Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made three changes to the Connacht starting team for the visit of Benetton to the Sportsground on Saturday (Kick Off 7:35pm).
 
Darragh Leader, Peter Robb and Paul Boyle all come into the side as Connacht hope to bounce back from a defeat away to Scarlets on the opening day of the season.
 
Leader’s inclusion on the wing sees him come into a back three with Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back, while Robb will form a midfield partnership with Kyle Godwin.
 
Conor Fitzgerald and Caolin Blade will continue their half-back partnership with Kieran Marmion named among the replacements.
 
Paul Boyle at number 8 is the only change among the forwards with Captain Jarrad Butler named at openside and Eoghan Masterson at blindside. Masterson’s brother Sean is named among the replacements, with the 21 year old Academy player set for his senior debut having impressed for the Connacht Eagles in their five wins so far in the Celtic Cup.
 
The front five remains unchanged with Paddy McAllister retained after his debut against Scarlets in a front row that includes hooker Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham at tighthead. The side is completed with locks Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux.
 
Speaking ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “While we were disappointed with the result last weekend, there is huge anticipation among the squad for our first home game of the season. We have set some really ambitious targets for the season ahead, particularly around our home form. A packed Sportsground is a very difficult place for away teams to come and I expect a great atmosphere when we face Benetton on Saturday evening”.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Friend added: “We have made three changes to our starting team from last weekend. Some of those were down to one or two injuries we picked up and some are down to the depth we have in the squad. We are prepared for a long season where we will need a large squad of players to compete in the Pro14 and European competitions. This week we have named Sean Masterson among the replacements. He is an excellent young back row who has impressed already for the Connacht Eagles side. I’m confident that he is ready for that step up to Pro14 rugby this weekend”.
 
 
Connacht Matchday Squad:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Sean Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell, Stephen Fitzgerald.

Russia 14-42 Connacht
 
Two almost identical tries from winger Stephen Fitzgerald set up a comfortable win over a Russian side playing their final World Cup warm up game before departing for Japan next week.
 
Russia were competitive for large parts of the game and found themselves within one converted try of Connacht with 68 minutes on the clock.
 
When Stephen Fitzgerald latched onto a Niyi Adeolokun kick ahead to touch down it looked like Connacht would pull away and when he repeated the trick four minutes later, the result was never in doubt.
 
Connacht had the perfect start to the game when Tom Farrell’s grubber kick was picked up by his midfield partner Tom Daly who ran in under the posts. Darragh Leader added the conversion and went on to convert all of Connacht’s six tries with a one hundred per-cent kicking success off the tee.
 
By half time Connacht had added a second try when Leader scored and converted Connacht’s second try. Russia did respond on the scoreboard when their fullback and captain Vasily Artemyev broke from the Connacht 22. With just seven points between the teams at half time, it seemed that Russia may be capable of causing an upset.
 
Connacht started the second half the way the started the first when Jonny Murphy was on the end of a strong maul. Russia responded again with a try in the 55th minute but it was all one way traffic from there to the finish.
 
Fitzgerald’s brace then ended the game as a contest as Paul Boyle scored Connacht’s sixth and final try with two minutes remaining.
 
Connacht Team (Replacements in brackets)
(15-9) Darragh Leader, John Porch (Niyi Adeolokun), Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, David Horwitz (Conor Fitzgerald), Angus Lloyd (Stephen Kerins), (1-8) Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke), Jonny Murphy (Tom McCartney), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (Conor Kenny), Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (Ultan Dillane), Eoin McKeon (Eoghan Masterson), Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland (Jarrad Butler).
 

MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO THE EPCR
 
Connacht’s European Challenge Cup campaign came to an end last night after the squad fell to a 20-10 quarter-final defeat to Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
 
First half tries from wing duo Byron McGuigan and Denny Solomona did the damage while fly-half AJ MacGinty contributed with ten points from the kicking tee.
 
It was Connacht fly-half Jack Carty who nearly grabbed the first try after a delightful intercept and sprint towards the try line but Denny Solomona reeled him in five metres short.
 
The Irish province – playing in their dark blue alternate strip – would win the first penalty in kickable range and Carty made no mistake from 33 metres out, putting Connacht ahead for the only time in the match.
 
