Senior head coach Pete Wilkins says that Connacht need to remain diligent and confident in their game plan ahead of this Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16-second leg against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

 

The Western province go into the second installment of the tie trailing their eastern rivals 26-21 after a hard-fought encounter at the sell-out Sportsground last Friday.

 

However, despite the loss, Wilkins saw ample evidence that Connacht can cause problems for their opponents and he believes that consistently carrying out their game plan and trusting their processes will be the key to advancing to the quarter-finals.

 

“That first game shows that if we remain diligent in playing our way and taking three points when they come and kicking for field position when we need to and running the ball when we have opportunities, we can have that balance to our game, then actually we can stay with them on the scoreboard,” he said.

 

“It sets us very nicely for that second game and it will be interesting to see how both teams approach it.”

 

With almost a full deck of players to choose from with several injuries having cleared up in recent weeks, Connacht have the ability to make changes to their matchday squad.

 

Wilkins, however, loves having such options to choose from and says that it is an indicator of the depth in the squad, with many quality players not even making the matchday 23 for previous games but keeping the intensity and standard of training high.

 

“It is certainly something that is considered,” the former Queensland Reds coach said when asked whether there will be rotation in the team and squad to face Leinster.

 

“You want to reward the performance of the guys who did well last week. Equally, there were guys who have been banging the doors down who were unlucky to miss out on that 23 last week. There’s a balance to be had in there. Equally, we can’t go around thinking we can roll out exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.

 

“So, whilst we won’t change the fundamentals of how we are trying to play the game in any respect, we can’t just deliver the same thing and hope it will be good enough, we need to go up a level. There has been some really interesting conversations in the selection meetings I have been involved in, in terms of different connotations and pluses and minuses weighed up for different players and different combinations.

 

“The 23 that we have, either way, will be chomping at the bit come Friday.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham says that he is excited for the second leg after describing the first game as being a “test match” quality and physicality.

 

Ireland international Bealham is looking forward to locking horns with his fellow national team colleagues in the Leinster front row.

 

And while the 30-year-old is disappointed with the loss last Friday, he says that he – and the squad as a whole – know that it is only the midway point of the tie and that they are only five points in arrears and are confident in their capability of overturning the deficit.

 

“It felt like a proper test match on Friday, with the physicality and the pace of the game. No doubt there were a lot of sore bodies on Saturday and Sunday morning. But we get to go at it Friday night again at the Aviva and it will be exciting. It is great to be part of it all,” the Connacht academy graduate said.

 

“Losing on Friday was obviously tough to take.”

 

“But then you have to remember it’s half time in it, and we’re only five points down and we’re still in the sheds, and we’re ready to go for round two on Friday. But it was a tremendous effort from both teams last Friday, and we played some really lovely rugby.

 

“We’ve had a good look back at the game over the weekend and done our reviews and everyone is raring to go Friday and hopefully it will be another belter.”

 

Bealham says that playing against top European teams, the likes of Leinster, is the level the Connacht players want to compete at and it makes them lift their performances even further.

 

“Yeah, it was a massive game Friday and obviously the team Leinster sent down was stacked with internationals and a wealth of experience in there as well,” he said.

 

“So we knew all week that we had to be at our very best. Look, obviously, we didn’t win the game and there are areas we were very good in, but there were certain things we were poor at and we definitely need to tidy up come Friday.

 

“But we obviously we took a lot of positives. We had some nice attacking stuff and some good defensive sets, but I suppose – and it’s pretty cliche – it’s about putting it together for 80 minutes and in those big games like that against a Leinster side with loads of experience and internationals, you literally have to be on it every phase or they just find a way to score if you switch off.

 

“We have analyzed the game very thoroughly and looked back at what we could have been better at and lads are buzzing and having those conversations to make sure we’re better and we can bring our game to another level on Friday.”

Connacht have been boosted by the return of long-term absentees Gavin Thornbury and Dylan Tierney-Martin for Saturday’s URC trip to Benetton (k/o 12:00 Irish time).
 
Thornbury, who was one of Connacht’s stand-out players in 2020/21, has yet to play this season due to a long-term shoulder injury. Similarly Tierney-Martin has been absent for four months following a hamstring injury in a club game.
 
The pair have both been named among the replacements and will be expected to feature during the game.
 
The coaching team are also able to welcome back Irish internationals Finlay Bealham and Mack Hansen, with the pair coming straight into the starting XV. Bealham is joined by Matthew Burke and Dave Heffernan in the front row, while the other change in the pack sees Leva Fifita come in to partner Niall Murray in the second row. The back row sees Paul Boyle start at number 8 alongside flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver.
 
