Eoghan Masterson will become the latest Connacht centurion tomorrow after he was named in the starting XV to face Ulster at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm)
 
Masterson made his Connacht debut during the 2013/14 season after representing both the Ireland and Scotland U20s. In recent weeks he has deputised in the second row but will return to his favoured back-row position for tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 clash.
 
He’s named at blindside flanker with Conor Oliver on the opposite flank and captain Jarrad Butler returning to the starting side in the number 8 position.
 
Butler’s inclusion is one of 6 changes to the side that lost out to Bristol last weekend, with Shane Delahunt, Quinn Roux, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly and Tiernan O’Halloran also coming into the starting XV.
 
Delahunt lines out in a front row with Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham, while Roux returns from a two-week absence to partner Ultan Dillane. Blade and Fitzgerald form a new half-back partnership with the in-form Daly comes in at inside centre alongside Sammy Arnold. John Porch moves to the wing with O’Halloran starting at full-back and Matt Healy on the opposite wing.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Reaching 100 caps for any club is a huge achievement so I’d like to congratulate Eoghan Masterson on the milestone. Eoghan is a very professional athlete who leads from the front by the way he conducts himself both on and off the field. To hit 100 games despite his injury setbacks down the years only adds to the achievement.
 
Building squad depth has been a key objective for us, so we are fortunate to be able to make most of these changes not because of injuries but to keep the squad fresh and give players their deserved opportunities.”
 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
 
“No doubt Ulster will be disappointed with their European results, but their PRO14 form this season speaks for itself. Both sets of players and coaches know each other well at this stage so it’s all about sticking to our systems and taking our chances when they come.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
Sunday 27th December, The Sportsground, k/o 7.35pm

Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (186)
14. John Porch (26)
13. Sammy Arnold (9)
12. Tom Daly (33)
11. Matt Healy (141)
10. Jack Carty (146)
9. Caolin Blade (117)
1. Denis Buckley (187)
2. Shane Delahunt (85)
3. Finlay Bealham (146)
4. Ultan Dillane (103)
5. Quinn Roux (103)
6. Eoghan Masterson (99)
7. Conor Oliver (9)
8. Jarrad Butler (64) (C)

Replacements
16. Dave Heffernan (134)
17. Jordan Duggan (5)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (57)
19. Gavin Thornbury (45)
20. Sean Masterson (7)
21. Kieran Marmion (172)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (1)
23. Colm de Buitléar (6)

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht head coach Andy Friend says that defensive stability and attacking set-piece efficiency will be key in Sunday’s 7:35 PM Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash with Ulster at the Sportsground. 

 

After consecutive defeats in the Heineken Champions Cup, the Westerners will look to get back to winning ways in the PRO14 where they sit second in Conference B.

 

Ulster — who Connacht defeated in August at the Aviva Stadium — will come into the game after a pair of Champions Cup defeats and Friend believes the Northerners will prove to be difficult opponents and the hosts will need to be at their best to register an Interpro win.

 

“They’re a team who plays with a lot of confidence. John Cooney has been on song for them again, so we are very conscious of the momentum that he brings to their game. We think they have a very good kicking game. They get a lot of results out of the box kick, so we need to be strong under that and we need to be sure that we win the race back there,” the Australian said of Ulster’s strengths as a team.

 

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t give them the front foot ball they are after. They have some good finishers who can get you in the wide channels and they can finish you off there. It comes down to how we nullify that and how we put pressure on them. A lot of that comes down to our defence, making sure we’re that team who continues to bounce quicker, make sure we work harder off the ball and win those 50/50’s.

 

“From our own attacking point of view, we have to make sure — which we’ve done previously — we can get some real payout out of our set-piece and that’s what we intend to do on Sunday night.”

 

Meanwhile, forward Eoghan Masterson says he is enjoying the challenge of playing in the second row and is happy to have helped the team out during a run of injury and unavailability in the area.

 

With Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux missing games due to Ireland national team selection, and Gavin Thornbury, Cillian Gallagher and Niall Murray picking up injuries, Masterson — usually a back row —  has filled in as a lock this season. The 27-year-old has flourished in the new on-field role and leads the PRO14 for lineout steals, six.

 

“Yeah, I have enjoyed it to be perfectly honest,” the Portlaoise native said of playing in the second row.

 

“Obviously with Quinn(Roux) and Ulty(Dillane) going into Irish camp, which is great for them, it took them away from our set up and our training for a long time. It provided me with an opportunity, obviously with injuries to Niall Murray and Cillian Gallagher hasn’t been available. It was something that I had filled the gap in previous years, off the bench and what not.