The Connacht lead didn’t last long as McGuigan exploited the overlap from an attacking Sale scrum, darting towards the corner after a decent set of passes wide left. Against his former side, MacGinty booted over the tricky conversion.
 
MacGinty then set up a second Sale try as his floated pass found Solomona who walked over the try line in the opposite corner to the opening score.
 
Connacht continued to struggle to get back onside with every quick phase initiated by Sale scrum-half and Man of the Match Faf de Klerk. That meant MacGinty could add to his growing tally with two penalty goals from in front of the posts before the interval.
 
It took 27 minutes before the visitors managed to score the first points of the second half despite dominating territory and possession. That came through centre Godwin who jinked past the the final Sale defender after a powerful Connacht scrum inside the opposition 22.
 
Stand-in kicker Darragh Leader slotted the conversion but they would be the final points of the match as Sale held firm despite several waves of Connacht attack.
 

A breathless game of the rugby at the RDS as Leinster claim the spoils past the 80th minute despite a brilliant performance by Andy Friend’s men, who come away with two bonus points.
 
Here are some of the best pics:

MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO THE GUINNESS PRO14.
 
Leinster denied Connacht a first away victory in Dublin since 2002 as Leo Cullen’s men staged a late rally to battle back from 17 points down to win 33-29.
 
Andrew Porter fought his way over the line in the 82nd minute to prevent Andy Friend’s men from earning only a second ever victory in the capital since 1955.
 
Leinster had won eight of their last nine meetings, but 14 points from Jack Carty looked to have swung the tie in the favour of the Galway side before Porter was at hand to break Connacht hearts.
 
With Leinster shuffling their pack after their Champions Cup travels, Connacht looked the more fluid of the two sides early on and they took advantage thanks to the dab hand of an ex-Leinsterman.
 
Bundee Aki drew the Leinster pack, before switching the ball wide right leaving Cian Kelleher to slide across the whitewash for an early lead inside six minutes.
 
But Leinster hit back when Rob Kearney burst his way through to set up Jamison Gibson-Park, who found a gap and expertly threaded in Conor O’Brien to score his third try of the season.
 
Connacht continued to threaten, and they made it count when Tom Farrell’s pass was dispatched to Darragh Leader and on only his second Guinness PRO14 appearance he evaded two thunderous challenges to dive into the corner and score. Jack Carty kicked for two.
 
When Connacht turned over possession, it enabled the visitors to stretch their advantage when Carty sumptuously chipped over the Leinster backs before catching the ball and diving over to score.
 
The fly-half converted his try seven minutes before the break to send the western Ireland side into half-time with a 19-7 lead at the RDS Arena.
 
Leinster roared out the blocks after the break and within minutes they were chipping away at the scoreboard as Mick Kearney scrapped his way to the line for his first ever try for the men in blue.
 
But Connacht weren’t initially fazed, especially half back Carty who dazzled his way through a slim gap in the line before showing the presence of mind to lay in Caolin Blade to score a bonus point. Carty duly converted.
 
Carty sent the Galway men two converted tries clear with a penalty 16 minutes from time, but the hosts didn’t give in easily as replacement Sean Cronin powered his way over to set up a grandstand finish. Ross Byrne added the extras.
 
Then when Connacht were unable to clear their lines, Leinster broke and Dan Leavy snuck across the line to cut the deficit to only three points.
 
Drama ensued as relentless Leinster pressure eventually told as Porter summoned all his muscle to throw himself over the try line and seal a dramatic win.

Connacht 22

Perpignan 10

 

In difficult, almost hurricane like conditions at times, Connacht claimed a 12 point victory over Top14 side Perpignan, in the first instalment of back to back clashes in the European Challenge Cup. With two wins from three in the competition, another win away to Perpignan in six days’ time will set up a top of the table clash at home to Sale in January.

With conditions extremely difficult for both teams, forwards were also going to be the stars of the show, and so it was that international lock Quinn Roux was deservedly named Man of the Match after a powerful display.