Captain Jack Carty is again alongside Kieran Marmion in the half-backs, while Sammy Arnold comes in at inside-centre to partner Tom Farrell. Hansen is named on the left wing with John Porch on the right wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“In Finlay, Mack, Dylan and Gavin we’ve got four players returning for different reasons, but their return is a welcome boost at the right time. For Gavin and Dylan in particular they’ve worked incredibly hard to get back to full fitness for this key block of games, supported by our excellent medical team.
 
We fully appreciate the challenges we face in reaching the URC playoffs now, but the best preparation we can have for the Champions Cup games is to go to Italy, put in a performance good enough for a win, and keep ourselves in the hunt for a top 8 finish.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS BENETTON RUGBY
Saturday 2nd April, 12:00 @ Stadio Monigo
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (202)
14. John Porch (53)
13. Tom Farrell (74)
12. Sammy Arnold (34)
11. Mack Hansen (9)
10. Jack Carty (174) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (203)
1. Matthew Burke (35)
2. Dave Heffernan (159)
3. Finlay Bealham (169)
4. Niall Murray (31)
5. Leva Fifita (10)
6. Cian Prendergast (25)
7. Conor Oliver (36)
8. Paul Boyle (71)

Replacements
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (1)
17. Greg McGrath (5)
18. Tietie Tuimauga (8)
19. Gavin Thornbury (58)
20. Abraham Papali’i (21)
21. Caolin Blade (145)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (47)
23. Sean Masterson (16)

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Irish international Finlay Bealham has committed to the club with a two-year contract extension, keeping him at The Sportsground until the end of the 2023/24 season.
 
Bealham has had a 10-year association with the province, first moving to the West in 2011 to join the Connacht Sub-Academy. He made his senior debut in February 2014 and signed his first professional contract in the summer of that year.
 
A starter for Connacht in the 2016 Guinness PRO12 Grand Final, Bealham has so far made 167 appearances for the club.
 
Bealham has also made an impact on the international scene with 18 caps. He has scored two tries and played in Ireland’s wins over New Zealand both in Chicago in 2016, and more recently at the Aviva Stadium last month.
 
His extension is a further boost for the club, with new contracts for Jack Carty, Oisín Dowling and Jack Aungier already confirmed and more to be announced in the weeks ahead.
 
Commenting on the announcement, Finlay Bealham says:
 
“I’m buzzing to be able to sign on with Connacht Rugby for two more seasons. I moved to Galway as a teenager and it quickly became my home.
 
Connacht have given me every opportunity to play at the highest level and we are continuing to evolve and grow in the West.
 
Representing Connacht and Ireland is always an honour and is where my heart is.”

 
Head Coach Andy Friend added:
 
“Your tighthead prop is the foundation of your scrum and one of the heartbeats of your team, so to have a top shelf bloke and an International prop like Finlay agreeing to stay with us for another 2 seasons is really really pleasing.
 
He knows Connacht inside out having worked his way through our ranks from our Academy, and he epitomises what hard work and self-belief can achieve. He’s also a huge personality and is very popular with the players, staff and supporters alike. We’re all looking forward to seeing him wear the green of Connacht and hopefully Ireland for many years ahead.”

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

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

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

Head coach Andy Friend praised his squad’s concentration levels and mentality after last weekend’s 34-7 victory over The Bulls at the Sportsground. 

 

Despite feeling 7-0 behind early on, the hosts stuck to their task and their systems and they eventually worked their way back into the game before producing an excellent performance to score the bonus-point win. 

 

The Australian said that Connacht will need to show a similar mentality when they face off against the Dragons at home this coming Saturday at 5:15 PM. 

 

“The thing that was most pleasing against The Bulls was that we were seven points down after two and half minutes, but we didn’t lose our heads and we stuck to our systems and stuck to the game plan that had been put in place,” Friend said. 

 

“I thought our performance was built upon really solid defence. Our defence was outstanding. Cullie Tucker is our defence coach and we asked for an emotional response and we really got that. We knew that they(The Bulls) had bigger men, but we knew that if we could bring our own physicality to that, that we would be able to stop their momentum going forward. 

 

“Then we just looked to play through them with our fast speed. A 34-7 victory over The Bulls was very pleasing. For us, just to get the win was great. We were happy with that and we certainly enjoyed it that night, but it means nothing if we can’t back it up on Saturday.”

 

Friend also warned that The Dragons — especially their physical back row — will present a new challenge to Connacht. The Welsh team, who are known for their solid kicking game and big pack, were narrowly defeated, 7-6, at home to Leinster last weekend.

 

“They are going to be a different team. They have a very good back row, as we know,” the former Australian sevens coach said about this coming weekend’s visitors. 

