Gavin Thornbury will captain Connacht for the first time in tomorrow’s BKT URC opener against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The lock will make his 64th appearance for the province in a squad that includes three debutants and a possible two more off the bench.
 
Peter Dooley, Josh Murphy and Byron Ralston have all been handed their first Connacht cap, with Shamus Hurley-Langton and David Hawkshaw also potential debutants off the bench.
 
Dooley is named in a front row with Jack Aungier and hooker Dave Heffernan, while Leva Fifita partners Thornbury in the second row. The pack is completed by flanker Conor Oliver and number 8 Paul Boyle.
 
Kieran Marmion and Conor Fitzgerald are paired together at 9 and 10, while the two Toms – Daly and Farrell – start at centre. Ralston’s first game will be on the right wing, with John Porch on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had a very positive pre-season and there’s now a huge sense of excitement among the group. There’s a genuine belief and optimism about what we can achieve in this first block of games, which all starts in Belfast tomorrow night.
 
Ulster are a quality side and our battles against them are always hard fought. We’re really looking forward going head-to-head with them in what should be a great season opener for us both.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY SQUAD VS ULSTER RUGBY
Saturday 17th September 2022, 19:35 @ Kingspan Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (206)
14. Byron Ralston *
13. Tom Farrell (79)
12. Tom Daly (61)
11. John Porch (59)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (53)
9. Kieran Marmion (209)
1. Peter Dooley *
2. Dave Heffernan (165)
3. Jack Aungier (31)
4. Gavin Thornbury (63) (C)
5. Leva Fifita (15)
6. Josh Murphy *
7. Conor Oliver (41)
8. Paul Boyle (73)

16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (6)
17. Denis Buckley (208)
18. Sam Illo (2)
19. Niall Murray (35)
20. Shamus Hurley-Langton *
21. Caolin Blade (150)
22. David Hawkshaw *
23. Oran McNulty (9)

Five Connacht players will represent the province for the first time in tomorrow’s pre-season friendly away to Castres (k/o 7pm Irish time).
 
Grant Stewart, Shamus Hurley-Langton, David Hawkshaw, Byron Ralston and Adam Byrne have all been selected in the starting XV for the first outing of the campaign.
 
Ralston partners Tom Daly in the centre who captains the side, while Byrne is selected on the wing with Alex Wootton on the opposite wing and Oran McNulty at full-back. Hawkshaw starts at out-half with scrum-half Caolin Blade alongside him.
 
Ciaran Booth and Hurley-Langton are selected at blindside and openside respectively with Sean Masterson at number 8. Niall Murray and Oisín Dowling are paired together in the second row, and the squad is completed by props Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson-McCoy.
 
11 players are named among the replacements, five of whom are in the Academy. They are Eoin de Buitléar, Josh O’Connor, Charlie Ward, Bart Vermeulen and Donnacha Byrne.
 
CONNACHT SQUAD VS CASTRES OLYMPIQUE
Wednesday 24th August @ Stade de la Chevaliére, Mazamet (k/o 19:00 Irish time)
 
15. Oran McNulty
14. Adam Byrne
13. Byron Ralston
12. Tom Daly (c)
11. Alex Wootton
10. David Hawkshaw
9. Caolin Blade
1. Denis Buckley
2. Grant Stewart
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Niall Murray
5. Oisín Dowling
6. Ciaran Booth
7. Shamus Hurley-Langton
8. Seán Masterson

16. Eoin de Buitléar
17. Matthew Burke
18. Sam Illo
19. Darragh Murray
20. Oisín McCormack
21. Colm Reilly
22. Shane Jennings
23. Josh O’Connor
24. Charlie Ward
25. Bart Vermeulen
26. Donnacha Byrne

Connacht Rugby are very pleased to confirm the signing of David Hawkshaw, further strengthening the squad ahead of next season.
 
The 22-year old has made 8 appearances for Leinster and can cover the 10 or 12 positions, giving Andy Friend and his coaching staff further options in both positions.
 
On the international scene Hawkshaw was captain of the Ireland U20s who won a Grand Slam in the 2019 Six Nations, playing alongside his future teammates Niall Murray, Colm Reilly and Dylan Tierney-Martin.
 
Hawkshaw says he’s looking forward to linking up with his new club:
 
“I understand that I now need to start getting games under my belt to add that extra layer of experience to my game.
 
The chance to play with Connacht Rugby and to hopefully put my hand up for selection on a more consistent basis is all that I want and the rest is up to me. I look forward to doing that next season.”

 
Andy Friend has added:
 
“David has the potential to be another exciting player for us. He’s still young so will have the platform at Connacht to show what he can do, whether that be as an out-half or inside centre. His leadership attributes as shown during his time as captain of the Ireland U20s are also clear to see.”

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