With the wind at their backs, Connacht made the best possible start when Darragh Leader ran a brilliant line to pick up a pass 10 metres out and touch down under the posts with nine minutes on the clock. Connacht were patient in attack and after going through the phases they were rewarded eleven minutes later when Bundee Aki drove for the line and got Connacht’s second try despite the best efforts of three Perpignan defenders. When David Horwitz added his second conversion and Connacht looked in control with a quarter of the game played.

Perpignan came to life after that second try but a combination of handling errors and difficult conditions meant that they never challenged the Connacht line. Going in at the break Connacht would have felt they were deserving of their 14 – 0 lead and with an excellent opportunity for a third try on the stroke of half time, it could have been an even more significant lead.

 

The second half was all about possession for Connacht and they bravely went through phase after phase but found it difficult to gain ground now playing into the stormy conditions. With a penalty on 44 minutes, Connacht opted to kick for the posts and the successful kick by Horwitz proved to be the right the decision, giving increased daylight between the sides.

Perpignan kicked their first points of the game six minutes into the second half to give them some hope of a comeback.

On the sixty sixth minute the French side got a try against the run of play and when they converted, all off a sudden the scoreboard read only 17 – 10 in Connacht’s favour. The French men went on the attack again and went through the phases inside the Connacht 22. But hard work in defence forced a turnover and Connacht introduced some fresh legs to good effect.

 

Replacement scrum half Caolin Blade made a typical sniping run through the Perpignan defence and was held up just short of the line. Moments later, Kyle Godwin made his mark when he backed himself on the outside and powered over for Connacht’s third try with four minutes remaining on the clock.

 

Connacht had one more attack when they went in search of the fourth try but it wasn’t to be and the game finished out with a twelve point victory for the home side.

 

 

CONNACHT: 15. Darragh Leader, 14. Cian Kelleher, 13. Kieran Joyce, 12. Bundee Aki (Kyle Godwin 67′), 11. Matt Healy, 10. David Horwitz (Conor Fitzgerald 58′), 9. James Mitchell (Caolin Blade 70′); 1. Peter McCabe, 2. Dave Heffernan (captain), 3. Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson McCoy 60′), 4. Joe Maksymiw (Gavin Thornbury 60′), 5. Quinn Roux, 6. Eoghan Masterson (Paul Boyle 68′), 7. Colby Fainga’a, 8. James Connolly.

PERPIGNAN: 15. Jonathan Bousquet (captain), 14. Tima Fainga’anuku, 13. Pierre Lucas (Afusipa Taumoepeau 56′), 12. Paul Marty (Julien Farnoux 62′), 11. Eroni Sau, 10. Enzo Selponi, 9. Sadek Degmache; 1. Quentin Walcker (Kevin Tougne 56′), 2. Raphael Carbou (Manu Leiataua 41′), 3. Nicolas Lemaire (Sylvain Charlet 60′), 4. Yoann Vivalda, 5. Berend Botha (Alban Roussel 56′), 6. Johan Van Heerden, 7. Pierre Reynaud, 8. Michael Faleafa (Edoardo Iachizzi 60′).

Attendance: 5,011.

Referee: Karl Dickson [RFU].

 

The launch has taken place of the 2018 Connacht Rugby Summer Camps with official partners ‘totalhealth Pharmacy’.

In total 18 camps will be held across the next six weeks at clubs around the province, starting this week (Monday 2nd – Friday 6th July) at Creggs RFC, Ballinasloe RFC and Sligo RFC.

The Summer Camps, which are run by fully accredited IRFU coaches, are open to boys and girls between the ages of 6-12 and no prior rugby experience is necessary. 

Children will get to experience the sport in a fun, safe environment, while developing the basic rugby skills while making new friends and, most importantly, having fun.

A number of Connacht Rugby players will be paying a visit to every camp, while the entire squad will be making the trip to Ballina RFC on Wednesday 11th July to meet the kids, members of the club and wider Ballina community.

