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)

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht defence coach Pete Wilkins says that the Westerners will need to show a high level of game management to win their Saturday 5:15 PM kick off away to the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14.

 

In Connacht’s last game, they left the Scottish capital with a bonus point 37-26 victory over Edinburgh. The win was underpinned by the Sportsground teams excellent exit strategy and efficiency in attack, with scrum-half Caolin Blade and out halves Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly expertly pulling the strings. 

 

Against a mobile and skilful Dragons pack, marshalled by their quality half-back pairing of Rhodri Williams and Sam Davies, Wilkins believes that Connacht will need to show the same qualities that saw them take all five points at Murrayfield on their trip to Rodney Parade.

 

“I thought in that Edinburgh game, it was one of the best examples of game management that this team has produced, certainly in my time here,” the former Queensland Reds coach said. 

 

“The way our 9’s(Caolin Blade) and 10’s(Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly) controlled the game, with their kicking from our half of the field and their kick selection — of when to go long, when to go for touch, when to go for contestable kicks in the attacking half of the pitch — I thought they managed it really effectively. 

 

“I think their 9 and 10 are really important for them,” Wilkins said of the Dragons’ game plan. 

 

“Rhodri Williams at 9 and Sam Davies at 10, I think both of them have effective kicking games, whether that’s contestable kicks or clearing kicks. It’s not often you see 9’s consistently hitting the half-way line when they’re kicking for touch from rucks or from mauls and Rhodri Williams brings that ability for them to clear their lines really effectively. 

 

“How we can pressure those kicking games will be important. Under their new coaching staff, they’ve got, there’s an organisation about them, an intent to play and if you give them front foot ball they will offload. 

 

“You’ll get show and goes from Sam Davies, you’ll get quick throws and you’ll get offloads from the forwards and little tip ons. Things that will really test our ability to be cohesive in our defence, in terms of being really well spaced and watching the ball really well to make sure that we’re applying pressure. 

 

“The kicking game, the tempo and the improvement in their organisation are the things we will be wary of going into this game,” The Englishman said. 

 

Abraham Papalii’i made his first start of the season in Edinburgh. The New Zealander number 8 made a big impact, carrying for 24 metres from five carries and beating two defenders. Wilkins is excited by the former Rugby League player’s potential and has backed him to continue improving. 

 

“He’s been a great addition to the squad,” the defence coach said. 

 

“The power and physicality — especially around the ball carries — is clear for all to see, even in those few minutes he had in the unfortunate Munster game. With that comes an ability to offload and to get others involved in the game. Certainly that’s something I think we’ll see more and more of as he gets more game time. 

 

“Defensively, very similar to his carrying, he loves to hit hard. He loves to be in the game, to be around the ball and to be contributing. That physicality and that power of the tackle technique is something that, if we can continue to work on the accuracy and consistency of that,  allied with his natural power we can get someone who is a really effective defender. The more he plays the better, from all aspects.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that seven of his Connacht teammates being called into the Irish squad for the Six Nations gives him an extra motivation to eventually follow them to international selection. 

 

Bundee Aki, Dave Heffernan, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Ultane Dillane and Finlay Bealham were all part of Andy Farrell’s squad for the recently finished Six Nations.

 

The 23-year-old has been an integral part of the Westerners squad since his debut in January 2018 and the Gorey native is confident that — provided he continues to play to a high standard — he can win a place in future Ireland squads. 

 

“If you play well enough, you’re going to be picked,” Boyle said of the path to winning Irish caps. 

 

“I know that if I play well enough here and put in outstanding performances week in and week out that I’m going to get picked. As you can see with the seven guys that we got selected for Ireland, if you’re playing well enough you’re going to get picked.

 

“I just use that as motivation to try and get better every day. It sounds simple, but I try to improve every day and improve every game and hopefully try to force my way into selection.”

There’s a strong Connacht contingent in the Ireland squad for the return of the Guinness Six Nations later this month.
 
Six players from the province are named in Andy Farrell’s 35 player squad, with Bundee Aki and Dave Heffernan retaining their place after they were named in the initial Six Nations squad before the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
There’s also a return to the Ireland setup for Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Quinn Roux with the quartet showing some impressive form since the return of rugby.
 