 

“I was pretty excited by that opportunity to play there consistently. I found myself getting my hands on the ball a good bit, being involved in the defensive passages as well. I have really enjoyed it.”

 

Masterson, who sits on 99 caps Connacht caps, will become a centurion for the Westerners if selected for the Ulster game and he says that making his 100th appearance for the province which he considers home will be a massive honour for him and for his family.

 

“It would be nice to be involved for my 100th cap,” the former Ireland underage international said.

 

“It’s a massive honour and hopefully it comes and I stay injury-free. I suppose a few years ago when I blew out my knee — and I didn’t have 50 caps at the time — to come back and have a good injury-free run is a big honour. I love this place, I consider it home. Mam and Dad are in Westport and I’m living here with my fiance in Galway and it’s very much home for us.

 

“I just love the place and I’m very proud to hopefully get there someday.”

 

Masterson, whose brother, back row Sean, has started regularly for Connacht this season, said it is a hugely proud moment for him and for his family to have two brothers involved in the Westerners squad but he doesn’t approach it any differently to playing with any other player.

 

“I don’t approach it any differently. It’s a massive honour and we’re really proud of him. Mam and Dad are obviously really proud to see us both play together and I suppose my move to second row has helped that as opposed to us vying for a back-row slot.

 

“It’s great. Obviously we played rugby in our back yard together from a young age and we always dreamed of playing pro rugby together, so it’s kinda special and I’m trying to enjoy the moments we have together on the pitch as much as we can. I think Zebre away was our first start together and you can see how well he’s going, how well he’s fitting in and what he’s adding to the team. I think it’s really good.”

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made two changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 clash against Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Eoghan Masterson comes in for his 93rd Connacht appearance, starting at blindside flanker. Captain Jarrad Butler moves to number 8 as a result while Conor Oliver retains his place on the opposite flank.
 
The other changes comes in the backs where Sammy Arnold partners Bundee Aki at centre.
 
The remainder of the team is the same that impressively saw off Glasgow Warriors last week, with hooker Dave Heffernan joined by props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham in the front row, while Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux continue their second row partnership.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are retained at 9 and 10 respectively, while the squad is completed by the same back three of wingers Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan alongside full-back John Porch.
Commenting on his team selection, Andy Friend says:
 
“We were very pleased to pick up the win last week and the way the squad took control of the game in the second half. That said, we are targeting two wins from these first two games so the job is only half done.
Rodney Parade is a tough place to go but I have full confidence in the squad we have selected to go over and get the win. Unfortunately we will be without Niall Murray for a lengthy period, but we are able to welcome back Ultan Dillane while Shane Delahunt has served his suspension so we are in a good place overall.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY SQUAD VS CARDIFF BLUES
Saturday 10th October, Rodney Parade (k/o 7.35pm)

Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (19)
14. Peter Sullivan (2)
13. Sammy Arnold (2)
12. Bundee Aki (102)
11. Alex Wootton (2)
10. Jack Carty (141)
9. Kieran Marmion (168)
1. Denis Buckley (180)
2. Dave Heffernan (131)
3. Finlay Bealham (143)
4. Gavin Thornbury (40)
5. Quinn Roux (102)
6. Eoghan Masterson (92)
7. Conor Oliver (3)
8. Jarrad Butler (57) (C)

16. Shane Delahunt (78)
17. Jordan Duggan (2)
18. Jack Aungier (2)
19. Ultan Dillane (97)
20. Paul Boyle (41)
21. Stephen Kerins (9)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (24)
23. Tom Daly (26)

Growing up in a strong rugby household, a career in professional rugby was destiny for Eoghan Masterson. His days of playing out in the back garden with his father and younger brother Seán is where his fondest memories of rugby began. Some of the lessons he learned back then are ones that he still plays by today. We sat down with Eoghan to chat about his roots in Westport, getting back to pre-season training to the books that gave him a new perspective during lock-down.

Eoghan, how have you found life these past 3 months?

It is great to be out the other end of it now, it was a pretty strange experience. In a way, I enjoyed it, to be able to have that time to reflect on a couple of things and to get a break from playing every week and letting the body heal up. I am delighted to be back in seeing the lads and to get back into a good routine. Connacht did a great job taking apart the gym and rationing out equipment to everyone.

We are in our third week now and it is clear to see that a lot of the players have come back in seriously good condition. It would have been easy to come back in bad condition spending the whole of quarantine watching Netflix and playing the PlayStation. The squad made the most of that time to come back in better shape than they were before. We are in a great place going into these games in August.

