The Connacht management team have made five changes to the starting XV for tomorrow’s eagerly awaited BKT United Rugby Championship clash with Leinster at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
Four of those changes come in the pack where Peter Dooley, Niall Murray, Josh Murphy and Paul Boyle all come into the side, while there’s also a first start of the season for scrum-half Colm Reilly.
Dooley is joined by Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham in the front row while lock Gavin Thornbury completes the tight five. Shamus Hurley-Langton moves to openside flanker with Murphy at #6 and Boyle at #8.
The rest of the squad is unchanged meaning Jack Carty, David Hawkshaw and Conor Fitzgerald all start at out-half, inside-centre and full-back respectively. Byron Ralston, Mack Hansen and John Porch complete the side.
The management team have kept to a 6:2 split on the bench with the fit-again Caolin Blade and Academy graduate Ciaran Booth among the options.
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
“Last Fridays victory over Munster saw a much improved overall performance by us that is far more aligned to what we know we’re capable of as a team. We now have to use that as a springboard for the rest of the season, and tomorrow is another brilliant opportunity to test ourselves against some of the best in Europe.
The atmosphere at The Sportsground last week was incredible and I know that our supporters will give us the same again and more tomorrow night.”

Friday 14th October 2022, 19:35 @ The Sportsground
15. Conor Fitzgerald (56)
14. John Porch (63)
13. Byron Ralston (4)
12. David Hawkshaw (4)
11. Mack Hansen (17)
10. Jack Carty (181) (C)
9. Colm Reilly (11)
1. Peter Dooley (4)
2. Dave Heffernan (169)
3. Finlay Bealham (177)
4. Niall Murray (38)
5. Gavin Thornbury (66)
6. Josh Murphy (4)
7. Shamus Hurley-Langton (4)
8. Paul Boyle (76)

16. Grant Stewart (2)
17. Denis Buckley (212)
18. Jack Aungier (35)
19. Oisín Dowling (28)
20. Conor Oliver (44)
21. Caolin Blade (152)
22. Tom Daly (64)
23. Ciaran Booth (1)

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.


Matthew BURKE

By John O’Sullivan 


Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to start well in Saturday’s 19:35 GuinnessPRO14 kick-off against the Ospreys at the Sportsground.


In the Westerner’s previous games, a loss at home to Scarlets and a win away to Zebre last weekend, Connacht conceded tries early and saw their opponents open the scoring. 


But Friend says his team will need to start better and play in the right areas of the field — taking into consideration any weather conditions —  against a dangerous Ospreys side if they want to make it consecutive league wins. 


“What’s really important to us is the start,” the Australian said. 


“If we can start well and build on the confidence we took from that Zebre win, that will be really important to us. It’s also really important that we execute. We made 23 errors in the Scarlets game, that got down to ten at the weekend, which is where it needs to be. What we need to be able to do(not commit many errors), and let’s just assume, living in Galway, that there might be some wind and rain. 


“If it is doing that(raining), we just have to be more clinical with the way we’re handling the ball. We got to make sure to continue that we get the line speed in our defensive line, with our launch. We have got to make sure we play in the right areas and I think those three things we were much, much better on at the weekend than we were previously. We have got to make sure we keep that up here at the Sportsground,”


Friend praised his players for playing “smart” Rugby in last weekend’s 47-12 win in Italy, and he says that Connacht will need to play in the same vein on Saturday night, especially against the visitors exciting back three options. 


“Continuing to play that smart kicking game is going to be important to us,” the former Australia Sevens coach said. 


“We need to play in the right areas and we need to get off the line and shut them down. If you could give me gold, silver and bronze, the gold would be the way we start, which is really important for us.


Elsewhere, loosehead prop Denis Buckley paid tribute to the quality of young players coming through Connacht’s academy. Colm Reilly, a former Connacht academy player, was awarded the man of the match award in the Zebre victory in only his second start.


