The Connacht matchday squad has been named for tomorrow’s crucial URC meeting with DHL Stormers at The Sportsground (k/o 1pm).
 
There are four changes in all from the historic win over Scarlets last weekend. With Dave Heffernan and Jack Carty returning to Ireland duty, they’ve been replaced in the starting team by Shane Delahunt and Conor Fitzgerald respectively.
 
The other changes sees the return of Denis Buckley to the front row, while Alex Wootton comes onto the wing with John Porch moving to full-back.
 
The rest of the squad is unchanged, so Tietie Tuimauga, Niall Murray and Leva Fifita complete the tight five, while the back row consists of Cian Prendergast, captain Jarrad Butler and Paul Boyle.
 
Kieran Marmion remains at scrum-half, as do Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold in the centre. Peter Sullivan completes the side from the right wing.
 
The coaches have opted for a 6:2 split on the bench, with Abraham Papali’i wearing the number 23 jersey.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We are close to must-win territory for all our remaining games in the URC, so that’s why last week’s win was so important for us. We have done our scout on the Stormers and are very aware of the threats that they bring. We know that we will have to front up physically as they’re a big team.
 
We’re in a strong position in terms of available players outside the Irish contingent, so it’s a 23 I know are capable of a winning performance in front of our home fans.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS DHL STORMERS
Saturday 26th February, 13:00 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (50)
14. Peter Sullivan (19)
13. Sammy Arnold (31)
12. Tom Daly (55)
11. Alex Wootton (23)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (46)
9. Kieran Marmion (200)
1. Denis Buckley (202)
2. Shane Delahunt (115)
3. Tietie Tuimauga (6)
4. Niall Murray (28)
5. Leva Fifita (8)
6. Cian Prendergast (22)
7. Jarrad Butler (88) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (68)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (18)
17. Jordan Duggan (24)
18. Jack Aungier (24)
19. Oisin Dowling (18)
20. Conor Oliver (33)
21. Caolin Blade (142)
22. Tom Farrell (71)
23. Abraham Papali’i (19)

Tom Daly is one of a number of players returning to the Connacht starting team for tomorrow’s URC interpro against Ulster in Belfast (k/o 8.15pm).
 
Daly has missed the last three months with a knee injury he sustained against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, but now makes a welcome return to inside-centre alongside Sammy Arnold.
 
The starting XV also includes Denis Buckley for the first time since June, Conor Fitzgerald & John Porch who were unavailable last week, and Cian Prendergast who has returned from a stint with Ireland as a development player.
 
In all there are 11 changes to the side that disappointingly lost to Glasgow last weekend. Buckley is named in a new-look tight five with Shane Delahunt at hooker and Tietie Tuimauga who’s named at tighthead, while Niall Murray and Oisín Dowling are paired together in the second row. Jarrad Butler captains the side from number 8, with Prendergast and Conor Oliver on the flanks.
 
In the backs, out-half Conor Fitzgerald is handed his first start of the season with Kieran Marmion alongside him, while a new-look back three features Porch at full-back with Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan on the wings.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had an honest week with difficult conversations about what happened last weekend. The performance wasn’t nearly good enough and we need to see a major improvement tomorrow against a strong Ulster team who are on a good run of form.
 
We’re welcoming back a number of players for various reasons which is always a plus, and we can take confidence from a good record up in Belfast the last few years.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
Friday 4th February, 20:15 @ Kingspan Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (48)
14. Peter Sullivan (17)
13. Sammy Arnold (29)
12. Tom Daly (53)
11. Alex Wootton (28)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (45)
9. Kieran Marmion (198)
1. Denis Buckley (201)
2. Shane Delahunt (113)
3. Tietie Tuimauga (4)
4. Niall Murray (26)
5. Oisín Dowling (17)
6. Cian Prendergast (20)
7. Conor Oliver (32)
8. Jarrad Butler (86) (C)
 
Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (17)
17. Jordan Duggan (22)
18. Greg McGrath (3)
19. Leva Fifita (6)
20. Paul Boyle (66)
21. Colm Reilly (8)
22. Cathal Forde (1)
23. Oran McNulty (6)

Tiernan O’Halloran will become the fourth Connacht player to reach 200 caps when he lines out against Glasgow Warriors at The Sportsground on Saturday (k/o 2.55pm).
 