I know your parents live in Mayo, did you get to see them when the restrictions were lifted?

I stayed in Galway during the lock-down, my girlfriend is a nurse in the University hospital, I wanted to make sure I stayed. I didn’t see my parents until the county to county restrictions were lifted. I saw them recently, it was great to see them, they live in Aughagower just outside of Westport. They had just moved there after retirement and were delighted to be in the countryside and have the fresh air.

We had some fantastic news at the start of the summer with your brother Sean signing his first professional contract. Your parents must be seriously proud. How does it feel to officially have your little brother on the team with you?

Last year was a big year for him, he made his debut on the Connacht team back in October against Treviso. It was cool to witness that, he did come on to replace me which I wasn’t too happy about. It was great that he got on and made his debut, he played again later in the year against Leinster and did well. It’s fantastic that he will be here for another year and that he has graduated from the academy and is a fully pro player. I am looking forward to having a few more good days together and hopefully we can share the pitch a few more times. It’s tough on my mom as she is a bit of a worrier, I think she would have liked us to play golf or something instead. But I think she is getting used to it now.

Two members of your household are now professional rugby players, is there a history of rugby in the Masterson family, how did you both end up playing rugby?

My dad was a keen rugby player himself but didn’t play at a professional level. I would say the professionalism kicked in after he was finished his rugby career. He played at a high level in Scotland with Sterling county, that’s where is he from. He then moved to Westport where he met my mother. He played rugby for Westport and was a builder by trade initially, he helped to build the clubhouse in Westport RFC. I have a photo of him working on that which makes me very proud. My cousin’s farm is the farm that is beside Westport RFC. We have a lot of roots in Westport, I never played with them myself as my dad became a prison guard and moved to Portlaoise after that. He would be well known around Westport RFC.

My uncles would have played rugby in Scotland, it was my dad who got us into it initially, my sister didn’t pick it up, she wasn’t as keen on it but she has been doing plenty of running over the lockdown period. My dad was a huge influence on Sean and I growing up, we played rugby in the back garden and he was able to show us a thing or two and teach us things that I still remember to this day like forwards should never kick the ball.

Were you and Seán competitive growing up and were you able to teach him some rugby lessons?

I am five years older than Seán, so by the time I was taking rugby seriously at around 13 years of age, he would have been 8 or 9. But that’s not to say that he wasn’t incredibly keen, as I was hitting adolescence he was still only a boy, that’s not to say I didn’t take it easy on him. He certainly did his best to get a few up on me, Last year was great, because of the age gap, we were never in school at the same time or got to play on the same team. Now we get to train and play together, I am trying to appreciate it and enjoy it.

Would you say it has made you closer?

“Hmmm, maybe you will have to ask Seán that?” We have our moments and do fight now and again. I think overall, we are lucky that we have a good relationship with my mum, dad, and my sister. We all get on well which I am very appreciative of that.

You are in your 3rd week of pre-season training, what is the new setup like and are things changing as the weeks go by?

There is no dressing room, which is a massive part of the team and where the craic happens and it’s a place where you get to have a lot of the small conversations with people and get to know them a bit better during those down periods. Everything has been condensed the last few weeks, initially we trained in groups of six. There are three-time slots, one group is in the early morning, the next is in at lunch and the final group comes in during the evening time. The groups have increased week by week, we are now in two groups of twenty players this week and we were able to do some team stuff on the pitch in the bigger group. I am looking forward to the restrictions being lifted a bit more and getting to see all the lads together on the pitch at the same time and hopefully getting our dressing room back too.

It must be tough to go from training at home to going to intense sessions back in the Sportsground and eventually into games?

I think our athletic performance department has been good in that aspect. They have been able to build us up to a certain level where we can transition to go back on to the pitch and play rugby. The weight sessions that Johhny, Dave, and Bob provided, built up nicely which made it much easier to adjust when we returned. If you hadn’t put in the work it would have been a shock, as David Howarth says we “we do not like shocks or surprises”.

We have had lots of news with new signings over the past few weeks, do you know any of the players previously and have you had a chance to talk to the ones that have arrived?

I didn’t know of them previously on a personal level, but in my group the first week I was in a group with Oisín Dowling, Jack Aungier, and some of the lads who graduated from the academy. I got to know them over the first couple of weeks quite well, they are all great lads and full of energy and enthusiasm. They are all young players and I have been impressed with what I have seen from them so far. This week I got a chance to train with Sam Arnold and Conor Oliver and they seemed to fit in well. I am looking forward to meeting the rest as the weeks go by.

