players, including Springbok international Steven Kitshoff at loose-head prop, but the home teams set-piece – with Tietie Tuimauga and Leva Fifita impressive – more than held its own. 

 

The Connacht forwards, Prendergast believes, playing so well was one of the factors that lead to their 19-17 win over the visiting South Africans. 

 

“Ultimately, especially our scrum, we thought it would be a big focus area for them, considering they have one of the – if not the – best loosehead props in the world, but we stood up to that challenge and it was a real positive for us as a group,” the 22-year-old said. 

 

Prendergast was recently selected in the Irish training camp for the ongoing Six Nations as a “development” player. 

 

The Kildare native loved the experience, but he knows that his form with his club team will dictate whether he gets back into the national team reckoning and that remains his priority. 

 

“It was an incredible experience,” he said. 

 

“I got to pick the brains of people in my position and see how they prepare for test matches and see what they do from week to week, how they prep for training, how they train, and how they conduct themselves. 

 

“It was a really good experience and I learned a lot from it.”

 

The blindside flanker expects a physical encounter on Friday against Edinburgh, a team whose artificial surfaced home pitch also lends itself to a quicker style of rugby, as Wilkins previously mentioned. 

 

Prendergast also believes that Connacht’s attack will need to be at its best in order to win, given the impressive defence of the Scottish team, but says his team’s chances of a win will be bolstered if they can retain the kind of discipline they showed in last weekend’s win. 

 

“Edinburgh are a really well-drilled side and they have a new coaching ticket now. They have a really structured defence and are really well-disciplined and they have an electric attack, if you give them space. 

 

“We have reviewed that. They have very powerful players in the back three, big physical backs, a good line out, they’re a good mauling side, they’re quite good in their 22 attack, which is an area for us to try and not give them access to. 

 

“It’s about discipline again, trying to build on what we did against The Stormers, in terms of how we gave away no offside penalties or penalties around the ruck, which is a huge one for us. 

 

“We’re just looking to build on that again and not give away those “red” penalties that Friendy calls them, the avoidable ones that are more effort ones than anything else.”

A last gasp Leicester Tigers try gave them a 29-28 win over Connacht at the Sportsground in the Heineken Champions Cup today. 

 

Despite registering a try bonus point – thanks to tries from Tiernan O’Halloran(2), Cian Prendergast and Kieran Marmion, all of which were converted by Kieran Marmion – it was the English Premiership leaders, who trailed 28-10 midway through the second half, who took the victory in a pulsating clash. 

 

Joe Heyes, Kini Murimurivalu(2), Charlie Clare, and Hosea Saumaki all crossed for the visitors, with Freddie Burns also notching two conversions. 

 

Connacht looked to start the game with typical attacking intent, but it was the English Premiership table-toppers who took the lead after scarcely two minutes. 

 

A cleverly worked line-out routine saw Leicester crash over through Joe Heyes. 

 

After turning down two kickable penalties, the away team were rewarded for their ambition when the tight-head prop went over the line from a short distance. The conversion was wide, so the away team lead 5-0. 

 

The English team doubled their try count in what was proving to be a profitable opening ten minutes when Kini Murimurivalu – after a scrum just outside the Connacht 22 gave them field position – dove over in the corner. The conversion hit the upright but the away team doubled their lead to 10-0.

 

Connacht – with their line out an effective weapon –  began to grow into the game thereafter and this bore try-scoring fruit in an extremely entertaining opening seventeen minutes. 

 

A powerful rolling maul brought the hosts close to the line and they then elected to put the ball through the hands of the backs. Kieran Marmion found Carty and the Roscommon native passed to Matt Healy who – unselfishly – fed O’Halloran the try-scoring pass. Carty added the extras and the hosts trailed by three at 7-10. 

 

With their tails up, the driving maul was a tool the home team looked to use extensively and their confidence in the set-piece was justified when they used it as a source of crossing the whitewash for the second time in the half. 

 

Once again, Leicester did well to stop the initial surge but they had no answer to Connacht working it wide through the backs and Bundee Aki’s pass found Prendergast and – showing great strength – the blindside muscled his way over the line. Carty added the extras and the Westerners lead 14-10 at the half-hour mark. 

 

The Tigers tried to respond in kind in the remaining minutes of the first half, but all of their efforts were met with the same Connacht defensive resistance – where Conor Oliver and Niall Murray were particularly impressive – and the hosts went into the interval leading 14-10. 

 

Connacht started the second half in menacing, attacking fashion and they scored two tries – both from attacking lineouts – in the opening ten minutes of the second period. Such was the pressure and the spate of penalties awarded in the home team’s favour, the English team were also reduced to 14 after Tommy Reffell was yellow carded.

