Connacht have made three changes to their starting XV for Friday’s URC interpro away to Leinster at the RDS Arena (k/o 7.45pm)
 
Having all come off the bench last week, Oisín Dowling, Eoghan Masterson and Peter Robb are named to start in the second row, blindside flanker and inside centre respectively.
 
The rest of the team is the same that ran in seven tries against Ospreys, meaning Robb is partnered by Sammy Arnold with a back three of wingers Mack Hansen and Alex Wootton and full-back Oran McNulty. Kieran Marmion and captain Jack Carty continue at 9 and 10 respectively.
 
The front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged for the fifth straight game, while Ultan Dillane partners Dowling in the second row.
 
Masterson’s inclusion means Jarrad Butler moves to number 8 while Conor Oliver completes the line-up from openside.
 
The replacements include Cian Prendergast and Tom Farrell who both return to the matchday 23 having recovered from injuries.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says: “Last week was pleasing not just to pick up 5 points but to continue our recent level of performances, even with a substantial break in the middle. The challenge for all of us now is to raise our game even more, away to one of the best sides in Europe.
 
We’ll take confidence from our win at the RDS last January, and our travelling supporters will be a big help as always. This game will tell a lot about where we are right now so we’re really looking forward to it.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Friday 3rd December, RDS Arena @ 19:45
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Oran McNulty (3)
14. Alex Wootton (23)
13. Sammy Arnold (21)
12. Peter Robb (48)
11. Mack Hansen (6)
10. Jack Carty (165) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (192)
1. Matthew Burke (29)
2. Dave Heffernan (150)
3. Finlay Bealham (165)
4. Oisín Dowling (12)
5. Ultan Dillane (120)
6. Eoghan Masterson (114)
7. Conor Oliver (26)
8. Jarrad Butler (79)

16. Shane Delahunt (106)
17. Jordan Duggan (18)
18. Jack Aungier (19)
19. Leva Fifita (2)
20. Cian Prendergast (14)
21. Caolin Blade (136)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (40)
23. Tom Farrell (65)

Attack coach Pete Wilkins is happy with the balance Connacht have struck in attack this season ahead of Friday night’s United Rugby Championship interprovincial away to Leinster, kick-off 7:45 PM. 

 

In the Westerners’ last outing, they played some superb attacking rugby — both from set plays and unstructured play — in their 46-18 win over the Ospreys. 

 

The English coach says that the coaching staff endeavor for the squad to play with an attacking blueprint, but to strike the right balance between prescriptive play and off the cuff decision making. 

 

“I suppose we’re trying to find that balance between playing in an unstructured environment and bringing as much unstructured chaos to the game — and I mean that in a positive sense — as possible but still give the players a framework that enables us to have some cohesion and all be on the same page decision making wise within that framework,” Wilkins explained. 

 

“We’re trying to find a sweet spot somewhere in there. What it means is letting go a little bit the strictness in terms of the attacking shape and judging ourselves by where the pieces on the chessboard are and focus more so on what they are doing within the play in those small moments, in terms of their movement and their link play together and the cohesion of those running lines together. 

 

“So, I guess it’s trying to destructure the environment but at the same time getting us all on the same page within that. What it looks like in practice is that we should get a real flow to our attack and we should see a lot of motion, a lot of movement, but, ultimately, generate and regenerate that momentum within games. 

 

“Obviously, defences have a pretty strong say in how much they allow you to do that, but that’s our intent to get that flow and that unstructured environment and to empower the players to be able to thrive within that.”

 

Interprovincial clashes are invariably physical affairs and Wilkins believes that — mirroring Connacht’s win at the RDS last season and Ulster’s last weekend — the Westerners will have to be at their physical best to topple the defending champions. 

 

The away teams focus will be on themselves and the facets of their game that they can control, the senior attack coach confirmed. 

 

“I think what Ulster did well was they brought an enormous amount of physicality and energy to everything that they did. 