 

They have a very solid forward pack, but they play very much a territorial game. The kicking duel, staying in the kicking game is going to be very important to us. 

 

“Sam Davies is a major weapon of theirs, so we’ll have a focus on him and try to nullify both what he tries to do in attack and potentially have a look at how well he tackles in defence. We know they are a side itching for a win. They ran Leinster close, as we all saw. I know they talk about not beating an Irish province in a few years and we know they’ll be targeting us and that’s fine. 

 

“We have to be more about our game and it will be based on our ability to get line speed and double bangs, as we call them, and in attack we want to get that relentless and fast nature about our game and continue to play through them.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham, who starred in the 34-7 win over The Bulls last weekend, said that the Connacht camp are in buoyant form ahead of welcoming The Dragons to the Sportsground. 

 

The Westerners victory against last weekend’s South African visitors was built on a foundation of defensive solidity, mixed with an expansive attacking game and efficient set-piece and Bealham, 29, said the squad enjoy games where their defensive mettle is tested. 

 

The forward also praised the returning Connacht supporters whose presence back in the stadium the academy graduate described as special. 

 

“It was great, firstly, to come out — it was the first game back with supporters in a long time — and get a win against a very tough Bulls side. It was really special and everyone is in good form and we’re ready to tackle the Dragons’ this week. It’s a good camp at the moment,” the Irish international said. 

 

“Yeah, it was a tough slog, that game. They came out fast and got that early score. There was some huge tackle stats from the forwards, like Jordan Duggan making 20 tackles which is pretty outrageous for a sixty-minute shift. The boys really dug in deep and I suppose when you’re in back to back defensive sets and everyone is in the trenches together and you’re celebrating those little victories, that feeling is something we really love. 

 

“We love that feeling where we’re under the pump and we’re defending like our lives depend on it. We came out with a penalty before halftime and that gave everyone a buzz and energy, even though you have just defended for 20 sets or something ridiculous. It was a good place to be. “

 

Dewald Senekal, Connacht’s new forward’s coach, has employed methods that the Westerners’ pack have enjoyed and improved from and Bealham is excited by the further progress they can make under the South African’s watch. 

 

Bealham is keen for the Sportsground men to build on last Friday’s win over The Bulls when The Dragons visit Galway, but warned they will need to be at their best to ensure the level of consistency required.

 

“Dewald is a legend,” the sixteen times capped Irish international said. 

 

“I have really enjoyed working under him thus far and everything he has brought. Everyone, all the players, have enjoyed what he has brought and there’s a real hard edge to what we’re doing. Maul defence was an issue last season, but if we’re in the trenches — like I mentioned with the defence — and we do a really good job, that just picks up the mood and you get a hunger for it and you want to do it again. 

 

“The big thing now is we had a good performance on Friday, but it’s about consistency for us and we had a tough mauling session this morning, so we’re definitely not resting on our laurels at all. We’re looking to improve everywhere we can and every little tidy up we can make we will look to make it and keep improving on the things we have done well.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland Summer Test Fixtures:

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

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

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are excited to start their Rainbow Cup campaign, with Friday night’s trip to Ulster first on the agenda. 

 

After the Westerners’ trip to Belfast, Leinster will travel to the Sportsground on May the 8th with Connacht’s trip to Munster on May 14th completing the initial trio of interprovincial clashes. 

 

Further details of the rounds four, five, and six fixtures — with games against South African teams —  will be released in due course. 

 

Friend said the players are eager to make up for the disappointment of their Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of Leicester Tigers last time out and the mood among the playing personnel is good ahead of Friday’s interprovincial. 

 

“We’re all looking forward to getting stuck into this new Rainbow Cup, whatever it looks like,” the Australian said. 

 

“Ulster on Friday night gives us our next opportunity. The energy around the group has been good, the feeling around the group has been good. We can’t wait to get up there to Kingspan and have a shot.” 

 

Managing the game against Ulster  — who will meet Leicester in the semi finals of the Challenge Cup —  and being strong in defence and at the set-piece will be key to the outcome, Friend believes. 

 

“We know where we’re at when things are on song,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“When our defence is getting out off the line, and we’re managing the game in the right direction and our set-piece is on top. We know exactly what we can produce and the disappointing thing is that — in all little areas — we haven’t been at our best in the last few weeks. 

 

“We know what we can produce and we know when we have produced that, we have made life difficult for Ulster in the past. But when we haven’t, and that happened at the Sportsground earlier in the year, they have managed to get the win. 

 

“We have to make sure we put out our best performance and that’s our intention to go and do that.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham feels that the Rainbow Cup interprovincial contests will provide the opportunity for players to put their hand up for Irish national team selection, as well as being games that they love playing in. 