The Clifden native made his Connacht debut in October 2009 at the age of just 18 and has been a mainstay in the squad ever since. He joins John Muldoon, Michael Swift and Denis Buckley as the only players to reach the historic milestone.
 
Buckley meanwhile will make a welcome return from a serious knee injury, with the prop among the replacements for what is due to be his first appearance of the season.
 
Jordan Duggan and Greg McGrath retain their places as starting props, with hooker Dave Heffernan alongside them in the front row. There’s a new look second row of Ultan Dillane and Leva Fifita, while Eoghan Masterson and Paul Boyle also come into the side in the back row. Jarrad Butler captains the team from openside flanker.
 
In the backs there’s a senior debut for Academy graduate Cathal Forde. The Galway native, who has signed a Pro contract from the beginning next season, starts at out-half with scrum-half Kieran Marmion alongside him.
 
The centre partnership is unchanged with Sammy Arnold alongside Tom Farrell, and there’s a start on the wing for another Academy graduate Diarmuid Kilgallen. Alex Wootton completes the side from the opposite wing.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Tiernan’s 200th cap is a huge achievement for him. To play 200 times for one club is a testament to his loyalty to Connacht, his dedication to the game, and his ability as a footballer. The fact that he’s reached the milestone for his home province, having come through the ranks at Connemara RFC and Garbally College, only adds to the achievement.
 
Tomorrow’s game is a really important one in the context of the URC standings. We don’t have many home games left so it’s crucial we pick up as many points as possible in these fixtures. The results of the last two weeks were disappointing so it’s up to all of us to ensure we do enough for 80 minutes to get the win.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS GLASGOW WARRIORS
Saturday 29th January, 14:55 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (199)
14. Alex Wootton (27)
13. Tom Farrell (69)
12. Sammy Arnold (28)
11. Diarmuid Kilgallen (6)
10. Cathal Forde *
9. Kieran Marmion (197)
1. Jordan Duggan (21)
2. Dave Heffernan (155)
3. Greg McGrath (2)
4. Ultan Dillane (124)
5. Leva Fifita (5)
6. Eoghan Masterson (116)
7. Jarrad Butler (85) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (65)
 
Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (112)
17. Denis Buckley (200)
18. Tietie Tuimauga (3)
19. Oisín Dowling (16)
20. Seán Masterson (15)
21. Colm Reilly (7)
22. Shayne Bolton (2)
23. Oran McNulty (5)

By John O’Sullivan

 

New forward’s coach Dewald Senekal said the highly committed and professional environment at Connacht Rugby was one of the main factors behind his decision to join the club this summer. 

 

The South African native, a former Bayonne, Toulon, Golden Lions and Agen representative in his playing days, acquired a wealth of coaching experience in the French Top — plying his coaching trade at Bayonne, Grenoble, and Stade Francais — before accepting the offer to take the forward coaching reins at the Sportsground. 

 

The Westerners’ ambition to win and to develop was attractive to Senekal, who says that the players’ mindsets and hunger around improving their games has been a notable and positive aspect of his first few months in situ in his new post. 

 

“Through COVID, there was a lot of talk between coaches and a lot of time spent exchanging ideas. Having those discussions with some really good coaches, including some in Ireland, and having visited Munster a few years back on an upskilling mission, I just thought it was a great time for me to come and experience an Irish environment and an Irish professional environment,” he said. 

 

“It was a very big part of my decision, the profile of the team, and what makes me tick as a coach, which is coaching players, helping them, and seeing them progress. That was a big deciding factor for me. 

 

“My experience in this first eleven or twelve weeks of working with the team has been absolutely amazing. This team is immensely talented. Even our selection meetings at the moment are big headaches because we feel there are some really good players — younger and older — at the club and trying to choose the right players with the right balance is a positive headache. The hunger of the guys and the professionalism of the guys in the squad has been jaw-dropping for me.”

