Connacht 29

 Cardiff 0

Connacht delivered their best performance of the season so far – securing a bonus point win over conference rivals Cardiff and also managing to hold the Welsh side scorless over the eighty minutes. The result of the corresponding fixture last season secured a place in the knock out stages of the Pro14 and while there is a long way to go in this campaign, this result witnessed by 4,812 spectators in the Sportsground, could prove crucial come May.

Connacht exploded into this game and their physicality early on was a sign that Cardiff were going to have to fight on their hands if they were to get anything from the game. Jack Carty wrong footed the Cardiff defence on the ten metre line after two minutes and when he released Tiernan O’Halloran, a try looked on. Cardiff scrambled though and Connacht came away with just three points from a Carty penalty with 5 minutes on the clock.

The home side were dominating the territory in the opening quarter but a number of errors meant that it was the 27th minutes before they got on the scoresheet again. It was Dave Heffernan who collected an overthrow in the Cardiff lineout and he beat three defenders to get the opening try of the game which Jack Carty duly converted. That left Connacht 10 – 0 up at the half hour mark.

Three minutes later and more was to come for the Connacht as a clever grubber kick from Carty bounced nicely for Peter Robb and he drove over in the corner. That was to prove the final score of the opening half as Connacht held onto their 15 – 0 lead.

The initial exchanges of the second half saw Cardiff coming more and more into this game aided it must be said by a succession of penalties in their favour. A brilliant break by Denis Buckley on the 50 minute mark though dented punished Cardiff. His offload to John Porch gave the flying winger a free run in under the posts and Carty’s resulting conversion effectively ended the game as a contest due to a 22 points to nil cushion.

Any suggestion of a Cardiff comeback were completely dashed nine minutes later when Kyle Godwin intercepted a ball on his own ten metre line and raced the length of the pitch to register the bonus point that could prove crucial in deciding this conference come the end of the season.

So it finished with no score in the final quarter as the visitors failed to fire a shot. For Connacht there are away trips against Edinburgh and the Southern Kings with the Scarlets the next visitors to the Sportsground on the 20th of March – Get tickets here.

Connacht Scorers:

Tries – Dave Heffernan, Peter Robb, John Porch and Kyle Godwin

Penalties – Carty 1/1

Conversions – Carty 3/4

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb (60’ Tom Daly), Matt Healy, Jack (67’ Conor Fitzgerald) , Kieran Marmion (56’ Caolin Blade) (1-8): Paddy McAllister (49’ Denis Buckley), Dave Heffernan (62’ Shane Delahunt), Finlay Bealham (57’ Dominic Robertson-McCoy), Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury (35’ Joe Maksymiw), Paul Boyle (67’ Eoin McKeon), Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

 

Ireland internationals Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan have returned to the Connacht starting team to face Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground on Saturday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
The return of the duo is a timely boost to Andy Friend’s side as they prepare for a crucial inter-conference clash that could have a huge bearing on qualification for the knockout stages of the Guinness PRO14.
 
Ballina native Heffernan comes into a front row alongside props Paddy McAllister and Finlay Bealham. Dillane’s inclusion sees him line up alongside the impressive Gavin Thornbury in the second row with Quinn Roux still unavailable through injury.
 
In the back row, Captain Jarrad Butler starts at number 8 with Paul Boyle and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue as the half back pairing with Caolin Blade and Conor Fitzgerald available off the bench.
 
With Bundee Aki still unavailable due to international duty, Peter Robb and Kyle Godwin are selected as the midfield partnership. In the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is selected at full back with Matt Healy and John Porch on the wings.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “The break over the past few weeks has come at a good time for the squad. It allowed time for a few injuries to clear up and gave some recovery time to others that had played a lot of minutes over the 13 week block of games. They boys are ready to go now and know the importance of the next three games in the context of our season”.
 
“With Connacht and Cardiff in the same conference this game becomes even more important. A win in this game last season ultimately qualified us for the knockout stages of the Pro14 and for a spot in the Champions Cup. I’m sure they will be keen to turn the tables this season so we face a huge battle on Saturday”.
 

Connacht Matchday Squad V Cardiff Blues (Sat 15 Feb, 7:35pm)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

Dave Heffernan, Ultan Dillane and Bundee Aki have all been included in Andy Farrell’s first Six Nations squad announced today. Ballina native Heffernan has previously been capped for his country, featuring against the USA in the 2017 summer tour. He was recently included in Andy Farrell’s squad gathering over the Christmas period.

The Ireland Head Coach also confirmed that Leinster’s Johnny Sexton will take over the Ireland captaincy.

There are five uncapped players named in the squad with Ulster’s Billy Burns and Tom O’Toole and the Leinster trio Max Deegan, Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher.