 

“I think when there were positive moments in the game for Ulster, they built on those with more positive moments. When they had their own speed bumps in the game, when Leinster had their moments — which you fully expect them to, especially at home — then find a way to bounce from that quickly and let go of that negative phase and reassert yourself on the game and regenerate your own momentum. So, I think from that point of view, that physicality and energy that Ulster brought enabled them to do those things pretty well.

 

“For us, one thing we know we’re never lacking in any interpro — but especially Leinster — is that energy and excitement about the occasion. The determination to do well in those games — whether that’s in terms of provincial identity and rivalries, whether it’s to do with international selection and everything that’s at stake there different guys coming up against players in their position — there’s no shortage of motivation or incentive in the game. 

 

“I think the important bit for us is to focus on what we can control and what we can do well.”

 

Elsewhere, forward Eoghan Masterson says the mood in the Connacht camp is buoyant ahead of the Westerners’ trip to face Leinster on Friday evening. 

 

Last weekend’s big victory over the Ospreys in the Sportsground men’s first game back after the international break was a welcome result and performance, but — despite this — Masterson says the atmosphere in the changing room has been positive for weeks. 

 

“I think the mood has generally been good for a few weeks,” the former Irish underage international said. 

 

“Obviously we finished up the block with that big win in the Aviva against Ulster, which was a great day out and a really good experience and then going into a few weeks off it was a good time to celebrate that win with everyone.

 

‘Then, we had a couple of days and everyone came back in a great mood. Then the training after that point was really good. The big challenge for us was the consistency, could we back up a good performance with another good performance. I thought the lads were outstanding on Friday night, particularly in the first half into the wind. 

 

“I’m not sure if everyone watching on TV could understand how bad the conditions were. It was absolutely freezing, howling wind, really cold, wet weather. Some of the handling that particularly the backs showed was really good and really encouraging that the hard stuff and the key principles that Andy(Friend) and Pete(Wilkins) are talking about were implemented. So, yeah, I think the mood is generally really good.”

 

Heading into Friday night’s interprovincial, Masterson expects a typically attacking game — given both teams’  style of play — with Leinster smarting after losing last weekend at home to Ulster. 

 

Statistically, the Eastern province lead the way in a lot of attacking metrics in the URC while Connacht also play an enterprising, pacey style of Rugby.

 

“Yeah, on paper from the outside looking in as a neutral, it should be a cracking game. We looked at Leinster statistics this season and they are number one for tries, number one for line breaks, points scored and run metres. 

 

“We’re well aware of the challenge in front of us. We’re trying ourselves to be an attacking team that leads the way for line breaks and for tries scored and to be an exciting team to watch. Hopefully we can apply the stuff we’re working on and getting better and use it to our advantage,” the Laois native said. 

Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly and Eoghan Masterson have come into the Connacht starting XV for tomorrow’s hugely anticipated URC interpro with Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (k/o 5.15pm).
 
Their inclusions are the only changes from the side that put in an impressive performance against Munster last week, with out-half Jack Carty again captaining the side.
 
Daly partners Sammy Arnold in the centre, with Bundee Aki being monitored for a knee injury. He is expected to return to full training next week with the National Team. The back three is again made up of wingers Mack Hansen and John Porch, and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.
 
The tight five is unchanged – with a front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, and locks Niall Murray and Ultan Dillane.
 
Eoghan Masterson is a direct replacement for injury absentee Cian Prendergast on the flank, with Conor Oliver and number 8 Paul Boyle alongside them.
 