 

The defeat to Cardiff last weekend was disappointing, but Senekal is confident there were ample positives to build upon with his ultimate goal for the season to marry a physically dominant pack with the quick, exciting player of the backs. 

 

“If we just look at the process, and what we were trying to achieve, there was a lot of positives to take from it,” the South African said of the defeat at the Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

“I was really happy with our scrum. It’s been going against much bigger packs so far in our pre-season games and our first games and we’re looking to continuously build with that. Obviously, there was some good stuff from the front-rowers in the absence of Denis(Buckley), who obviously has a lot of experience. 

 

“A big work on for us has been around the maul and there have been some good pictures there that are positive. We feel we have the right path and I am sure we will see the fruits of our labour.

 

“From a team point of view, my goal is to keep growing our players individually and collectively and for us to have a lot of pride in the product that we want to put out there and for people to get excited to see our pack of forwards get rumbling with a really big maul and some big scrums. 

 

“There’s a real, and I feel it from the players, hunger there to produce some really match-winning performances from our forward pack, built on a dangerous, attacking gameplan.”

Denis Buckley will become just the third Connacht player to reach 200 caps tomorrow after he was named in the starting XV to face Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup leaders Benetton in Italy (k/o 5.15pm Irish time).
 
The Roscommon prop made his debut for his home province in September 2011, which coincidentally came in the Stadio di Monigo where he will make appearance #200 tomorrow. He joins John Muldoon and Michael Swift as the only players to earn a double century of caps for Connacht.
 
The other notable inclusion is Bundee Aki’s return to the starting XV. Aki hasn’t featured for Connacht in nearly three months after serving a suspension following Ireland duty, and will now be keen to pick up some game-time before he travels with the British & Irish Lions to South Africa.
 
Aki partners Tom Daly in the centre who starts for the 15th consecutive game, while Alex Wootton, Peter Sullivan and John Porch form the back three. The backs are completed by scrum-half Kieran Marmion and out-half Conor Fitzgerald.
 
Shane Delahunt and Finlay Bealham partner Buckley in the front row, while Niall Murray and Cian Prendergast are retained after excelling away to Munster last time out. Murray partners Ultan Dillane in the second row, while Prendergast is joined in the back row by the returning Paul Boyle and captain Jarrad Butler.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Denis Buckley’s 200th appearance tomorrow is a huge achievement for him personally and those that helped him along the way. Denis is a consummate professional who has shown determination and loyalty in the 10 years since his debut, and to reach a milestone like this for your home province makes it even sweeter for him.
It’s also great to welcome Bundee back to our starting XV. We’re playing a Benetton side who will be hugely motivated to hold on to 1st place in the table, but we’ve still got a lot to play for as well so it should make for a great game”.

 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS BENETTON RUGBY
Saturday 29th May, Stadio di Monigo, kick-off 5.15pm Irish time / 6.15pm local time
 
Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (39)
14. Peter Sullivan (15)
13. Bundee Aki (109)
12. Tom Daly (47)
11. Alex Wootton (20)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (35)
9. Kieran Marmion (185)
1. Denis Buckley (199)
2. Shane Delahunt (98)
3. Finlay Bealham (158)
4. Niall Murray (16)
5. Ultan Dillane (112)
6. Cian Prendergast (8)
7. Jarrad Butler (71) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (56)

Replacements
16. Dave Heffernan (143)
17. Paddy McAllister (17)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (66)
19. Oisin Dowling (5)
20. Abraham Papali’i (13)
21. Caolin Blade (130)
22. Jack Carty (157)
23. Sammy Arnold (14)

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

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend insists that Connacht can finish their season on a positive note, despite last weekend’s narrow defeat to Munster meaning the Westerners cannot win domestic silverware this term. 

 

After the 20-17 reversal at Thomond Park, Connacht now sit 12 points behind their Southern rivals in Conference B in the PRO14, which — with two games remaining — is an unassailable lead. 

 

However, with the Westerners drawn away to Leicester Tigers in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup and the remaining PRO14 fixtures providing the opportunity to nail down second place, Friend believes that the Sportsground team can still have a successful season, starting with Edinburgh at home on Saturday night.