Buckley, a former academy graduate himself, said that Reilly’s performance — given the senior players had seen him in training — wasn’t a surprise and that the Westerners have several players that could follow the Ballinasloe scrum-halves path in the years to come.


“We’ve seen him in training for the last while, so it’s not really a surprise to us seeing him perform. It was only his second start, so to get a man of the match was pretty special for him. It wasn’t a surprise for us because we see him do it in training every week. He’s a really good talent and it will be exciting to see how he develops over the next while,” the Roscommon native said. 


“There is a lot of young lads coming through. Cian Prendergast is another and he’s played this year. I think he’s another one we’ll see more of as we go on. There is some really exciting young lads coming through and it is great to see.”


Meanwhile, Buckley, 30, praised the culture and positive environment Andy Friend and his coaches have built at Connacht and its impact on helping players reach their full potential. 


“Yeah, 100%,” Buckley said when asked whether the team culture helped players fulfill their abilities. 


“Obviously it’s pretty difficult at the moment with a lot of limits around team meetings. It’s all through Zoom and there’s a lot of rules about whether we can be indoors together, particularly in the last six weeks as we have gone into lockdown. 


“But they’ve found ways to keep the culture and keep that team spirit going and it’s coming through in games. I think since the summer, when we came back and played those rearranged fixtures against Ulster, and this season we definitely have taken a step up. We didn’t get that consistency against the Scarlets, but if you take that game out of it then we have had some really good games. 


“The Glasgow win, the Edinburgh away win, they’re really good results that we don’t always get. We’ve had a really good start to the season and how the coaching staff have approached the restrictions with covid and with all the limitations that are around, and how we have made the best of all those situations and tried to turn them into advantages. If you can adapt the best to them, it can give you an advantage and I think we’re doing that very well at the moment,” Buckley said.



Zebre 12-47 Connacht


By John O’Sullivan


Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 after a 47-12 victory away to Zebre.


The visitors, through Sean O’Brien, a brace from both Tom Daly and Alex Wootton, Sammy Arnold as well as eight points from the boot of Jack Carty and a penalty try, scored seven tries in a performance of accurate attacking and stout defending at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.


The win wasn’t the only positive as O’Brien — after almost two years out of action with injuries — returned to playing and Ultan Dillane made his 100th appearance for the Westerners with a second-half cameo off the bench to cap a great days work for Andy Friend and his squad.


It was the hosts who enjoyed the better start, however, and they had a try in the opening minutes when Tommaso Boni — running an intelligent trail line to collect an offload — dotted down for a try. Antonio Rizzi added the extras to put the Italians into a 7-0 lead.


Connacht reacted well to the concession of the try and grew into the game quickly, with Guinness Player of the Match Colm Reilly and Carty managing proceedings well. With the territory given to them by the half-backs, the visitors added two penalties from Carty to reduce Zebre’s lead to one point.


In the ascendancy in terms of territory and pressure, the Sportsground men were rewarded when O’Brien barged his way over the line, bursting through two would-be tackles, for Connacht’s first try. After a rolling maul, Shane Delahunt made significant headway with a carry and O’Brien followed suit by picking from the base and powering over. The conversion went narrowly wide, but the visitors were deserving of their try and their 11-7 lead.


The Italians went in chase of their second try of the half, but their efforts were foiled by excellent interventions from Eoghan Masterson — who expertly stole a Zebre line out deep in the Connacht 22 — and John Porch,  whose brilliantly timed tackle prevented what could have been a try for the hosts.


It was Connacht, and not the Italians — whose every effort was repelled by the visitors’ strong defence — who showed their efficiency in attack, who closed the half out with tries, with two coming in quick succession.


Wootton, after Reilly’s searing break and Porch’s sharp pass, crossed for a well-worked team try and then the winger — as the hosts attacked once more — went the length of the pitch after intercepting Rizzi’s pass five metres from his own line to score. Carty converted the latter to see Connacht lead 23-7 at the break.


