Six Connacht players who were with the Ireland squad in November have come into the starting lineup for tomorrow’s interpro with Munster in Limerick (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Cian Prendergast, Caolin Blade and Bundee Aki are all named in the starting lineup, as the squad aim to make it three straight wins in the BKT URC.
 
Denis Buckley joins Heffernan and Bealham in the front row while Josh Murphy is selected alongside Thornbury in the second row. Prendergast is named at blindside flanker, with Conor Oliver at openside and Jarrad Butler at number 8.
 
Captain Jack Carty continues at out-half while Tom Farrell partners Aki in the centre. The side is completed by wingers Alex Wootton and Byron Ralston, and full-back John Porch.
 
On the bench there’s a notable return for Shane Delahunt, who has recovered from an 8-month injury layoff for a potential first appearance of the season. The management team have opted for a 6:2 split, meaning Niall Murray, Oisin Dowling and Paul Boyle could all be called upon.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“Everyone had ten days off after the Ospreys game which I think was needed for coaches and players. Now that we have everyone back it’s all eyes on Munster for the start of an important ten week block for us, and we’re well positioned for these games going forward.
 
Munster away at Thomond Park is never an easy task but I thought we were close last year and the previous year we won there. You can’t just rock up to Thomond and think you’re going to win, you’ve got to work your backside off and bring an element of physicality along with accuracy in what you are doing”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Saturday 26th November, 19:35 @ Thomond Park
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (66)
14. Byron Ralston (6)
13. Tom Farrell (83)
12. Bundee Aki (119)
11. Alex Wootton (37)
10. Jack Carty (184) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (154)
1. Denis Buckley (215)
2. Dave Heffernan (171)
3. Finlay Bealham (173)
4. Josh Murphy (5)
5. Gavin Thornbury (68)
6. Cian Prendergast (33)
7. Conor Oliver (47)
8. Jarrad Butler (100)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (117)
17. Peter Dooley (5)
18. Jack Aungier (38)
19. Niall Murray (40)
20. Oisín Dowling (31)
21. Kieran Marmion (215)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (57)
23. Paul Boyle (79)

Captain Jack Carty will make his first appearance of the season in tomorrow’s historic BKT United Rugby Championship interpro against Munster at The Sportsground (k/o 19:35).
 
The fly-half has recovered from wrist surgery to take his place in the starting team, with five changes in total from the side that faced the Vodacom Bulls last week.
 
Shamus Hurley-Langton is handed his first start, while Gavin Thornbury, Byron Ralston and Conor Fitzgerald also return to the starting XV.
 
Fitzgerald is handed the number #15 jersey while David Hawkshaw starts at inside-centre. Kieran Marmion, Mack Hansen and John Porch make up the rest of the backs.
 
The experienced front row of Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged, while Oisín Dowling partners Thornbury in the second row. Flanker Conor Oliver and number 8 Jarrad Butler complete the starting XV.
 
The management team have opted for a 6:2 split on the bench with back rowers Josh Murphy and Paul Boyle both among the replacements.
 
The fixture is set to be a momentous occasion with the new state-of-the-art synthetic surface playing host to its first fixture. Limited tickets remain on sale at connachtrugby.ie.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“We won’t hide from the fact our performances and results haven’t been good enough. We’ve been guilty of too many unforced errors, and at this level you’re going to be punished. As is always the case against Munster, the team who brings the greater level of physicality, linked with superior discipline and minimal error count is that team that usually comes out on top, so those three things are a key focus for us this week.
 
With the new pitch and our friends, family and supporters behind us, we’ll be doing everything in our power to get that first win of the season.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY SQUAD VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Friday 7th October 2022, 19:35 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Conor Fitzgerald (55)
14. John Porch (62)
13. Byron Ralston (3)
12. David Hawkshaw (3)
11. Mack Hansen (16)
10. Jack Carty (180) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (212)
1. Denis Buckley (211)
2. Dave Heffernan (168)
3. Finlay Bealham (176)
4. Gavin Thornbury (65)
5. Oisín Dowling (27)
6. Shamus Hurley-Langton (3)
7. Conor Oliver (43)
8. Jarrad Butler (97)

16. Grant Stewart (1)
17. Peter Dooley (3)
18. Jack Aungier (34)
19. Niall Murray (37)
20. Josh Murphy (3)
21. Colm Reilly (10)
22. Tom Daly (63)
23. Paul Boyle (75)

Gavin Thornbury will captain Connacht for the first time in tomorrow’s BKT URC opener against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The lock will make his 64th appearance for the province in a squad that includes three debutants and a possible two more off the bench.
 