 

“I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for us,” The Australian said of Connacht’s prospects in the Challenge Cup, which will restart on the weekend of April the second, third or fourth.

 

“We started out, at the front end of the year, in The Champions Cup and as the way the year has fallen we’ve moved back into the Challenge Cup. We also now know we won’t be competing for silverware in this initial period of the PRO14.

 

“Silverware and podium finishes is where we want to be, especially looking at this Challenge Cup as a real opportunity for us to go and win something. We have actually broken a few records this year — some good, some not so good — home losses and away wins. If we broke another one and that’s cracking a win in England; fantastic, I would be all for that.”

 

Connacht defeated Edinburgh 37-26 in the reverse fixture in October and Friend insists that the clash with the Scots is a match that the Westerners will look to win. But the game will also see the Sportsground team rotate players who have seen less game time recently given the opportunity to start. 

 

“We’re certainly going to be picking a team that we want to win in this contest, but I think it is a really good opportunity for us to provide a platform to certain individuals. That’s not taking anything away nor disrespecting Edinburgh at all,” the former Australian sevens coach said.

 

“We’ll wait to see what that side is when we put it out there, but I see these last two games as being a really good chance in a year where we haven’t had a lot of rugby for certain people to give people some game time and hopefully we can see a good performance from them as they have been waiting for an opportunity to deliver.”

 

Meanwhile, prop Denis Buckley says that Edinburgh will provide a stern test for the Connacht pack and they will have to be at their physical best to defeat the Scotsmen. 

 

The Roscommon native also highlighted the set-piece as an area where the Scots — who are coached by former England international hooker Richard Cockerill — are particularly strong and the Westerners, he says, will have to come out on top of that battle in order to win.

 

“I know it’s a bit of a cliche to say around rugby games, but they are a pretty, direct physical team, so to match that will be vital. It starts with the forwards.

 

“They have a good set-piece and they play a forward-oriented game. We have to meet fire with fire there and try to get on top in that part of the game will give us a pretty good foundation to get a victory”.

 

Reacting to Connacht’s Challenge Cup draw away to Leicester Tigers, Buckley acknowledged the size of the challenge in facing the Tigers, one of European Rugby’s most storied clubs. 

 

However, the loose-head believes that the Westerners can win the competition, especially with their strong away form this season. Should the Sportsground men progress they will face either Newcastle Falcons or Ospreys at home in the quarter-final.

 

“They’re obviously a really good side. It would have been nice to have a home draw, but this is the card we have been dealt. Look, we have two big games in the league first and we want to tie down that second place. 

 

“But then, it’s a really exciting game to start building towards. Our away form has been really good this year and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be looking to win that competition. It’ll start with a good performance against them, hopefully.”

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.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says Connacht will need to attack efficiently against the Scarlets if they are to win in Saturday’s 19:35 Guinness PRO14 kick-off at The Sportsground. 

 

The Westerners’ started off last season with a narrow, 18-10 defeat to the Welshmen at Parc y Scarlets, despite creating ample chances to score more often and win the game.

 

Friend believes that his team — whose last two games, at home to Benetton and away to the Dragons were postponed due to COVID cases in the opposition camps — will need to learn from last season’s defeat to the Welsh side and make the most of any scoring opportunities that may arise and adapt to any weather circumstances. 

 

“We hit a wet night at the Scarlets. We didn’t play in the right areas of the field”, the Australian said of the team’s last meeting in September 2019.

 

“We burned a lot of fuel in the wrong areas. The big learning out of that is that you got to be ready for everything that’s thrown at you.”

 

Scarlets, the 2016/2017 PRO14 champions, have had a mixed start to their season, losing three and winning two of the opening five games. Friend has warned, however, that the Glenn Delaney coached outfit — who have been unfortunate in some of their games to date — pose a threat to Connacht. 

 

“I have watched their last two games very closely,” Friend said. 