The Westerners started the second half in a similar fashion as they ended the first and they had a try not long after the interval when Arnold — with Connacht playing with an advantage — powered over in the right-hand corner. The conversion drifted narrowly wide, but the Irishmen had built a commanding 7-28 lead.


Flexing their attacking muscles, another try would soon come from Connacht, again in the right-hand corner. This time it was Daly, showing remarkable strength to power through tackles, who wriggled over the line to take the score to 7-33.


Connacht made a host of changes thereafter — including the introduction of Dillane for his 100th cap for the province — and were reduced to 14 men when Abraham Papali’i was shown a red card for a high tackle. Zebre took advantage of the extra man almost straight away when hooker Marco Manfredi scored a try which Rizzi failed to convert.


The visitors would have the last say, however, with two more tries. First, a penalty try was awarded when a powerful rolling maul was dragged down.  Then Daly completed his brace of tries after collecting Conor Fitzgerald’s kick through to touch down and seal a fantastic win and day for Connacht.


Connacht team:


15: John Porch

14: Sammy Arnold

13: Tom Farrell

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Colm Reilly


8: Jarrad Butler

7: Sean Masterson

6: Sean O’Brien

5: GavinThornbury

4: Eoghan Masterson

3: Jack Aungier

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley


Replacements: Paddy McAllister for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Aungier, Ultan Dillane for Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i for Masterson, Peter Sullivan for Farrell, Kerins for Reilly, Fitzgerald for Carty

Colm Reilly and Conor Kenny have been handed their first Connacht starts after they were named in the starting XV to face Scarlets at The Sportsground on Saturday night (k/o 7.35pm).
Ballinasloe native Colm Reilly made his debut off the bench in Connacht’s last outing – a bonus point win in Edinburgh – and he’s now been handed the number 9 jersey for the first time with the returning Jack Carty partnering him at out-half. Kieran Marmion has been released from international duty to be named among the replacements.
Kenny meanwhile has made 7 appearances as a replacement since making his debut at the start of last season. The tighthead prop starts for the first time alongside Shane Delahunt and Paddy McAllister who also enjoys his first start of the campaign.
Kenny is another product of the Connacht grassroots system, having played for Buccaneers RFC and Garbally College where he won a Connacht Schools Cup.
Ultan Dillane returns from Ireland camp to start in the second row alongside Gavin Thornbury, while the back row is unchanged from the Edinburgh win with Jarrad Butler captaining the side from openside flanker, Paul Boyle starting on the opposite flank and Abraham Papali’i at number 8.
The centres consist of Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold, while in the back three the in-form duo of winger Alex Wootton and full-back John Porch keep their place in the side. Connacht’s record try-scorer Matt Healy makes his first start of the season on the opposite wing.
Commenting ahead of the game, Head Coach Andy Friend said:
“While having two postponed games was disappointing, we’ve made sure to take a positive approach to the situation. We’ve had a great few weeks training and it’s given some players the opportunity to reach full fitness again. It’s also our first home game in six weeks so we’re looking forward to that.”
Regarding his team selection, Friend added:
“In Conor and Colm we have two more Academy graduates making their first starts which is a real positive for us as a club. We’ve also got plenty of experience available to us again since the Edinburgh game, like Jack Carty, Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion and Matt Healy. So we’re in a healthy spot overall and we can’t wait to get back playing.”
Saturday 14th November @ The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm)
15. John Porch (21)
14. Alex Wootton (4)
13. Sammy Arnold (4)
12. Tom Daly (28)
11. Matt Healy (137)
10. Jack Carty (142)
9. Colm Reilly (1)
1. Paddy McAllister (12)
2. Shane Delahunt (80)
3. Conor Kenny (7)
4. Ultan Dillane (98)
5. Gavin Thornbury (42)
6. Paul Boyle (43)
7. Jarrad Butler (C) (59)
8. Abraham Papali’i (2)
16. Jonny Murphy (8)
17. Denis Buckley (182)
18. Jack Aungier (4)
19. Eoghan Masterson (94)
20. Conor Oliver (5)
21. Kieran Marmion (169)
22. Tom Farrell (60)
23. Peter Sullivan (3)