That is one benefit of being in the small group, would you say it gives you a chance to get to know the guys a bit better?

It’s good to be in a group with new people, if you were in a group with the lads that you already know then you wouldn’t have an opportunity to get to know the new guys as well. I am glad we had that small environment to get to know the lads better and hopefully they have felt that they settled in quicker because of the group they were in.

Looking towards the games in August, how are you preparing yourself to get back to that match fitness again?

This week we had our first proper rugby session back on the pitch, we did a combination of running before the session to get you fatigued, and then we progressed on ball skills. We did a bit of defence work with Pete, ball carrying, and contact with Jimmy (without contact that is) along with some attack stuff with Nigel. Over the next couple of weeks, most of our fitness training will come from the pitch in rugby like scenarios so when the games come around, we will have that experience. We won’t have played games for almost five months at that stage since we played the Kings back in March. I think training as much as we can on the pitch and in the right way will be as close as we can to full match fitness.

Outside of rugby, we know you like to read a lot, did you read any interesting books over the past 3 months?

I read a lot during quarantine, one of my favourites was “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holliday which is a book about stoicism, embracing setbacks, and using them as fuel and motivation to progress to the next thing which I found very interesting. My favourite overall was “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, which a lot of the players have read. It is relevant to us now because there is a lot of talk around building good habits, setting up a good routine, and making something automated so you don’t even have to think about it. I have taken a lot on board from that especially around planning your day, manufacturing your environment in a way that can help you be successful.

Lastly, Friendy requested that you all come back to The Sportsground having learned or mastered a new skill on or off the pitch, what would you say yours was?

One of the cool things I did over lockdown was walking, it wasn’t for my fitness but more to clear my head and pass a bit of time. During the lock-down, my girlfriend and I decided that we would do a marathon worth of walks within our 2km radius in one day. We managed to do 42km within that 2km radius which took us 7.5 hours. I can’t say I ran a marathon, but I have done a marathon “slowly”. That was a cool thing to have done and somewhat tick of the bucket list.

Scarlets 18

Connacht 10

Connacht suffered a disappointing eight point loss to the Scarlets in the opening game of the Guinness Pro14 season. As the heavy rain poured down in Parc y Scarlets it was always going to be difficult for Connacht to eat into the home side’s lead that was constant when they scored the first try of the game.

Connacht had all the territory in the opening ten minutes and while Scarlets did muster two attacks, the Connacht defence were outstanding in defending their line.

The game continued to ebb and flow with Connacht dominating the territory but on 20 minutes, Scarlets only visit into the 22 resulted in a try in the corner which they failed to convert.

For large parts of the game this was a contest that was played between the two 22s.However it was scarlets accuracy when they did attack that proved the difference between the sides. After 33 minutes, Connacht failure to clear their lines gave Scarlets the opportunity to run in under the posts and when they landed the resulting conversion,  Scarlets were 12 – 0 to the good.

Conor Fitzgerald did respond for Connacht with a penalty to reduce the home side’s lead to nine at the break.

The Scarlets drew first blood again in the second half when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. The successful kick brought the Scarlets back into a twelve point lead and it went from bad to worse as Tom Daly was sent to the bin.

During the numerical disadvantage however, Connacht took the initiative and Eoghan Masterson was the one to get over as Connacht had been banging on the door as the Scarlets gave away a succession of penalties. Fitzgerald’s successful conversion reduced the deficit back to five points as the game entered the final quarter.

As the torrential rain poured down, Scarlets added a penalty to close their account on 62 minutes and that score proved enough to secure the eight point lead.

A disappointing result for Connacht as they leave Wales with no points from their conference rivals. Next up is a home tie against Italian side Benetton on Saturday the 5th of October.

Connacht scorers – Conor Fitzgerald 1 pen, 1 conversion. Eoghan Masterson try.

Tiernan O’Halloran, Stephen Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion), (1-8) Paddy McAllister (Denis Buckley), Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a (Eoin McKeon then replaced by Ultan Dillane), Jarrad Butler.

The Connacht management team have released the latest squad update in advance of tomorrow evening’s friendly away to Bristol Bears.

 

Hooker:
Tom McCartney (ankle) and Jonny Murphy (chest) are progressing well with their respective injuries and will integrate into team training next week.

Lock:
Peter Claffey has returned to full training this week following his calf injury.

Gavin Thornbury is progressing well with his shoulder injury sustained in pre-season and will integrate into team training next week.

Back Row:
Robin Copeland has returned to full training this week following his hip injury.