 

First, Marmion – showing great instincts – quickly nipped in for a score and then O’Halloran, with his second try of the afternoon, was the benefactor of a brilliant move, starting from the line out, that included offloads from John Porch and Mattew Burke, and pirouetted over in the corner. Carty converted both and the hosts lead 28-10.

 

The Tigers worked their way back into proceedings soon after, however, when Murimurivalu – their most impressive player all afternoon – showed great pace to touch down for a converted try which reduced the deficit to 28-17. 

 

The tide of momentum was with the away team as we reached the final ten minutes and they scored their fourth try when Charlie Clare was at hand to touch down at the base of a maul. The conversion was good and the Westerners lead stood at four points; 28-24.

 

The visitors would have the last say when replacement Hosea Saumaki dove over in the corner to give the Tigers the win – 29-28 – with the last play of the game. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty ©

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

Replacements:

 

  1. Dave Heffernan for Delahunt
  2. Tietie Tuimauga for Burke
  3. Jack Aungier for Bealham
  4. Ultan Dillane for Dowling
  5. Paul Boyle for Butler 
  6. Caolin Blade for Marmion
  7. Conor Fitzgerald 
  8. Tom Farrell for Matt Healy 

Head coach Andy Friend says his Connacht team are expecting a hugely physical encounter when they travel to face Leicester Tigers in the next round of the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday afternoon.

 

The Westerners began their European campaign in excellent style, winning 36-9 at home to Stade Francais last weekend, scoring six tries, and conceding none in an entertaining clash at the Sportsground.

 

But Friend expects the Tigers – who are unbeaten this season, winning ten games from ten across all competition to offer a formidable challenge to his squad.

 

Despite this, the ambition, shared by all in the coaching and playing staff, is to advance from the pool stage into the knock-out rounds, he said.

 

“I think their game style is pretty obvious, what they’re trying to do,” the Australian said.

 

“I think they had something like 57 kicks at the weekend(their Champions Cup win away to Bordeaux), so they play very much a territory-based game, with good half-backs that kick and a good back three that kick. They have got a big forward pack, so set-piece is going to be important.

 

“They’re looking pretty strong this year, with ten wins from ten. We’ll be turning up against a team at Welford Road who are full of confidence, with a game style that is currently working for them. We’re going to have to be ready for that, which we will be, and see if we can counter it in some way.”

 

Friend – whose team were defeated at Welford Road, in a game that was tight until the closing stages, last spring in the Challenge Cup – says the best course of action for the western province will be to focus on their own game and not to just try and counter the English team.

 

“No, I think we’ve got to be us,” the former Australian Sevens’ coach said.

 

“That’s why you have an identity, you have an identity because you believe in it and that’s what you train for and that’s what you do. Similar to Leicester having an identity, they do. I don’t know what words they use, but you can see the way they play: everyone knows what they’re trying to do and they do it very, very well.

 

“We have an identity, which we’ve talked about, which we’ve worked really hard to make sure what we put out there on the pitch every single game and I think we’re getting better at that. We have to respect the strengths they have got, which we will, but at the same time, it’s more about us and what we do and how we play our game.

 

“We said at the front end of this competition, we want to be the first Connacht team to come out of the pool stages and we still believe that and still want to be that team. We’re very aware of the challenge ahead of us, but we’re definitely going there to compete.”

 

Forward Cian Prendergast, meanwhile, says the mood in the Connacht camp is positive ahead of Sunday’s trip to Leicester Tigers.

 

Playing at blindside flanker, the 21year old excelled in the previous round against Stade Francais, capping his performance – which featured brilliant work at the line out – with a late try in the commanding 36-9 home win.

 

But now the Kildare native is looking forward and is focusing on what he expects to be a physical encounter at Welford Road, but one he is nonetheless excited about.

 

“Yeah, positive,” was Predenergast’s assessment of the mood in the Westerners’ squad.

 

“We have accepted that it’s five points earned(against Stade), but it’s a big week coming up. Playing the Premiership leaders, Leicester, who are unbeaten, away from home is a big challenge, so it’s a really exciting week.”

 

Prendergast was one of the several young players featuring for Connacht in last weekend’s win, with the likes of Niall Murray and Shayne Bolton – 22 and 21 years old respectively – also starring in the victory.

 

The second-row cum flanker says that Andy Friend’s faith in the squad’s young players provides them with confidence to perform against even the most prestigious of opposition.