Speaking at this morning’s launch at The Sportsground, Joe Gorham Domestic Rugby Manager at Connacht Rugby said:

“We are delighted to officially launch this year’s Connacht Rugby Summer Camps in conjunction with totalhealth Pharmacy. The Summer Camps are a key cornerstone of what we here at Connacht Rugby are all about. Through our ‘Grassroots to Green Shirts’ vision we want to get a rugby ball in the hands of every boy and girl in the province and have them experience the benefits of our great sport. We know that every child attending the Camps over the next six weeks will have a fantastic time. We are also thrilled to have totalhealth Pharmacy on board as our new official partner and we look forward to our partnership growing into the future.”

Ollie McGuinness, Director totalhealth Pharmacy Group, said:

“The totalhealth Pharmacy Group are delighted to have partnered with Connacht Rugby as the official sponsor of the Connacht Rugby Summer Camps happening in 18 locations throughout the province this summer. Similar to Connacht Rugby, totalhealth Pharmacy is all about supporting communities. Totalhealth Pharmacy has 30 member pharmacies in the Connacht area so the opportunity to partner with Connacht Rugby on this project was a win- win for us. We are excited and looking forward to see the partnership grow and the children having a great time at the Summer Camps.”

Registration is open at community.connachtrugby.ie at the cost of €85, and every child who attends will receive our brand new Connacht Rugby 1/4 Zip Top as well as a water bottle, rucksack and one junior ticket to a selected Connacht Rugby match next season at The Sportsground. Attendees are also in with a chance of winning a 2018/19 Connacht Rugby Season Ticket Membership, which goes to the lucky child who finds the golden ticket located in one random camp pack.

The Connacht Rugby Summer Camps will be held from 9.15am – 1.30pm at the following venues:

2nd – 6th July

Creggs RFC

Ballinasloe RFC

Sligo RFC

9th – 13th July

Ballina RFC

Corrib RFC

Carrick on Shannon RFC (located in Boyle Community College, Co. Roscommon)

NUIG RFC

16th – 20th July

Monivea RFC

Castlebar RFC

Gort RFC

23rd – 27th July

Westport RFC

Dunmore RFC

Galwegians RFC

6th – 10th August

Tuam RFC

Connemara RFC

Ballinrobe RFC

13th – 17th August

Buccaneers RFC

Loughrea RFC

Connacht Rugby have announced that four more current players have extended their contracts with the province. The four backs, Cian Kelleher, Craig Ronaldson, Eoin Griffin and Darragh Leader will all add to the strength of the squad in the 2018/19 season.

Kelleher joined Connacht from Leinster in 2016 and the winger has since made 32 appearances and scored 9 tries during his time at the Sportsground.

Craig Ronaldson signed for Connacht in 2013 and the former Lansdowne man has played 81 times for Connacht, winning a PRO12 Championship in 2016. The versatile back has featured in the midfield and at out-half, where he has made the majority of his 13 appearances this season scoring 50 points.

Eoin Griffin has made over 90 appearances in the Connacht jersey. Having made his debut for his home province in 2011 he joined London Irish in 2014 for two seasons and returned to Connacht in 2016.

Darragh Leader, another Connacht native, has scored 3 tries in his 15 appearances this season and was also part of the successful PRO12 squad in 2016.

Commenting on the latest contract extensions, Connacht Rugby CEO, Willie Ruane said: “We are delighted that Cian Kelleher, Craig Ronaldson, Eoin Griffin and Darragh Leader have all extended their contracts. They are four important backs that will further strengthen our options next season. They are also four ambitious young players who are determined to bring further success to Connacht.”

Welcoming the contract extensions, Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane added: “Our squad list for the 2018/19 season is really taking shape now and it is great that these four important players have extended their contracts. I have been really impressed with what I have seen of all four players so far and they will be central to our ambitions next season.”

 

Ends

Oyonnax 15

Connacht 43

Connacht got their European Challenge Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a bonus point win against French Top14 side Oyonnax in the 30,000 seater Stade de Geneve in Switzerland. Buoyed on by a noisy travelling support Connacht ran in five tries in an exciting, attacking performance.

Leading 22 points to 15 at the break Connacht never looked like loosing this game despite a purple patch for the French side when they pegged back a 16 point deficit to bring it back to 19 points to 15 in Connacht’s favour with 35 minutes gone. From there on it was all Connacht though as Oyonnax failed to score for the remainder of the game.