Jarrad Butler (chest), Eoin McKeon (shoulder) and Sean O’Brien (calf) are all being managed this week by the medical and performance team for minor knocks.

Eoghan Masterson has undergone surgery for the thumb injury he sustained in the Brive pre-season fixture and will be out of action until October.

Outhalf:
David Horwitz is undergoing rehabilitation for a hamstring injury and will look to return to training shortly.

Centre:
Peter Robb is managing a neck injury and will partake in light training this week under the supervision of the medical team.

The starting XV to face Bristol Bears will be named later today (Thursday).

The Connacht management team have released the following squad update following last week’s pre-season friendly away to Brive.

 

Hooker:
Tom McCartney sustained a recent ankle injury in training and is progressing well with a return to training planned for early September.

Jonny Murphy sustained a rib injury in the game versus Brive last week and his progress will be monitored by the medical team this week.

 

Lock:
Peter Claffey sustained a calf injury in preseason and is due to return to training in early September.

Gavin Thornbury sustained a shoulder injury in preseason and is due to return to full training in early September.

 

Back Row:
Robin Copeland sustained a recent hip injury in training and is currently undergoing rehabilitation with the medical and fitness team with a planned return in the coming weeks.

Eoghan Masterson sustained a hand injury in the game versus Brive last week and will undergo surgery this week with his return date to be confirmed post surgery.

 

The Connacht starting XV to take on Wasps at Dubarry Park, Athlone this Saturday (k/o 3pm) will be named later today.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that back row Eoghan Masterson has signed a two-year extension to his contract to take him up to the end of the 2019-20 season. The 24 year old has made almost 60 appearances for the province including 22 this season. Masterson also captained Connacht for the first time in the Challenge Cup clash at home to Worcester Warriors earlier in October.

Commenting on the signing, Connacht Head Coach, Kieran Keane said: “We are delighted that Eoghan has committed to Connacht for another two seasons. Eoghan is a determined young man who has come through the Connacht Academy system and is now a natural leader among the group. I have no doubt he will continue to be an important player for us in the years ahead.”

Following his contract extension, Eoghan Masterson said: “I’m absolutely delighted to extend my contract with Connacht. I am very proud of my connections with the west of Ireland and very grateful to have come through the academy system in Connacht. It was a massive honour to Captain the province on a number of occasions this season and I am determined to be part of further success here in the coming seasons.”

Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has made three changes to his starting XV to face Brive in the European Challenge Cup, in the Sportsground on Saturday (K.O. 3pm). Connacht secured a bonus point win last weekend with a 38 – 31 win away to the French Top14 side.

Darragh Leader comes into the side at full back, James Connolly is in at openside and James Mitchell makes his first start for the province at scrum half. Connacht sit on top of Pool 5 after three rounds and a win at home to Brive would put them in an excellent position to qualify for a home Quarter Final.

Sligo native and Academy player Cillian Gallagher is retained in the starting line up at blindside after making his first start last weekend. For the second time this season, Eoghan Masterson is set to the captain the side from number 8.

There is a huge amount of experience on the bench with Tom McCartney, John Muldoon, Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran named among the replacements.

In Brive last weekend the home side got off to the best possible, scoring three tries and leading by 16 points after 28 minutes but by half time Connacht were back in the game with tries from Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion. In advance of the return leg, Connacht Backs Coach Nigel Carolan says that Connacht need to be more consistent over the 80 minutes. “We are hoping to use the win over Brive last weekend to kick us off to another good run of form. We have some big games coming up and maintaining a level of consistency is what we are aiming to achieve. We can’t afford to be complacent though. We haven’t played at home in a few weeks, so the lads are looking forward to being back out in front of a festive home crowd and producing the performance that can achieve a good result.

 

#BRIvCON

Kick-off 3pm:

(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, James Mitchell,
(1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Cillian Gallagher, James Connolly, Eoghan Masterson (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, John Muldoon, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell, Tiernan O’Halloran.

 

 

 

 

Connacht v Worcester Warriors – Saturday 21st Oct, 15:00. Gates open at 13:30 – tickets still available

This is our 5th meeting with Worcester Warriors since 2005 – we have won 3 out of the last 4.

Today’s game see’s Eoghan Masterson set to captain Connacht for the first time having been involved in all games so far this season. Full team details here.

Hear Eoghan’s thoughts on this new milestone in his career.

Matt Healy also starts today after becoming Connacht’s top try scorer in European competition last weekend. He joined Jimmy Duffy in the pre-match press conference this week. Watch the build-up below.

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