 

With a scheduled tour of the Pacific Islands this summer, Bealham — who was involved with the Irish squad during the Six Nations — described the trio of all Ireland clashes as Irish trials for players. 

 

With the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa coinciding with Ireland’s summer tour, there may be even more vacancies for players to force their way into the international fold. 

 

“Those Interpro games are where lads put their hands up for national selection,” the 29-year-old said. 

 

“They’re almost like Irish trials, aren’t they? You see the boys in their best form for these games and it has all the ingredients for Friday night to be a great game. We’re really looking forward to it.”

 

On a personal level, Bealham — who was brought in to the Irish camp as cover for their final Six Nations games, against Scotland and England — is keen to force his way back into the national team picture and add to his fourteen caps. 

 

While wearing the Irish green again is an ambition, the prop says that, first and foremost, his concentration is on performing at his best and helping the Connacht cause, starting on Friday night.

 

“Of course it’s always in the back of your mind that the Irish selectors will be watching these performances and they’ll be looking closely and analysing the game. I know it’s a cliche, but I would be worried about doing my best for the team and doing my role, and executing that as best I can. 

 

“It’s about making the lads either side of you look good, whether that’s in the scrum or in the maul and it’s about doing those selfless things that ultimately make a team better. I think when we’re performing well as a team, more boys will get selected, and yeah it’s not about me going out and scoring ten tries and saying ‘pick me’. It’s just doing my job and doing it to the best of my ability. 

 

“Those interpros, I love them, they’re very fiery and very physical.”

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

Benetton Rugby: 17

Connacht: 19

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

A last gasp Bundee Aki try saw Connacht defeat Benetton Treviso and set a club record for consecutive league away wins with five. 

 

Despite tries from props Finlay Bealham and Paddy McAllister, the away team trailed 17-14 with only a minute remaining against the resolute Italians. Reneging on the opportunity to kick a penalty at goal and claim a draw, Connacht were rewarded for their bravery when Aki touched down at the tail of a powerful rolling maul to seal the win. 

 

Conor Fitzgerald added four points to the tally, converting Bealham and McAllister’s tries, as the away team eked out a deserved win. 

 

Connacht began the game with an attacking mindset and they looked to play with pace and precision at every given opportunity. 

 

With a penalty advantage, Kieran Marmion’s clever grubber kick behind found Tom Daly and the centre powered into space and was stopped just short of the line by the hosts’ scramble defence. 

 

Connacht elected to take a scrum when the advantage didn’t yield an immediate score and the play was brought back. Paul Boyle picked from the back of the set-piece and was denied close to the line, but the visitors reloaded and applied more phases of pressure and Bealham eventually made it count when he surged over the line from close range. 

 

Fitzgerald made no mistake in adding the extras and the Westerners found themselves in a deserved 7-0 lead nearing the 20-minute mark. 

 

The visitors, with Marmion central to their attacking forays, poured forward in search of more tries but it was Benetton — who had a man advantage after Shane Delahunt’s yellow card — who struck next. After a series in the Westerners 22, Davide Ruggeri — the blindside flanker — bundled his way over the line for the Italians’ opening score, which was converted by Edoardo Padovani. 

 

With the wind in their sails, Benetton made it two tries when Leonardo Sarto’s searing run saw the Italian international winger speed up the flank and touch down for a score of individual brilliance which Padovani converted to put the hosts in the lead for the first time; 14-7.

 

The hosts held the lead for the final minutes of the half and the half time score read: Benetton Rugby 14-7 Connacht. 

 

The Westerners, still down a man, started the second half with attacking intent and they registered their second try barely seconds after the beginning of the half. After a number of strong carries close to the line after a break Boyle established Connacht field position, McAllister powered his way over for a try which Fitzgerald converted the level the sides at 14-14. 

 

With the Benetton defence strong, Connacht were unable to regularly establish territory in the hosts half and the home team grew stronger in attack as the half progressed. After applying pressure to the Westerners’ defence with five minutes remaining, the hosts were awarded a penalty. Stepping up, Padovani made no mistake in firing the Italians into a 17-14 lead with scarcely five minutes remaining at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo.

 

 Aki then won Connacht a penalty immediately after the game restarted the away team elected to kick to the corner for the line out. The line out was stolen, but the away team’s excellent breakdown work saw them awarded another penalty not long after. This time, the set-piece worked a treat and Aki put the finishing touches on a powerful rolling maul for the game-winning score. 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler ©

6: Eoghan Masterson

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Paddy McAllister 

 

Replacements: Denis Buckley for McAllister, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Caolin Blade for Marmion, John Porch for Sullivan, Niall Murray for Thornbury, Sean Masterson for Masterson.

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