The squad which will be captained by Johnny Sexton contains six uncapped players – Ryan Baird, Ed Byrne, Will Connors, Shane Daly, Hugo Keenan and Jamison Gibson Park. While Baird and Connors have been involved in national camps before it will be a first time with the national squad for the other uncapped players.
 
In addition Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, James Lowe, James Tracy and Fineen Wycherley will train with the squad next week at IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin. Ireland take on Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 24th October before facing France in Paris the following Saturday (31st).
 
Ireland currently sit fourth on the Six Nations table one point behind Scotland and 4 points behind England and France who have all played an extra game. Back in February Ireland recorded wins over Scotland (19-12) and Wales (24-12) before losing to England (12-24) at Twickenham.
 
Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell commented, “There has been a huge effort right across Irish Rugby to ensure that the professional game could return safely and that work is greatly appreciated by the national management. We have protocols in place to safeguard the welfare of the players and staff and are looking forward to completing the Six Nations Championships.
 
We have two competitions to play in over the coming months but will focus first on a strong finish to the 6 Nations Championships. The return to rugby has not been without its challenges as some players have suffered injury setbacks and there has been limited playing opportunities ahead of a busy and exciting international window. We will be closely monitoring the form and fitness of players competing in the Guinness PRO14 over the coming weeks.

 
Ireland Squad 2020 Guinness 6 Nations Championships Round 4 & 5
 
Backs (16)
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 26 caps
Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 6 caps
Jack Carty (Connacht/Buccaneers) 10 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 21 caps
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Con) uncapped
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 9 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) uncapped
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 43 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 24 caps
Kieran Marmion (Connacht/Corinthians) 27 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 3 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 81 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 29 caps
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 91 caps CAPTAIN
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 28 caps
 
Forwards (19)
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) uncapped
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Corinthians) 9 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 13 caps
Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 17 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD) 2 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 98 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 1 cap
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 55 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 11 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 3 caps
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 67 caps
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
Quinn Roux (Connacht/Galwegians) 12 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 21 caps
CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 41 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
 
Training with Squad w/c 12th October
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) uncapped
James Lowe (Leinster) uncapped
James Tracy (Leinster/UCD) 6 caps
Fineen Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped

Irish internationals Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan have both been included in the Connacht squad to face the Southern Kings in Round 13 of the Guinness PRO14 this Sunday in Port Elizabeth (k/o 1pm Irish time, 3pm local time).
 
The pair were both released from the Ireland camp following the postponement of the Six Nations tie with Italy, and duly met up with the squad for the one-match trip to South Africa.
 
Dillane starts in the second row alongside Joe Maksymiw with Heffernan named among the replacements.
 
In all there are six changes from the side that lost to Edinburgh last weekend.
 
Paddy McAllister is drafted back into the front row alongside Shane Delahunt, while there’s also a start for prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy following an ankle injury to Finlay Bealham.
 
The back row is unchanged for the third straight game with Jarrad Butler captaining the side at number 8, with flankers Paul Boyle and Colby Fainga’a alongside him.
 
Caolin Blade comes back into the starting side to partner Jack Carty in the half-back positions, while there’s also a change at centre where Tom Daly is named alongside Kyle Godwin.
 
The final swap comes on the wing where Connacht’s record try-scorer Matt Healy makes up a back three with John Porch and Tiernan O’Halloran.
 
Commenting ahead of the fixture, Head Coach Andy Friend says everyone is keen to put the disappointment of last weekend behind them:
 
“We didn’t get the result we wanted in Edinburgh, so this week has been all about ensuring we get another win on the board. The Kings are a dangerous side especially at home so we will have to be at our very best.”
 
Regarding his team selection, Friend added:
 
“We’ve been able to call on two international footballers in Dave and Ultan which is a nice boost for us. This mini-block of three games is key for us so I believe we have named a squad that can get the job done on Sunday and finish on a high before the short break.”
 
CONNACHT SQUAD V SOUTHERN KINGS (SUNDAY 1 MARCH 2020 @ NELSON MANDELA BAY STADIUM, PORT ELIZABETH)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade.
(1-8): Paddy McAllister, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c).

Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Conor Kenny, Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon, Kieran Marmion, Conor Fitzgerald, Peter Robb.

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)

 

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