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)

Senior coach Pete Wilkins says that the Connacht squad have been re-energized after a week off from playing responsibilities. 

 

After a glut of games in quick succession – both in Europe and domestically – the Westerners, who were defeated at home to Glasgow in their last outing, afforded their players five days off to recover, physically and mentally. 

 

And now, ahead of Saturday evening’s trip away to The Scarlets in the United Rugby Championship, Wilkins says he can see the benefit of that hard-earned break in the intensity of training and the energy of the players.

 

“I think there is a natural reset with the by-weekend we had. It was a big stint of games there and those Leicester and Stade Francais games took an enormous physical and psychological toll on the group, understandably,” the Englishman said.

 

“I think the effort that went into against two very physical and very good teams, but also the psychological impact of losing two tight games at the end, but then to back up for the Ulster and Glasgow matches, it was probably a couple of bridges too far for us, in terms of the performance levels we delivered. 

 

“We’ve had our by-weekend, the lads have had five days off to recover and regenerate mentally and physically. We have been back in since last Thursday and we have trained really well, with the sort of energy we saw earlier in the year. I think that reset that has happened is the nature of the schedule but was certainly needed and you can see the bounce around the group on the back of that.”

 

After the Scarlets game, Connacht host the Stormers before completing the block of consecutive games away to Edinburgh on March 4th. 

 

More than a particular set of results from the trio of URC games, Wilkins says that – first and foremost – the objective is to focus on Scarlets and to take it game by game. 

 

“We wouldn’t be setting ourselves a hard target, in terms of points or in terms of wins out of these three,” he said. 

 

“Scarlets hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Connacht previously, but, equally, we have generally played really in parts of those games. Scarlets are the type of team that, if you give them easy access to the game, they will punish you; whether that’s through turnovers or through discipline or providing them with too much field position.

 

“We went down before there with a twenty point plus lead(last season) but then were ineffective at getting out of own our half and then they have the danger and threats to capitalise on that. 

 

“We showed enough glimpses(last season) to show we can do it against the Scarlets, but it’s up to us to deliver that eighty minutes of applied pressure to make sure we can do it. We need to win this week. It’s important to bounce back from the previous run of games we had before the break. It’s important when you’re starting a new mini-block at this part of the season and it’s important in terms of our URC and Champions Cup ambitions.”

 

Meanwhile, hooker Dave Heffernan says that Connacht will be focusing on getting their attacking game back to its best in Saturday’s clash in Wales. 

 

The attack in an area where the Irish international feels the Westerners haven’t fit their usual heights in recent weeks, but – after having some constructive training sessions – is confident they can turn that around and use it as a platform to win as many games as possible. 

 

“I think everyone knows we need a win, but how we get there is how we play and I suppose we have probably let ourselves down in the past few weeks with the way we have played,” he said. 

 

“We haven’t been too hung up on talking about winning, but we want to get back to the way we were playing about a month ago when we were a real attacking threat. In fairness to Pete(Wilkins) he has identified a lot of things that we can improve on and given us actual work ons in our attack specifically. There’s a lot of room for improvement there. 

 

“We have kind of slipped up on that in the past few weeks, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on, rather than talking about getting a win, we all know we need a win, but it’s how we do that. I think getting our attack back to where it was about a month ago should go a long way towards that.”

The Connacht Rugby side to face Gallagher Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday has been named (k/o 1pm).
 
In total there are six changes from the side that met Stade Francais last week, with every returning player an Irish international.
 
Bundee Aki starts his first game for Connacht in over 2 months, returning from injury to partner Sammy Arnold at centre. Tiernan O’Halloran is also included, starting at full-back with Alex Wootton and John Porch named on the wings.
 
After coming off the bench last week, Kieran Marmion comes in at scrum-half alongside captain Jack Carty.
 