Peter Dooley, Josh Murphy and Byron Ralston have all been handed their first Connacht cap, with Shamus Hurley-Langton and David Hawkshaw also potential debutants off the bench.
 
Dooley is named in a front row with Jack Aungier and hooker Dave Heffernan, while Leva Fifita partners Thornbury in the second row. The pack is completed by flanker Conor Oliver and number 8 Paul Boyle.
 
Kieran Marmion and Conor Fitzgerald are paired together at 9 and 10, while the two Toms – Daly and Farrell – start at centre. Ralston’s first game will be on the right wing, with John Porch on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had a very positive pre-season and there’s now a huge sense of excitement among the group. There’s a genuine belief and optimism about what we can achieve in this first block of games, which all starts in Belfast tomorrow night.
 
Ulster are a quality side and our battles against them are always hard fought. We’re really looking forward going head-to-head with them in what should be a great season opener for us both.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY SQUAD VS ULSTER RUGBY
Saturday 17th September 2022, 19:35 @ Kingspan Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (206)
14. Byron Ralston *
13. Tom Farrell (79)
12. Tom Daly (61)
11. John Porch (59)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (53)
9. Kieran Marmion (209)
1. Peter Dooley *
2. Dave Heffernan (165)
3. Jack Aungier (31)
4. Gavin Thornbury (63) (C)
5. Leva Fifita (15)
6. Josh Murphy *
7. Conor Oliver (41)
8. Paul Boyle (73)

16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (6)
17. Denis Buckley (208)
18. Sam Illo (2)
19. Niall Murray (35)
20. Shamus Hurley-Langton *
21. Caolin Blade (150)
22. David Hawkshaw *
23. Oran McNulty (9)

 

By John O’Sullivan

Connacht were defeated 41-21 by the Cell C Sharks in an entertaining United Rugby Championship clash in Durban today.

 

Despite scoring two tries via Gavin Thornbury and Caolin Blade – one of which Conor Fitzgerald, who also added three penalties, converted – on his 150th appearance for the province and leading 21-10 at halftime, Connacht couldn’t hang on to make it two wins on their South African tour, after their win against the Lions last weekend.

 

The hosts added five tries of their own with an especially strong second half making it four league wins in a row for the South African side.

 

Connacht were intent to attack early and it paid dividends when Fitzgerald made no mistake from the penalty tee. With their line out an efficient attack launch pad, the Irish team went through phases from the set-piece – with Tom Daly and Jarrad Butler carrying hard – and they earned the penalty that brought them the lead.

 

The away team had the better of the opening ten minutes, but, from that point, the Sharks worked their way back into the contest and they opened their account for the afternoon when their fly-half, Curwin Bosch, kicked a penalty to level up the scores in what had been an open and entertaining opening fifteen minutes.

 

Connacht were making headway with big carries – where both centres, Daly and Tom Farrell – and threatening the Sharks’ defence and, with the first half at its halfway point, this is how they retook the lead. A big carry saw the Irish team establish field position in the opposition 22 and when the hosts attempted to stop that momentum with hands in the ruck, Fitzgerald punished them with his second penalty to take the score to 6-3 in favour of the visitors.

 

The opening half was an even affair and the Sharks were the next team to establish themselves in the ascendancy, especially after John Porch’s yellow card reduced Connacht to 14 men, and they scored the game’s first try when Gerbrandt Grobler, formerly of Munster, squeezed over the line from close range. Bosch kicked the extras and the South Africans lead 10-6.

 

Connacht’s reaction was instantaneous. Thornbury, who had been threatening to block down several of the Sharks clearing kicks and coming close on a few occasions, using his huge frame to good effect, charged down an attempted box kick and showed the dexterity to catch the bouncing ball and the pace to run in the score. Despite being a man in arrears, Andy Friend’s men lead 11-10 and, on the balance of play, it wasn’t undeserved as the game reached the half-hour mark.

 

Defensively, Connacht were resolute, both in terms of tackling and at the breakdown, and it was through their excellent jackal threat over the ball – an area where Conor Oliver characteristically showed his class – that they extended their lead. This time, it was Cian Prendergast who applied the vice grip over the ball and earned the penalty that Fitzgerald slotted to put the away team 14-10 to the good, with the Porch’s sin bin soon to elapse.