The coaching group have also named four development players Ryan Baird, Robert Balacoune, Harry Byrne and Will Connors who will train with the squad at the warm weather camp in Portugal and in the lead up to the opening game against Scotland.

Andy Farrell, Ireland head coach commented, “At the get together in December we challenged the players to put their hands up for the selection and the coaches are really pleased with the performances in recent weeks.  

As we progress through the Championship we will look to select sides that we believe are best suited to the task at the weekend.  We will keep a close eye on the provincial performances in the PRO14 not just for the players in the squad that will transition back for game minutes but also for those players that were part of the wider selection discussions over the past few weeks.  

We have appointed Johnny as captain for the 6 Nations Championships, you can see what it means to him and the enthusiasm he will bring to the role.  He has been developing as a leader for a number of years with Ireland, Leinster and the Lions and he will be a positive voice for the group.

The provinces are doing a great job in developing young talent and we feel there is an opportunity in the national set-up to support that work and get a better insight into some young players that have put in strong performances for their provinces. Ryan, Will, Harry and Robert will be the first ones to join the squad in this development role.”

Ireland open their 2020 Guinness Six nations campaign against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 1st February before welcoming Wales to the Aviva a week later on Saturday 8th February.  Ireland’s final home game of the 2020 Championships is against Italy on Saturday 7th March.  All three home fixtures are sold out.

IRELAND 2020 Guinness Six Nations Squad

Forwards (19)

Max Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster) 0 caps

Caelan Doris (UCD/Leinster) 0 caps

Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) 14 caps

Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 41 caps

Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 95 caps

Dave Heffernan (Buccaneers/Connacht) 1 cap

Iain Henderson (Queens University/Ulster) 53 caps

Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 8 caps

Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster) 0 caps

Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 36 caps

Jack McGrath (St Mary’s College/Ulster) 56 caps

Jack O’Donoghue (UL Bohemians/Munster) 2 caps

Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 64 caps

Tom O’Toole (Banbridge/Ulster) 0 caps

Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 23 caps

James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 23 caps

CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 38 caps

Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 67 caps

Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 23 caps

 

Backs (16)

Will Addison (Enniskillen/Ulster) 4 caps

Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 23 caps

Billy Burns (Ulster) 0 caps

Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster) 3 caps

Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 18 caps

John Cooney (Terenure College/Ulster) 8 caps

Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 82 caps

Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 9 caps

Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 40 caps

Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 19 caps

Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 21 caps

Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 19 caps

Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 78 caps

Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 28 caps

Jonathan Sexton (St Marys College/Leinster) 88 caps CAPTAIN

Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster) 25 caps

 

Development Players

Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)

Robert Balacoune (Enniskillen/Ulster)

Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster)

Will Connors (UCD/Leinster)

 

The Ireland coaching group will host a 24hr mid-season stocktake at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Dublin across the 22nd and 23rd December ahead of a busy period of interprovincial and European fixtures.

The group includes five Connacht players; Bundee Aki, Quinn Roux, Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan and Caolin Blade.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commented, “The national coaches have been around the provinces watching games and having good conversations with players and the provincial coaches. 

We have limited opportunities across the busy provincial season to bring a broad group like this together but this 24hr window will allow us to plant a few seeds.   It will also give the coaches a better insight into a few players who been performing consistently well for their provinces.    

The next six weeks is the window for players to put their hands up for selection for our first squad which will be named in late January ahead of the 6 Nations.”

1 Day Mid-Season Stocktake Attendees

Connacht:

Bundee Aki, Caolin Blade, Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan, Quinn Roux

Leinster:

Ross Byrne, Will Connors, Max Deegan, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Jamison Gibson Park, Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Ronan Kelleher, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, Jonathan Sexton, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier

Munster:

Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Mike Haley, Dave Kilcoyne, Jean Kleyn, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, Niall Scannell, Rory Scannell, CJ Stander

Ulster:

Will Addison, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Stuart McCloskey, Marty Moore, Tom O’Toole, Jacob Stockdale

 

Players and coaches from Connacht Rugby, in conjunction with Official Fuel Partner Top Oil, attended Rice College, Westport and Calasanctius College Oranmore recently to meet and inspire the next generation of rugby players and students within the school.
 
In Oranmore, Sean O’Brien made a welcome return to his alma mater Calasanticus College. He was joined by fellow senior professional players David Heffernan and Stephen Fitzgerald along with Club & Community Rugby Officer Morgan Codyre.
 
Coach Development Officer JP Walsh was joined by senior professional players David Horwitz and Tom McCartney on the pitch in Westport. Head Physiotherapist of Connacht Rugby Gareth Coughlan was also on hand to answer questions and provide expert insight on what it takes to prepare and maintain high level professional players.
 