Six Connacht players have been handed their first starts of the season for Sunday’s trip to BT Murrayfield to face Edinburgh (k/o 7.35pm).
International call-ups and a number of injuries have meant there’s a reshuffle of Andy Friend’s side from the opening two games, with two players potentially making their debuts off the bench.
There’s a new-look half-back partnership of Conor Fitzgerald and Caolin Blade, while Tom Daly comes in for his first start of the season alongside Tom Farrell at centre. Sammy Arnold is named on the wing with Alex Wootton and John Porch completing the back three.
In the front row there’s a start for Shane Delahunt and Jack Aungier while Denis Buckley continues at loosehead. Some long-term injuries in the second row means Eoghan Masterson comes in to partner Gavin Thornbury, while Abraham Papali’i has been handed his first start of the campaign at number 8. Paul Boyle and captain Jarrad Butler complete the starting team from blindside and openside flanker respectively.
The replacements include scrum-half Colm Reilly and Academy lock Cian Prendergast who would both earn their first Connacht caps if called upon.
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend said:
“Having seven players away on international duty is a great situation for Connacht Rugby, and it also provides an opportunity for others to step up and look to fill those vacancies over the next period of time. We’ve still got a core group of experienced players to select from within the squad, so I’m really happy with the depth that we’re building”.
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“There’s no doubt that Edinburgh have been one of the form teams in the competition for the last year and have quality all over the pitch. That said, we learned a lot from our game in Cardiff and we’re expecting this to be a similar type of encounter, so I’m confident we can build on that and put in a performance capable of getting a win”.
Sunday 25th October, 7.35pm @ BT Murrayfield
Connacht: John Porch, Sammy Arnold, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Jack Aungier, Eoghan Masterson, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Abraham Papali’i
Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Paddy McAllister, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Colm Reilly, Peter Robb, Tiernan O’Halloran

Every day we’re shining a light on one of our newest arrivals over the summer, and help you get to know each of them before we return to the field later in the month.

Today it’s the turn of our newest pro scrum-half, Ballinasloe’s Colm Reilly.

How have your first few weeks been back at The Sportsground, what has it been like?

I found it very enjoyable, it has been brilliant to get back training and get back playing with the lads having not seen them in the last three months. It was strange working in silence to now being able to get a ball back in your hands and being able to pass it to each other and getting back on the pitch.

Did you find it strange initially coming back as a professional rugby player and training with such a small group?

The first day was weird, there were just five of us, we couldn’t do any skills and we were just doing conditioning. It is getting back to normal now, we can do contact and implement game plans and match situations. Now that we are in week six of training you can see all the plans coming together.

Is training all ball work and what is the balance like at the moment?

We are preparing for those first few games and implementing the system. We are learning our detail and making sure that we are prepped in the attack, defence, and restarts. The first few weeks were skilled-based and now it is game focused, we are getting into match mode now.

I imagine there is a lot of excitement around the August Interpros, by the time the games come around the team will not have played in 6 months.

There is a real competitiveness, everyone is feeling fresh and ready to go. Those 3 months in quarantine gave the players a chance to reset. No one is burnt out and is rearing to go, there is a real competitive edge to training and everyone is giving it their best shot.

In terms of your position as a scrum-half, you have three others in that position, what is the relationship like between the four of you and what is it like when it comes to competing with them for a place in the squad on game day?

I have a great relationship with all three, I have learned a lot off of Kieran, Caolin, and Stephen. I have done a lot of work with Stephen throughout the Academy, I know him well from doing sessions with him and Mossy Lawler in the Academy. Kieran was my senior mentor last year and Bladey is always there for advice when I need him. It will be tough getting there selection wise, I need to keep doing what I can do best and focus on what I can control, and whenever I get my chance I will take it.