Oyonnax opened the scoring with a penalty inside two minutes from out-half Christopher Ruiz. Connacht responded immediately with Matt Healy getting over for a try after 5 minutes and Cian Kelleher doing likewise a few minutes later. Connacht continued to apply the pressure and kicked to the corner after 20 minutes. From the resulting lineout Eoin McKeon got over for Connacht’s third try.

Oyonnax responded with their best period of the game with tries from centre Ulupano Seuteni and winger Axel Muller crossing to cut the gap to 19-15 after half an hour.

After the break Andrew kicked a straight forward penalty to keep the score board ticking over and the bonus point was secured when Matt Healy got over for his second try on 53 minutes. From there on Connacht defended resolutely to make sure Oyonnax had no opportunity to get back into the game.

With two minutes Darragh Leader got over in the corner for a well worked try – Connacht’s fifth of the evening. A perfect start to Kieran Keane and Connacht’s Challenge Cup campaign.

Connacht: Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher (Rory Scholes 69), Eoin Griffin, Tom Farrell (Craig Ronaldson 58), Matt Healy, Andrew Deegan, Caolin Blade, Denis Coulson (Peter McCabe 76), Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt 65), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey 76), Ultan Dillane (Quinn Roux 65), James Cannon; Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon (James Connolly 70).

We’re back at home in the Sportsground for more European action next Saturday. Tickets are still available here.

 

Ahead of Connacht’s final Guinness PRO12 home game this season, head coach Pat Lam has made ten changes to his side to face Scarlets at the Sportsground tomorrow night (7:35pm).

Darragh Leader, who this week signed a new deal with his home province, will start on the right wing for his first game in 18 months having returned from long-term injury.  On the other wing, Cian Kelleher also returns following a long-term absence this season with injury.

Tom Farrell and Eoin Griffin make up a new centre partnership while Marnitz Boshoff is handed the reins at outhalf, with Caolin Blade starting in the number nine shirt.

Up front, Ireland international Finlay Bealham shifts to loosehead prop to allow Dominic Robertson-McCoy pack down at tighthead. James Cannon forms a second-row partnership with Andrew Browne who captains the side on Saturday night.

Sean O’Brien and Eoghan Masterson are promoted to the starting back row where they join Jake Heenan.

Commenting on the upcoming game, Pat Lam said:

“With Champions Cup being our main focus, the next two games present a great opportunity to prepare for the qualification playoffs in May. It allows us to give guys coming back from long-term injuries a chance to perform against a quality Scarlets side.

“Tomorrow night is our last PRO12 game at home and as always, we will be looking to put in a huge effort for us and our supporters who have been fantastic all season.”

Connacht team to face Scarlets

Saturday, April 29th, kick off 7.35pm, the Sportsground

(Connacht caps in brackets)

15        Tiernan O’Halloran (125)
14        Darragh Leader (51)
13        Tom Farrell (7)
12        Eoin Griffin (77)
11        Cian Kelleher (11)
10        Marnitz Boshoff (2)
9          Caolin Blade (43)

1          Finlay Bealham (80)
2          Dave Heffernan (82)
3          Dominic Robertson-McCoy (9)
4          James Cannon (15)
5          Andrew Browne (153) (captain)
6          Sean O’Brien (37)
7          Jake Heenan (52)
8          Eoghan Masterson (36)

Replacements:

16        Shane Delahunt (26)
17        Denis Buckley (116)
18        JP Cooney (48)
19        Quinn Roux (55)
20        John Muldoon (300)
21        John Cooney (37)
22        Craig Ronaldson (65)
23        Danie Poolman (83)

Injured/unavailable: Tom McCartney, Ronan Loughney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Kieran Marmion, Steve Crosbie, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Stacey Ili, Matt Healy, Niyi Adeolokun.

CONNACHT v SCARLETS
Saturday 29th April
At the Sportsground, 7.35pm.
Live on TG4 / S4C

Get your match ticket for Connacht v Scarlets here

Referee:  Mike Adamson (SRU, 7th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Lloyd Linton (SRU), Helen O’Reilly (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner:  Murray Whyte (IRFU)
TMO: Charles Samson (SRU)

 

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