Three further internationals – hooker Dave Heffernan, prop Finlay Bealham and lock Ultan Dillane – are also drafted into the pack. Matthew Burke and Niall Murray make up the rest of the tight five, while the back row is unchanged with flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver, and number 8 Jarrad Butler.
 
A powerful looking bench includes the likes of Tietie Tuimauga, who could make his debut if called upon, as well as Leva Fifita and Abraham Papali’i.
 
Commenting on the selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’re under no illusions we face one of the biggest challenges in European rugby on Sunday, but it’s also very exciting and exactly the kind of occasion you want to play in.
 
We’ve brought in a lot of experience which will stand to us for a game like this, and there’s some powerful options on the bench as well. Tietie Tuimauga has settled in very well so Sunday will be a great stage for him to make his debut if called upon.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Sunday 19th December, 13:00 @ Mattioli Woods Welford Road
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (195)
14. John Porch (45)
13. Sammy Arnold (24)
12. Bundee Aki (112)
11. Alex Wootton (25)
10. Jack Carty (167) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (194)
1. Mattthew Burke (31)
2. Dave Heffernan (152)
3. Finlay Bealham (166)
4. Ultan Dillane (121)
5. Niall Murray (23)
6. Cian Prendergast (16)
7. Conor Oliver (28)
8. Jarrad Butler (81)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (108)
17. Tietie Tuimauga *
18. Jack Aungier (21)
19. Leva Fifita (3)
20. Abraham Papali’i (16)
21. Caolin Blade (138)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (42)
23. Diarmuid Kilgallen (4)

After a five-week absence Connacht return to URC action tomorrow night against Ospreys at The Sportsground.
 
The matchday squad has now been named with 4 changes to the starting XV that impressively saw off Ulster at the Aviva Stadium last month.
 
Summer signing Shayne Bolton will make his Connacht debut – the 20-year old is named at outside centre where he forms a partnership with Sammy Arnold. There’s two further changes in the back three with Alex Wootton making his first appearance of the season on the wing, and Oran McNulty handed his first Connacht start at full-back. The in-form Mack Hansen starts on the opposite wing, while Kieran Marmion and captain Jack Carty continue at 9 and 10 respectively.
 
The tight five is changed with a front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, with Ballina native Heffernan making his 150th appearance for this home province. There’s a second row pairing of Niall Murray and Ultan Dillane, and the final change is in the back row where Jarrad Butler starts at blindside flanker, opposite Conor Oliver and Paul Boyle completing the side from number 8.
 
Among those on the bench is Peter Robb who could make his first appearance since February if called upon.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Everyone had a deserved few days off after the Aviva game and we’ve since spent the last few weeks fully focussed on getting a win tomorrow night. Ospreys have made a really good start to their season and they’re always difficult to play against, so everyone knows we have to push on from our interpro performances to get the win we need.
 
Shayne Bolton has settled in really well since arriving from South Africa so he’s deserving of a start, and it’s a special game for Dave Heffernan and Ballina RFC on the day of his 150th appearance.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS OSPREYS
Friday 26th November, The Sportsground @ 19:35
 
Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. Oran McNulty (2)
14. Alex Wootton (22)
13. Shayne Bolton *
12. Sammy Arnold (21)
11. Mack Hansen (5)
10. Jack Carty (164) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (191)
1. Matthew Burke (28)
2. Dave Heffernan (149)
3. Finlay Bealham (164)
4. Niall Murray (21)
5. Ultan Dillane (119)
6. Jarrad Butler (78)
7. Conor Oliver (25)
8. Paul Boyle (62)

16. Shane Delahunt (105)
17. Jordan Duggan (17)
18. Jack Aungier (18)
19. Oisín Dowling (11)
20. Eoghan Masterson (113)
21. Caolin Blade (135)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (39)
23. Peter Robb (47)

Caolin Blade and Paul Boyle could make their senior international debuts on Saturday after they were named in the matchday 23 for Saturday’s Summer Series clash with USA at the Aviva Stadium (k/o 7.15pm).
 