 

Additionally, the leadership shown by the experienced players – like Jack Carty and Jarrad Butler – has created an environment where younger squad members can express themselves on the field of play.

 

“Friendy put a lot of faith in us this week in picking so many young players and he’s said that if you show your best hand in training and you perform when he gives you an opportunity, he is willing to pick you. He’s been good with that and he is willing to pick you in those bigger games.

 

“We fed off that last week, that we had those opportunities. Lucky enough, we had those leaders, like Jarrad and Jack, to help us through as well and even lads like Ultan(Dillane) and Gav(Thornbury) helping us out and guiding us through and taking as much burden off us as they can and helping us through the week.”

With Heineken Champions Cup rugby already secured, the Connacht management have opted for a much-changed squad to face Edinburgh at The Sportsground tomorrow night (k/o 7.35pm).

Three Academy players will mark milestones in the game, with Cian Prendergast and centre Sean O’Brien handed their first starts and Oran McNulty in line for his first pro appearance off the bench.

Yesterday it was announced that Prendergast and McNulty have both signed Professional contracts for the 2021-22 season.

Hooker Shane Delahunt is joined by props Denis Buckley and Jack Aungier in the front row, while in the second row Niall Murray partners Gavin Thornbury fresh off the back of a brilliant Player of the Match performance against Munster last week.

Jarrad Butler will lead the team out from openside flanker with Prendergast on the opposite flank and Eoghan Masterson at number 8.

Jack Carty continues at out-half where he’s partnered by Kieran Marmion, while Tom Daly joins Sean O’Brien at centre. There’s an exciting back three line-up of Matt Healy, Ben O’Donnell and Alex Wootton to complete the side.

Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“Securing a top 3 finish with games to spare gives us a really good opportunity to give more minutes to players who have been knocking on the door all season. That said, we are still going out there as eager as ever to pick up another win. It would be another positive step for us to secure 2nd place in the Conference so that’s what we’ll look to do, and the task for this group of players is to build on last week’s performance against Munster.”

All Connacht pro players and management again returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.

CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS EDINBURGH RUGBY
Saturday 13th March, The Sportsground, kick-off 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Alex Wootton (16)
14. Ben O’Donnell (2)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (4)
12. Tom Daly (41)
11. Matt Healy (146)
10. Jack Carty (152)
9. Kieran Marmion (179)
1. Denis Buckley (195)
2. Shane Delahunt (93)
3. Jack Aungier (12)
4. Niall Murray (11)
5. Gavin Thornbury (53)
6. Cian Prendergast (5)
7. Jarrad Butler (69) (C)
8. Eoghan Masterson (105)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (13)
17. Jordan Duggan (8)
18. Conor Kenny (10)
19. Abraham Papali’i (7)
20. Conor Oliver (15)
21. Caolin Blade (125)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (30)
23. Oran McNulty *

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that 21 players have re-signed for the province ahead of the 2021-22 season.

In all 19 players from the existing Professional squad have renewed deals for next season while a further two players, Oran McNulty and Cian Prendergast, have been promoted from the Connacht Academy.

Today’s announcement includes four Irish internationals – Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan – while joint-leading Guinness PRO14 try scorer Alex Wootton has signed on a permanent contract having joined on loan from Munster last summer.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“I am delighted to see so many of our current crop of players sign on for another season. This is still a very challenging time for everyone in Irish Rugby so to have them commit to Connacht Rugby again says it all about the belief we have as a group to continue the progress we’re making.

17 of the 21 players were once part of the Connacht Academy, and in that group we have a mix of established Irish internationals, experienced players within the province and plenty of young players still in the early stages of their careers.

I have been very impressed by Cian Prendergast and Oran McNulty, and their first Professional contracts is the culmination of years of work from grassroots level to where they are now. Congratulations not just to them but their parents, coaches and all the other volunteers who helped them along the way.

We are continuing to shape the squad for next season, with further discussions ongoing, and supporters should expect more positive news in the weeks and months ahead.”

Connacht Rugby’s retention and recruitment remains ongoing and further announcements will be made in due course.

CONFIRMED NEW CONTRACTS FOR 2021-22

Finlay BEALHAM
Paul BOYLE
Denis BUCKLEY
Matthew BURKE
Jack CARTY
Shane DELAHUNT
Ultan DILLANE
Jordan DUGGAN
Conor FITZGERALD
Dave HEFFERNAN
Eoghan MASTERSON
Sean MASTERSON
Oran MCNULTY
Niall MURRAY
Conor OLIVER
John PORCH
Cian PRENDERGAST
Colm REILLY
Peter SULLIVAN
Gavin THORNBURY
Alex WOOTTON

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