The young students learned the importance of preparation and how a mix of hard work and commitment, rest and correct nutrition along with the ambition and belief to succeed can ensure high performance on and off the field.
 
Commenting on the initiative, Regional Manager for Top Oil Clíona Ní Murchú commented:
“As a family owned company with deep roots in our community we work hard to make a difference in the communities we serve. We are delighted that through our sponsorship of Connacht Rugby we can create special moments such as these to inspire the next generation. It was great to see so many boys participating in the training session and asking some really good questions during the Q&A.”
 
Connacht Rugby Sponsorship Manager Gavin Duffy commented:
“We have seen significant growth in participation across our school’s program over the last number of years. Top Oil are not only our Official Fuel Partner but also the sponsor of our Schools Cup competitions and their continued support over this period has been significant and greatly appreciated. Like Connacht Rugby, Top Oil are committed to making a positive impact across our communities and it is great to see this particular initiative of connecting todays professional players with the next generation of stars bringing our vision of Grassroots to Green Shirts alive.”
 

 

 

Dave Heffernan and Niyi Adeolokun are the latest two Connacht players to sign contract extensions with the province.
 
Heffernan has made 110 appearances for Connacht, having come through the club game in his native Ballina and joining the Connacht Academy in 2011. Initially starting his career as a back row, he converted to hooker in 2013. At international level Heffernan was part of the Irish squad for the summer tour of the USA and Japan in 2017 and made his international debut against the USA.
 
Commenting on the contract extension, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Dave is another example of the excellent work that is being done at grassroots level in the province. His emergence through the club game in Ballina, to play for his province and his country is exactly what our vision, Grassroots to Green Shirts represents”, the Head Coach said.
 
Winger Niyi Adeolokun joined Connacht ahead of the 2014-15 season and since has since made 82 appearances for the province, scoring 31 tries. The 28 year old winger was capped for Ireland against Canada in 2016 and was also part of the Barbarians side that defeated England in Twickenham in the summer of 2018.
 
Commenting on Adeolokun’s contract, Friend added: “Our ambition is to continue to play an exciting, attacking brand of rugby. To deliver this we need highly skilful and versatile players like Niyi. He is a player that is still improving and giving us increased options all the time.

MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO THE EPCR
 
Connacht Rugby scored five tries as they gave their Challenge Cup Pool 3 qualification hopes a boost with an away bonus point victory over Perpignan.
 
Julien Farnoux opened the scoring for the home side with an early try, while Paddy Jackson kicked a penalty to put the French side 8-0 up.
 
But that was as good as it got for them, with a brace from Sean O’Brien and a sole score from David Heffernan pushing the Irish province 22-8 up at the interval.
 
Two quick fire tries from Manu Leiataua and Tima Fainga’anuku gave Perpignan hope at the start of the second half, but that was extinguished when Adrea Cocagi was sent off for the home side on 58 minutes.
 
From then, Connacht dominated and added further tries through Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher to put the gloss on a terrific away performance.
 
Perpignan host Bordeaux-Begles in Round 5, while Connacht take on Sale Sharks in what could prove to be a Pool 3 decider at The Sportsground.

Mayo native Dave Heffernan is set to captain Connacht as they host Leinster in the first interpro of the season in the Sportsground on Saturday (Kick off 5:15pm).

Heffernan takes over the captaincy from Jarrad Butler who is ruled out through injury. Heffernan’s inclusion at hooker sees him continue as part of a front trio that includes props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham.

Butler’s replacement at openside Colby Fainga’a makes his first start for Connacht who, along with lock Ultan Dillane, are the only changes to the team that beat Scarlets last weekend. Fainga’a comes into a back row alongside blindside Sean O’Brien and Robin Copeland at number 8.

In the second row Dillane’s inclusion sees him form a familiar partnership with Quinn Roux.

Among the backs, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue the half-back partnership, as do Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell in midfield.

Wingers Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher are also retained, as is Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We were really happy with the win against Scarlets last weekend and that needs to become our baseline and the standard that we have to meet consistently. Leinster are an outstanding side and deserving European and PRO14 champions so it’s a huge challenge. We will need to raise our standards another notch if we are to compete with them. So that’s the challenge and we are really looking forward to it”, Friend said.

“This is obviously a massive occasion for our supporters. They have been fantastic so far this season and the players have really responded to their support. The Sportsground will be packed and even with our additional terracing it will be a sell-out. That is hugely encouraging. The people of the province are behind us and we want to deliver a performance for them on Saturday”, he added.

 

#CONvLEI

Kick-off 5:15pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8)Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan (C), Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun.