The pair are among four Connacht players on the replacements bench for the game, alongside Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham.
 
James Ryan wears the captain’s armband and will is partnered in the second row by Ryan Baird. In the backrow Caelan Doris switches to the blindside flank to accommodate Gavin Coombes at No.8 with the uncapped Nick Timoney at openside.
 
In the front row Tom O’Toole is set to make his international debut alongside Ronan Kelleher
and Dave Kilcoyne.
 
At half-back Craig Casey will make his first start for Ireland and will partner his provincial colleague Joey Carbery. Stuart McCloskey retains the inside centre berth and is joined by fellow Ulsterman debutant James Hume. Hugo Keenan starts his 13th consecutive game at fullback with Andrew Conway and the uncapped Robert Baloucoune on the wings.
 
Vodafone Summer Series 2021
Ireland team to play USA – 10th July 2021, Aviva Stadium

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 12 caps
14. Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) uncapped
13. James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) uncapped
12. Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 5 caps
11. Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 24 caps
10. Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 23 caps
9. Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 2 caps

1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 44 caps
2. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 12 caps
3. Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) uncapped
4. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 4 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 36 caps captain
6. Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 8 caps
7. Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) uncapped
8. Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 1 cap

Replacements
16. Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 5 caps
17. Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 5 caps
18. Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 15 caps
19. Fineen Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped
20. Paul Boyle (Connacht/Buccaneers) uncapped
21. Caolin Blade (Connacht/Galwegians) uncapped
22. Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
23. Will Addison (Ulster/Enniskillen) 4 caps

Andy Farrell and the coaching team have named a 37 man squad for the Vodafone Summer Series which features two Tests in July against Japan and the USA at the Aviva Stadium.
 
The match against Japan on Saturday 3rd July will kick off at 1.00pm and the fixture against the USA on Saturday 10th July will kick off at 7.15pm. Both fixtures are part of the government’s outdoor pilot sport event programme which will see limited supporters back in the Aviva Stadium.
 
James Ryan will captain the squad during the Vodafone Summer Series and there are 11 uncapped players named – Robert Baloucoune, Tom O’Toole, Nick Timoney (Ulster), Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Paul Boyle, (Connacht), Harry Byrne, Peter Dooley, Ross Molony (Leinster), Gavin Coombes, Fineen Wycherley (Munster).
 
Andy Farrell, Ireland head coach, said, “We now have two games at home to focus on which will be a good challenge for the group. Japan played the Sunwolves at the weekend and will play the Lions the week before we play at the Aviva Stadium and we know the quality of their squad from the World Cup. We will assemble as a squad on the 22nd June and begin our preparations for the two games.
 
I know the players will come in eager to make the most of this opportunity to pull on the green jersey and play in front of supporters for at the Aviva Stadium for the first time in 18 months.
 
Johnny (Sexton), Cian (Healy) and Keith (Earls) will not be involved in this window as we grow the experience of other players. It will be a great opportunity to see can this group perform at this level.”
 
Both games will be broadcast live by RTE (ROI) and Channel 4 (NI).
 
Ireland Vodafone Summer Series Squad 2021
 
Backs (17)
Will Addison (Ulster/Enniskillen) 4 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) uncapped
Caolin Blade (Connacht/Galwegians) uncapped
Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 22 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 1 cap
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 24 caps
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution) 1 cap
Tom Daly (Connacht/Lansdowne) uncapped
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 14 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 9 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 11 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 29 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 4 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 34 caps

Forwards (20)
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 3 caps
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 14 caps
Paul Boyle (Connacht/Lansdowne) uncapped
Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 4 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped
Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 18 caps
Peter Dooley (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD) 7 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 5 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 21 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 11 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 43 caps
Ross Molony (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 75 caps
Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) uncapped
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 35 caps
John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 23 caps
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) uncapped
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 31 caps
Fineen Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped

Selected for British & Irish Lions Tour:
Bundee Aki, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Andrew Porter (inj)