 

With their allocation of players back, the visitors packed even more punch in attack and, only moments after Porch’s return from the naughty step, Connacht had their second try. On a momentous day on his 150th cap for the province, Blade made a searing break through the guts of the Sharks defence. The Monivea man then played a give and go with Finlay Bealham, with the tight-heads beautiful pass landing flush in the scrum half’s hands for him to run in the try. Fitzgerald added the extras and the Irish province were eleven points up at 21-10.

 

Blade showed his use on the other side of the ball only seconds later. Winning their own kickoff, the Sharks attacked, but the scrum-half showed brilliant breakdown acumen and strength to superbly position himself over the ball and World Cup-winning Springbok Makazole Mapimpi to win the penalty and see out the half 21-10 in front.

 

The Sharks began the second half with intensity and it yielded a try only five minutes in when centre Marius Louw burst over for a try. Connacht’s initial defence was very impressive, holding the home team at bay, but eventually, the pressure told and Louw was at hand to provide the finishing touch. Bosch converted and the Irish team’s lead was cut to four points at 17-21.

 

Gaining confidence from their try, the Sharks pressed for more and their pressure told when Bongi Mbonambi, the South African international hooker, muscled over from minimal distance and Bosch kicked the conversion to give the hosts a 24-21 lead and crown a hugely profitable opening ten minutes to the half.

 

The momentum was with the home team and they added their third try in quick succession when second-row Grobler showed good strength and opportunism and pick and go over the line from close range. Bosch made no mistake from the tee and Connacht trailed by ten at 31-21.

 

The game became broken as the game ticked on, with neither team really managing to assert themselves. Nevertheless, Bosch stretched the Sharks’ lead further – 34-21 – with a penalty with roughly five minutes remaining.

 

Le Roux Roets then sealed the win by showing great strength to burst over the line for a try that Bosch converted to take the score to 41-21 in favour of the Sharks, the score they held until the final whistle.

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: Mack Hansen
14: John Porch
13: Tom Farrell
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Jarrad Butler ©
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Leva Fifita
4: Gavin Thornbury
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley

Replacements:

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Heffernan
17: Jordan Duggan for Buckley
18: Jack Aungier for Bealham
19: Niall Murray for Fifita
20: Oisin Dowling for Butler
21: Kieran Marmion for Blade
22: Jack Carty for Fitzgerald
23: Tiernan O’Halloran for Wootton

The Connacht Rugby management team have named their matchday 23 for tomorrow’s historic Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 1st leg with Leinster at The Sportsground (k/o 8pm)
 
A capacity crowd is expected to be in attendance for Connacht’s first appearance in the Champions Cup knockout stages, and Head Coach Andy Friend is able to welcome back a number of key players just in time for the occasion.
 
British & Irish Lion Bundee Aki returns for his first appearance since before the Six Nations, while there’s also a first start of the season for Gavin Thornbury after an impressive cameo off the bench last weekend following an 11 month absence.
 
The third and final change is the inclusion of club captain Jarrad Butler after missing the win over Benetton through injury.
 
He forms a back row with flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver, while Leva Fifita partners Thornbury. The front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged.
 
Match captain Jack Carty starts at 10 beside Kieran Marmion, while Aki will have Tom Farrell for company at outside centre. A back three of full-back Tiernan O’Halloran and wingers Mack Hansen and John Porch completes the side.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Andy Friend says:
 
“There’s a huge sense of excitement among all the players and management for tomorrow night. These are the type of games you want to be involved in, and with a capacity crowd behind us it’s going to be a great occasion and one we firmly believe we can win.
 
We have over 45 players training between our Pros and integrated Academy players so that’s a great place to be at this stage of the season, and it’s given the coaches some headaches for our squad selection as well.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Friday 8th April, 20:00 @ The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (203)
14. John Porch (54)
13. Tom Farrell (75)
12. Bundee Aki (115)
11. Mack Hansen (10)
10. Jack Carty (175) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (204)
1. Matthew Burke (36)
2. Dave Heffernan (160)
3. Finlay Bealham (170)
4. Gavin Thornbury (59)
5. Leva Fifita (11)
6. Cian Prendergast (26)
7. Conor Oliver (37)
8. Jarrad Butler (91)

Replacements
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (2)
17. Tietie Tuimauga (9)
18. Jack Aungier (27)
19. Oisín Dowling (21)
20. Abraham Papali’i (22)
21. Caolin Blade (146)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (48)
23. Sammy Arnold (35)

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)

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to play a “smart” brand of Rugby in order to earn a victory at Thomond Park in Friday evening’s GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup meeting with Munster. 