 

Ireland internationals Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion have returned to the Connacht starting XV to face Gloucester in the Challenge Cup quarter-final in the Sportsground on Saturday (kick-off 1pm).

It is set to be a fitting homecoming for Aki and Marmion along with fellow internationals Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane as the Six Nations trophies will be displayed to the crowd for the clash with the English Premiership side.

The game will be a significant milestone for Jack Carty and Dave Heffernan as both are poised to make their 100th appearances for their province. Roscommon man Carty starts at out-half alongside Kieran Marmion while Ballina native Heffernan is named as replacement hooker.

Bundee Aki’s return sees him renew his centre partnership with Tom Farrell. They are included in a back line that features an unchanged back three of Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back and Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy on the wings. Healy has been in incredible form in the Challenge Cup this season with eights tries so far in the competition.

Speaking ahead of the game Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane said his side will face a massive challenge against the English side. “We have had a really close look at them and how they have been playing. I think they have a very similar approach to the game as we do so it’s going to be a tough game for both sides and both teams will fancy their chances”, Keane said.

“The home advantage will be big for us. Our supporters have been fantastic this season and have made the Sportsground a really difficult place to travel for away teams. I know they will give us another lift again tomorrow and the boys are determined to give them something to shout about”, Keane added.

#CONvGLO

Kick-off 1pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt).

Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.

Tickets Update

Fans who have yet to purchase tickets for the game are being asked to note that only Bohermore Terrace tickets are now available, and can be purchased here.

Speaking after the emphatic win over Oyonnax in the Sportsground Kieran Keane said the frustration from last weekend’s draw with Worcester had motivated his side to register 8 tries in Saturday afternoon’s 50-14 win.

The bonus-point win over the Top14 outfit guarantees a home Challenge Cup quarter-final against Gloucester in late March.

“The failure to win last weekend hit a nerve with the boys” said Keane after the game in reference to the draw in Worcester. “It certainly hit a nerve with some of us.”

“We were determined to come out and get off to a good start this week and we certainly managed that” added hooker David Heffernan.

The blistering start saw Connacht bag six tries in the first half, including a hat-trick for Niyi Adeolukun and one each for Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki and Matt Healy, on the occasion of his 100th cap for Connacht. They were added to after the interval by substitute Tom Farrell and captain John Muldoon.

The home side were in for their first try within 20 seconds of the kick-off as Adeolokun capitalised on an Oyonnax spill to cross over. He touched down again five minutes later and completed his hat-trick in the 31st minute, by which stage both Aki and O’Halloran had already grabbed tries and Healy, who led his side out for the match as he reached his century, cut in for another to give Connacht a 36-14 half-time advantage.

“The continuity of our game in European competition has allowed us to develop and has given us a bit of confidence and belief. And the ambition we’ve been seeking, it’s been a good platform for us to achieve that,” said Keane.

“It’s allowed us to develop that confidence and rotate players, to give everyone a good feel for what we’re trying to do. And it’s allowed us to put a little bit of polish on that aspect of continuity.”

Connacht now have a three-week break before the visit of the Ospreys in the Pro14 on February 9, and the Head Coach said the break will allow the squad to recover some of their walking wounded before the final stretch of the campaign.

“I think we’ve done well, but we’ve got a few knocks and a few bangs. We’ve lost a couple of props and asked another couple of props to step up. I think the break has come pretty much at the right time for us,” said he.

The Challenge Cup quarter-final will take place on the weekend of March 30-April 1 at the Sportsground. Although there are still some big name teams left in the competition, Keane was confident when asked if he thought Connacht could go all the way in the competition.

“Yeah, sure. I think the boys do too. It’s a challenge for us. It’s nice to be a part of it. We’ve had some disappointing results and we’ve thrown a few fixtures in the Pro14 away, dare I say it. We’re disappointed about that aspect but we have to look at the positives. This offers us an opportunity to perhaps get some silverware” he offered.

Heffernan agreed, stating that Connacht won’t worry unduly about the identity of their last-eight opponents and looking forward to what promises to be a terrific atmosphere in the Sportsground.

“It’ll be unbelievable. The last time we played Glasgow in the knockout stages (the 2016 Pro12 semi-final) was incredible, so if it’s anything close to that it’ll be unbelievable. The fans that day were something else, so we’d hope for the same again,” said the Ballina man.

Heffernan had an excellent hour’s work in Connacht’s front row on Saturday and said that he was delighted to be back in action after some time out of the team.

“It’s been really good to get back for the last few weeks. I was disappointed with a couple of games at the start of the year and I hadn’t been in the team for a while, so to get back in the team has been really good. There’s serious competition there at hooker so any time you get on the pitch you have to take that opportunity,” he said.

 

 

 

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