Ireland Summer Test Fixtures:

IRELAND v Japan
Saturday 3rd July, 2021
Aviva Stadium
KO: 13.00hrs
Broadcaster: RTE & Channel 4

IRELAND v USA
Saturday 10th July, 2021
Aviva Stadium
KO: 19.15hrs
Broadcaster: RTE & Channel 4

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

The Connacht management team have again drafted the three representatives in the Ireland Six Nations squad straight into the starting team for tomorrow’s crucial Guinness PRO14 interpro away to Munster (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Bundee Aki is retained at centre following his release from Ireland duty last weekend, while Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane both start at hooker and second row respectively.
 
In all there are 7 changes from the side that secured a last-minute win at Benetton. Denis Buckley comes into an experienced front row with Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Gavin Thornbury in in the the second row alongside Dillane.
 
Conor Oliver starts at openside flanker to face his former club, joining captain Jarrad Butler and Paul Boyle to complete the pack.
 
There’s a new look half-back pairing of Caolin Blade and Jack Carty, while there are also new faces on the wings with Matt Healy and John Porch coming into the starting line-up. 12, 13 and 15 are unchanged from the Benetton win with Aki, Tom Daly and Tiernan O’Halloran all retained.
 
In all 9 of the starting 15 are Connacht centurions as the side look to extend an all-time club record of 5 straight wins away from home.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says the importance of the fixture is not lost on the squad.
 
“We know exactly what we need to do tomorrow night in Limerick. There has been barely any talk of securing Champions Cup qualification because our first objective has always been 1st place in the Conference B, so all our focus since last weekend has been on getting a win that gives us that fighting chance of a final spot.”
 
Regarding his team selection, Friend added:
 
“Thankfully we haven’t picked up any major injury worries in our last two games so we’ve a pretty healthy squad apart from our long-term absentees. We’ve named a very experienced starting XV but we’ve made sure to also reward those who showed good form in our last few games. Overall we’re in a positive place and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
 
Ahead of the game all Connacht players and management returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Friday 5th March, Thomond Park, kick-off 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (189)
14. John Porch (33)
13. Tom Daly (40)
12. Bundee Aki (108)
11. Matt Healy (145)
10. Jack Carty (151)
9. Caolin Blade (124)
1. Denis Buckley (194)
2. Dave Heffernan (138)
3. Finlay Bealham (152)
4. Ultan Dillane (108)
5. Gavin Thornbury (52)
6. Jarrad Butler (68) (C)
7. Conor Oliver (14)
8. Paul Boyle (52)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (92)
17. Matthew Burke (19)
18. Jack Aungier (11)
19. Niall Murray (11)
20. Eoghan Masterson (104)
21. Kieran Marmion (178)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (4)
23. Alex Wootton (15)

Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan will all start for Connacht in tomorrow’s crucial inter-conference clash with Cardiff Blues at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
 
With 6 points separating the two sides between 2nd and 3rd in Conference B, the Connacht management team have drafted the trio straight into the starting team for tomorrow’s clash.
 
Jarrad Butler returns to captain the side from openside flanker, with Eoghan Masterson and Paul Boyle forming the rest of the back row. Dillane is partnered by Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while Heffernan is joined by props Jordan Duggan and Finlay Bealham to complete the pack.
 
Duggan will make his first start for the province with his 7 previous appearances coming off the bench.
 
Caolin Blade and Jack Carty start at 9 and 10 respectively, while Bundee Aki forms an exciting centre partnership with Tom Daly. John Porch continues his run of starting every game this season, forming a back three with wingers Matt Healy and Alex Wootton.
 
Tiernan O’Halloran, who picked up some game-time for the Eagles last week, is named among the replacements having last played against Ulster during the Christmas interpros.
 