 

The Westerners were narrowly defeated by the Southern province, 20-17, in the side’s last meeting in March in a keenly contested interprovincial derby. 

 

Despite the loss, Friend says there were plenty positives to take from the performance — which he described as smart — and he says applying those traits to Friday evening’s game will be crucial to any win. 

 

“What we brought in that game at Thomond, more so in the game here(the December meeting of the team’s at the Sportsground), was that we defensively muscled up against them,” the Australian said. 

 

“I thought our line out worked really well against them, in both attack and defence, and I thought we played a smart brand of Rugby, in terms of what we were doing with the ball, whether we were kicking it long or kicking for contestables. They were key areas that I felt worked for us and we have to make sure we replicate that and some on Friday night.”

 

Friend, meanwhile, paid tribute to Quinn Roux after the Irish international announced he will leave the province at the end of the season after seven years in Connacht green. 

 

While the second row will be missed, the head coach wished him the best of luck for the future and thanked him for his service. 

 

“He’s given an enormous amount to this province,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“He leaves with our blessing and our respect. We would love to keep him, of course we would, but at the end of the day, people make decisions. It was a lengthy process we went through and a decision was made at the end.

 

“We have already begun the process of recruiting a new second row and we will obviously make an announcement about that in due course.”

 

Elsewhere, second row Gavin Thornbury says that Friday’s renewal of rivalries with Munster will provide players the opportunity to put their hands up for international selection with the Irish national team. 

 

Ireland recently announced summer tests against the USA and Japan in Dublin and Thornbury says that competing against other players in the fold for national team squad berths will give him — and every other eligible player — the platform to showcase their abilities and further their international ambitions. 

 

“They are always big,” the 27-year-old said of the interprovincial clash. 

 

“Every time an interpro is played, It’s played fully and 100%, no matter who is playing. It’s another chance to put yourself in the shop window. All I can do is make sure I get myself as mentally and physically in as good a position as possible to put in a performance on Friday. I’m looking forward to that.”

 

Irish line out coach Paul O’Connell attended Connacht training last week and Thornbury said it was a great opportunity to show a member of the national team coaching staff their qualities close up. 

 

“It was good to get him down and show him what we’re doing here,” he said. 

 

“He would have always been someone I looked up to, so it was nice to meet him and introduce myself and just have a conversation with him. We had a good conversation and I was pretty happy with that. Hopefully, now I just back it up with performances and that’s probably the biggest thing.”

 

Thornbury, who joined the Westerners in 2017 from Leinster, was superb in the last game between the teams, a 20-17 home win for Munster in March, and he said he is keen to make a similar impression on Friday and help the team go one better and claim a win.

 

“Yeah, it was good,” the Dublin native said when asked how he would assess his performance in his last trip to Thomond Park. 

 

“I think a lot of things probably came off for me that mightn’t have come off on another night. Obviously, I was fully gutted with the result. I thought we put ourselves in a position where we could have won the game and unfortunately it didn’t come through. 

 

“Personally, some stuff came off that I was really happy with but there’s a lot to keep working on.”

 

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

By John O’Sullivan

 

Munster 20-17 Connacht

 

Connacht fell to a narrow 20-17 defeat to Munster in a physically draining interprovincial encounter at Thomond Park. 

 

The Westerners crossed the line twice, with Matt Healy and Paul Boyle touching down, with Jack Carty also adding seven points with the boot. But it was the hosts who edged the victory, thanks to a late Joey Carbery penalty, which added to two tries via James Cronin and Mike Haley,

 

Gavin Thornbury won a richly deserved man of the match award and the away team pushed the hosts — who top the conference — all the way with a physical performance, both on and off the ball.

 

Connacht started the game with intent and looked to pressure Munster on and off the ball. 

 

Thornbury stole an early line out which allowed the away team to kick for territory. Inside the Munster 22, the lock then charged down an attempted clearance kick and gave the Westerners the chance to feed a five-metre scrum. 

 

From the set-piece platform, the ball was worked to Carty who floated a beautiful pass into the path of Healy, and the winger, with trademark evasion, skipped the attention of a Munster defender to touch down. The Roscommon man then added the conversion to give Connacht an early 7-0 lead. 

 

Munster pushed forward in order to bring themselves back into the game, but their attempts were met with stubborn green resistance, especially in the set-piece where Thornbury and Ultan Dillane, in particular, were proving strong. Paul Boyle and John Porch also provided key interventions in holding the home team up twice over the line. 