 

“I thought there were parts of that opening 20 minutes against Zebre (Scarlets won 18-17), where they looked good and I thought ‘here we go’, this is the Zebre of old’. Then things just didn’t seem to go their way. I know the commentators said it a couple of times during the game that they’re just not getting the bounce of the ball. That can happen, so as we prepare for them this week we know what a Scarlets team can do and we are prepping for that team to be turning up here and not the team we have seen in the last couple of weeks.”

 

Friend also praised his compatriot, Jack Birtwhistle, Connacht’s performance skills coach for helping the players retain their focus during a trying season and period of time. With the ongoing pandemic and two postponed games in consecutive weeks, there has been a lot of uncertainty. But the Westerners squad, aided by Birtwhislte’s advice, have kept mentally sharp and prepared for all eventualities.

 

“Jack’s been here since the start of the season and there has been a great uptake — as Paddy (McAllister) would have shared with you — and I think we’re starting to see some of the benefit of it.

 

“We work on the body, the craft, and the mind. The body is pretty much our athletic performance, our nutrition, our physios, our massage. Our craft is what we do out there on the field, and the mind is predominantly an area that has been based on wellbeing, which is really important to us.  But if we could also bring some mental skills and performance skills then that would add value and that’s certainly what it has done.”

 

Meanwhile, prop Paddy McAllister — who recently became a father for the third time, after the birth of his daughter, Elianna — says that the competition for places in the Connacht front row is driving standards and helping the props develop and improve even further. 

 

McAllister, formerly of Ulster and Gloucester, competes for a loosehead berth with Denis Buckley and Jordan Duggan, while Finlay Bealham — who is on the Irish bench for their upcoming Nations League game against Wales — Jack Aungier and Dominic Robertson McCoy means the competition for a starting place on the other side of the scrum remain strong.

 

“Yeah, definitely,” the 31-year-old said when asked whether the front-row competition keeps each player on their toes and focused on improving.

 

“Competition in position, if you’re up to the challenge and you want to play Rugby, is what makes you better. I have come here knowing what Denis(Buckley) brings to the table. He is a quality player and he has been a quality stalwart for Connacht Rugby for so many years. 

 

“And you have got the likes of Jordan Duggan coming up, who is a young player and a big powerful guy. It’s good to see him developing well and he will get his opportunities and when he does, I’m sure he will take them. 

 

“Going over to the tight-head side as well, you’ve got Finlay(Bealham) on the international stage, which we’re all really delighted with. He has put a lot of hard work in and hopefully he gets a few runs out. We have got some good players coming through on the tight-head side. 

 

“We are all pushing each other. We all want to play Rugby, so it’s really healthy. Our job is to make the coaches’ job really tough and the harder we make their job, the more of a good job we’re doing. It’s good, it’s competitive. It’s friendly but it’s competitive and we are all putting our hands up and it’s only a good thing for Connacht.”

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made four changes to his starting team to face Edinburgh in the Guinness PRO14 at Murrayfield on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
With Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane unavailable due to international duty and Gavin Thornbury picking up an injury last weekend, all four changes come in the forward pack that dominated Cardiff last time out.
 
In the front row, prop Denis Buckley and hooker Shane Delahunt are the two new faces with tighthead Finlay Bealham retained from the Cardiff game, while in the second row, Joe Maksymiw and Niall Murray both come into the starting team.
 
The back row does remain unchanged with Paul Boyle and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively and captain Jarrad Butler at number 8.
 
There are no changes in the backs which means that Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion continue their half-back partnership, while in midfield Kyle Godwin and Peter Robb will hope to make a big impact against the conference rivals.
 
The side is completed by a back three that includes Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We put in a good performance against Cardiff, but we know there are still areas for improvement and Edinburgh in Murrayfield are a different prospect this week. They have set the pace in our conference and are sitting top of the table. We know that results against them at home and away between now and the end of the season will have a huge bearing on our qualification prospects”.
 
“We have made four changes to our starting team from last weekend but there is still a familiar look to it. We have selected a team that we feel will challenge Edinburgh and we are looking forward to the challenge on Friday evening”, Friend added.
 
Connacht Matchday Squad V Edinburgh (Fri 21 Feb, 7:35pm)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, John Porch, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Paddy McAllister, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

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