Did you find it beneficial coming from the Academy to the PRO team having been integrated with the Senior team a few times and knowing the coaches already?

There wasn’t much of a transition because I have been around the Sportsground for the past two years. I am familiar with the surroundings and all the faces. It was a smooth transition for me. My first year in the Academy was spent in the PRO squad quite a bit, I am used to training with everyone.

How have you found working with Andy and the rest of the coaches?

I have learned a lot off Nigel in the attack and Pete on defence. Jimmy has been giving me a few tips around catching lineouts and delivering a ball to the scrum. It’s different coming up from the academy in terms of the systems and learnings. There is a huge opportunity to learn from the senior members in the squad also.

As a local how does it feel to represent your province?

It is my dream to represent my province and I am looking forward to putting on the green jersey when that day does come. I started playing with Ballinasloe when I was four and played with my brother on the Under 8’s team. When I went to school in Garbally the focus was always on winning the senior cup and once I did that it was another dream come true. I have always been on a pathway in Connacht and have developed from playing club rugby to the Academy and now the Senior team. I want to keep pushing on until I get to put on that green jersey.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to confirm that six players have signed professional contracts with the province having come through the Connacht Academy.
Niall Murray, Colm Reilly, Seán Masterson, Conor Dean, Jordan Duggan and Peter Sullivan will all be integrated into the professional squad ahead of the new season.
Niall Murray has come through the Connacht grassroots system having played for Buccaneers RFC. The lock made his professional debut in December – coming off the bench in the victory over Gloucester in the Heineken Champions Cup – before his first start against Leinster during the Christmas interpros. Murray was also a member of the Ireland U20s squad for the 2019 Six Nations and World Championships.
Colm Reilly is another product of the Connacht clubs. The scrum-half has represented Ballinasloe RFC and won a Top Oil Connacht Senior Schools Cup with Garbally College. He also featured for the Ireland U20s team of 2019, scoring the crucial Grand Slam-winning try in the final game away to Wales.
Like Murray, Seán Masterson also has experience in the professional squad. The back-rower made his debut in the Guinness PRO14 victory over Treviso, replacing his brother Eoghan. The 22-year-old then featured during the Christmas interpros, coming off the bench against Leinster.
Out-half Conor Dean has already been capped for Connacht, starting in Thomond Park against Munster in the final game of the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 regular season. He also impressed for the Connacht Eagles in the most recent Celtic Cup campaign when the squad won 5 of their 7 games.
Prop Jordan Duggan has been capped at Ireland U19 and U20 level, and played for Ireland at the U20 World Championship which also featured Connacht teammates Paul Boyle, Seán Masterson, Oisin Dowling and Conor Dean.
Peter Sullivan joined the Connacht Academy last season having impressed in the Energia All-Ireland League. The winger also stood out for the Connacht Eagles in the 2019/20 Celtic Cup campaign.
Head Coach Andy Friend says today’s announcement confirms the belief the coaching staff have in the Connacht Academy system.
“We are delighted to confirm today’s news as we build for the future. I am a firm believer that a club’s lifeline is its Academy structure, and this exciting group of young players proves that the Connacht Academy is extremely healthy, and will continue to have a positive impact on our squad going forward”.
I would like to say congratulations to the six men named, as well as a special thank you to all the people who have helped them get to their point of their careers – particularly the Academy department led by Eric Elwood, their respective clubs and schools, and most importantly their family and friends”.

Connacht Academy Manager Eric Elwood says today is a proud day for the players.
“I would like to congratulate the six players on their first professional contracts and joining up with the pro squad for next season. It has been a pleasure to watch the players develop and grow over the years and we wish them well on the next step of their journey in their rugby careers.
It’s particularly pleasing to see two more local lads come through the grassroots programme, which is a testament to the great work being done at all levels at Connacht Rugby.”


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