The Connacht coaching team have gone back to a 4-3 split on the bench, with Conor Fitzgerald coming back into the matchday squad.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve been looking forward to tomorrow for a long time. The opportunity to return to the Aviva Stadium, but this time with thousands of Connacht supporters behind us, is something we’re all incredibly excited about. The importance of this fixture is not lost on us either. So far this season the performances have been good but the results haven’t matched up to that, so now we have to give absolutely everything to make sure we end this block of fixtures on a winning note.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
Saturday 23rd October, Aviva Stadium @ 17:15

Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (194)
14. John Porch (43)
13. Sammy Arnold (20)
12. Tom Daly (52)
11. Mack Hansen (4)
10. Jack Carty (163) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (190)
1. Matthew Burke (27)
2. Dave Heffernan (148)
3. Finlay Bealham (163)
4. Niall Murray (20)
5. Ultan Dillane (118)
6. Eoghan Masterson (112)
7. Conor Oliver (24)
8. Paul Boyle (61)

16. Shane Delahunt (104)
17. Jordan Duggan (16)
18. Jack Aungier (17)
19. Oisín Dowling (10)
20. Jarrad Butler (77)
21. Caolin Blade (134)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (38)
23. Diarmuid Kilgallen (2)

Leicester Tigers 48

Connacht 32

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht bowed out of the Challenge Cup at the last 16 stage after a 48-32 defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. 

 

Despite the Westerners registering tries through Kieran Marmion, Eoghan Masterson, Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle and twelve points from the boot of Jack Carty, it was the hosts who progressed through to the quarter-final.

 

Connacht began the game looking to play with their trademark ambition and pace and they were rewarded for this approach early on when Marmion touched down. 

 

Sean O’Brien made an incisive break, cutting through Tigers’ defence, and Marmion — running an intelligent trail line — caught the centre’s offload and showed great pace to sprint in for the try close to the left touchline. 

 

To their credit, Leicester responded well to conceding a try and responded with two quickfire scores of their own. First, from a rolling maul — a regular source of tries for the English side — Charlie Clare dotted down. 

 

Then, from a turnover in their own half, the hosts broke quickly and Guy Porter ran in a try down the blindside. This time, the Tigers converted via Zack Henry and — despite Connacht being in the ascendancy in terms of possession — lead 12-5. 

 

In an open game, the Westerners scored next when Carty — showing great accuracy from the tee — confidently slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four points. 

 

Connacht continued to probe in search of scores and their pressure lead to Care — the host’s first try scorer — receiving a yellow card for a high tackle. However, despite being a man in arrears, Leicester scored another rapid brace of tries. 

 

First, Matias Moroni reacted first to a spilled high ball and showed good awareness to swoop in for the try. Then, five minutes later, Henry touched down after another counter-attacking move saw Leicester quickly break and score. 

 

A heavy spell of pressure from the visitors followed and — after four penalties in the 22 — Carty eventually rewarded their patience when he bisected the posts with a penalty that took the half-time score to 24-11 in favour of the home team. 

 

Connacht started the second half with intent and attacked with gusto right from the start. 

 

A bludgeoning carry from Tom Daly established field position deep in Leicester territory. Masterson intelligently spotted a gap at the next ruck and sprinted into the space Ro touch down for a try borne of quick thinking. Carty added the extras to bring by the visitors back within touching distance.

 

Leicester responded by opening their second-half account with a Henry penalty, but Connacht didn’t let that change the course of the momentum and they added their second try of the half not long after.

 

A typically enterprising attack saw substitute Caolin Blade throw a sumptuous, against the grain pass which Wootton — running a sharp line — collected and showed searing pace to burst through and touch down. Carty added the conversion and cut the deficit to two points at 27-25.

 

The scoring was of a tit-for-tat nature and Leicester were next to bare their teeth with another rolling maul try with Clare touching down for his second. Henry converted and the scoreline read 34:25.

 

Connacht, though, kept plugging away and captain Boyle personified this when he — like Masterson beforehand — spotted a gap in a ruck and sped in for a try that Carty converted, leaving the score at 34:32.

 

The Tigers were the next to score when Harry Wells barged over from close range. Henry converted and Leicester broke the forty-point mark and took the game away from the visitors.

 

The hosts finished off in style when Jasper Wiese smashed his way over the line off the back of a scrum to rubber-stamp the win at 48-32. 

 

Connacht team: 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Matt Healy 

13: Sean O’Brien 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle ©

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: Caolin Blade for Marmion, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Abraham Papali’i for Conor Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty

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

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.

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