 

Eventually, though, their pressure told and Cronin barged his way over from short range and Ben Healy added the extras to tie the teams up at 7-7. 

 

It didn’t take Connacht long to wrestle back the lead, however, as Carty — whose game management was generating attacking momentum for the visitors — sweetly struck a penalty to give the visitors the 10-7 lead they held going into the interval.

 

The home team began the second half in a strong fashion and they leveled the score up only three minutes after the interval when Healy slotted a penalty. 

 

A yellow card for Bundee Aki meant Connacht were reduced to 14 men, but, despite the deficit in men, they were defensively strong and didn’t concede in the period. Thornbury was effective in defence in both the line out — where he stole Munster throws — and at the breakdown where he won two penalties. 

 

With the Westerners so strong in defence, it would take something special to prize them open and that’s exactly what Haley provided when he brilliantly collected his own chip kick and touched down for a try that Joey Carbery converted to give the hosts a 17-10 lead. 

 

Connacht dusted themselves down and went on the offensive, with Carty orchestrating their attack with authority. The Roscommon man’s grubber kick through found Healy, whose acceleration brought him through a gap and deep into the hosts territory. 

 

More carries, from Carty and Caolin Blade, established field position in the Munster 22 and the hosts infringed when slowing down Connacht ball. Chris Cloete was sin-binned and the Westerners opted to take a scrum. 

 

Building phases close to the line, the ball was worked to the right-hand side where Boyle noticed a slight gap and powered through it to touch down. Carty made no mistake with the conversion and the away team leveled the game once again at 17-17. 

 

Connacht pushed and probed for the game-winning score, but it was Munster — with a Carbery penalty — who took the spoils late on and edged an extremely physical encounter. 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Jarrad Butler © 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien, Alex Wootton.

Finlay Bealham and Jack Carty will both line out for Connacht for the 150th time in Friday’s Guinness PRO14 fixture away to Dragons (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Both Irish internationals are products of the Connacht Academy, with Carty making his Pro debut in September 2012 and Bealham in February 2014. Between them they have won 24 Ireland caps.
 
Bealham lines out in a front row alongside Denis Buckley and Shane Delahunt, while Niall Murray and Gavin Thornbury form a new-look second row partnership. Paul Boyle captains the side from blindside flanker, with Conor Oliver on the opposite flank and Abraham Papali’i at number 8. Thornbury and Boyle will also hit the milestone of 50 caps for Connacht.
 
Carty will be joined by Caolin Blade in the half-back slots, while the centre partnership is unchanged with Peter Robb alongside Tom Daly. The back three consists of Matt Healy, Peter Sullivan and John Porch.
 
Among the replacements is Oisin Dowling who is in line to make his Connacht debut after recovering from a long-term back injury.
 
Commenting on the game, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“This is a must-win for us given results of the last few weeks. While our home form has been disappointing we’ve had honest reviews of what’s gone wrong and the reaction in training has been good. Our away form has been a positive for us this season, so we’ll look to keep that going tomorrow albeit against tough opposition and a tough place to go in Rodney Parade.”
 
Regarding his team selection Friend added:
“We’ve a number of players earning significant caps tomorrow so I’d like to congratulate Finlay, Jack, Gavin and Paul on the milestones. We’ve also got Oisin Dowling in line for his first appearance which has been long overdue after his back injury, and that’s a testament to him and the medical department. Overall we’ve a pretty healthy squad which is a boost heading into a key part of the season.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS DRAGONS RUGBY
Friday 5th February, Rodney Parade, k/o 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (30)
14. Peter Sullivan (8)
13. Tom Daly (37)
12. Peter Robb (46)
11. Matt Healy (143)
10. Jack Carty (149)
9. Caolin Blade (121)
1. Denis Buckley (191)
2. Shane Delahunt (89)
3. Finlay Bealham (149)
4. Niall Murray (9)
5. Gavin Thornbury (49)
6. Paul Boyle (49) (C)
7. Conor Oliver (13)
8. Abraham Papali’i (5)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (11)
17. Jordan Duggan (6)
18. Jack Aungier (9)
19. Oisin Dowling *
20. Eoghan Masterson (101)
21. Kieran Marmion (175)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (2)
23. Alex Wootton (12)
 
NOTE: All Connacht Pro players and management returned negative results in this week’s round of PCR testing.

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