This week all Connacht players and management returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“It’s great to welcome Dave, Ultan and Bundee back into the fold, and they’re re-joining an already healthy group of players. We had tough news for Quinn Roux and Peter Robb this week but overall we’re in a good spot and that’s allowed us to pick a squad based on form.”
 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“Tomorrow marks the start of a block of games that will ultimately define our season. We have a great opportunity to keep the pressure on Munster at the top while opening some daylight between ourselves and the chasing pack. We know our home form isn’t where it should be so this is our opportunity to put that right”.
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS CARDIFF BLUES
Saturday 20th February, The Sportsground, k/o 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (31)
14. Alex Wootton (13)
13. Tom Daly (38)
12. Bundee Aki (106)
11. Matt Healy (144)
10. Jack Carty (150)
9. Caolin Blade (122)
1. Jordan Duggan (7)
2. Dave Heffernan (137)
3. Finlay Bealham (150)
4. Ultan Dillane (107)
5. Gavin Thornbury (50)
6. Eoghan Masterson (102)
7. Jarrad Butler (66) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (50)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (90)
17. Denis Buckley (192)
18. Jack Aungier (10)
19. Oisin Dowling (1)
20. Abraham Papali’i (6)
21. Kieran Marmion (176)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (3)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (187)

Connacht have welcomed back a number of Irish internationals for Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup opener away to Racing 92 (k/o 3.15pm Irish time).
 
Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham and Kieran Marmion have all been named in the starting line-up, as well as Ultan Dillane who was released from the Ireland squad last week.
 
Heffernan and Bealham are joined by Denis Buckley in the front row, while Dillane is partnered by Eoghan Masterson to complete the tight five. Jarrad Butler captains the side from openside flanker in a back row that also includes Sean Masterson and Paul Boyle.
 
Jack Carty starts at out-half, while Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold continue to pair-up at centre.
 
In the back three Matt Healy comes on to the wing while Alex Wootton and John Porch are both retained after impressive starts to the season for the duo.
 
There’s also a return to the matchday squad for Tiernan O’Halloran, with the Clifden native recovering from injury to be named among the replacements.
 
Connacht can also confirm that due to a first positive case of Covid-19 within the Pro squad, one player and three others deemed as close contacts have been ruled out of the game. Those close contacts and all other players and management underwent a second round of PCR testing yesterday and produced no further positive results.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Andy Friend says:
 
“Welcoming back a number of our international players is a big boost for us. Sunday is the start of seven very significant games so it’s great to have them re-joining a squad which is already pretty healthy. I know they’ll all to be eager to hit the ground running.
Unfortunately we have been slightly disrupted by a positive case within our bubble, but we appreciate this is the world we are living in right now. I’ve said from the start that the team that adapts the most will be the team to succeed, and we have adapted accordingly.”

 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
 
“There’s arguably no bigger challenge in European rugby than what we’ve got this weekend, but it’s one we’re absolutely relishing. They’re full of talent across the field in an impressive stadium, but in the end of the day we must back ourselves from the get-go and fully believe we can get a result. If we do that and bring the level of energy and physicality that I know we’re capable of, then the result will take care of itself.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY SQUAD VS RACING 92
Sunday 13th December, Paris La Defense Arena, Kick-Off 3.15pm Irish / 4.15pm local time
 
Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (24)
14. Alex Wootton (7)
13. Sammy Arnold (7)
12. Tom Daly (31)
11. Matt Healy (139)
10. Jack Carty (144)
9. Kieran Marmion (170)
1. Denis Buckley (185)
2. Dave Heffernan (132)
3. Finlay Bealham (144)
4. Eoghan Masterson (97)
5. Ultan Dillane (101)
6. Sean Masterson (5)
7. Jarrad Butler (C) (62)
8. Paul Boyle (45)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (83)
17. Jordan Duggan (3)
18. Jack Aungier (7)
19. Cian Prendergast (2)
20. Conor Oliver (7)
21. Caolin Blade (115)
22. Bundee Aki (103)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (184)

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