Match report from the GUINNESS PRO14
 
Connacht clinched a third successive Guinness PRO14 victory for the first time since March 2017 with a 21-17 victory over Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
 
In an open contest, the Irishmen unearthed a ruthless streak before the break as Tom Farrell and Gavin Thornbury’s tries proved enough to earn Connacht’s first victory over the Free State side on South African soil.
 
Cheetahs’ Shaun Venter provoked a late rallying call for the hosts with a try ten minutes from the end, but it proved in vain as the hosts fell to a seventh loss of the season.
 
Connacht flew out the blocks and they had the lead inside six minutes when Farrell skipped his way through the Cheetahs pack before spectacularly dummying his way around Malcolm Jaer to reach the try line. Jack Carty kicked for two.
 
Cheetahs steadily grew into the game and they almost broke back when Darren Adonis made his way to the line but was thwarted by a crunching challenge from Niyi Adeolokun.
 
Carty extended the lead with his boot midway through the tie before Thornbury struck a telling blow by bursting over the line with a rolling maul to score his first try of the season.
 
Cheetahs finally took one of their chances when the ball was threaded to speedster Jaer to guile his way over the whitewash and hold off an injured Adeolokun to reduce the deficit to 15-5.
 
Then when Connacht carelessly gave away a penalty in their own half, Cheetahs grasped the chance to score again as Joseph Dweba bulldozered his way down the blindside of the maul to score his fourth career try.
 
Both Cheetahs and Connacht threatened after the break, but a spate of individual handling errors scuppered the try scoring ability of both sides until replacement David Horwitz kicked a 57th minute penalty.
 
Another defensive error from the Cheetahs, this time from Joseph Dweba for not releasing, allowed Horwitz to kick his second penalty of the afternoon and stretch Connacht’s advantage to 21-10.
 
Franco Smith’s men began to fade, but out of nowhere with under ten minutes to go William Small-Smith popped up to bring the game back to life as he released Venter away to score the only try of the second half. Tian Schoeman converted, but it proved too little too late to have an effect.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made five changes to his starting team to face the Cheetahs in the Guinness PRO14 in Bloemfontein on Saturday (kick-off 3pm Irish time).
 
Into the side comes hooker Tom McCartney, lock Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle and Robin Copeland in the back row and winger Niyi Adeolokun. Connacht are aiming to back up their bonus point win over the Southern Kings last week with a second win on their South African tour.
 
The inclusion of the experienced McCartney sees him join a front row alongside props Denis Buckley and Conor Carey. In the second row, Ultan Dillane joins Thornbury who is set to start his first game since returning from a shoulder injury that he picked up in the win over Scarlets earlier in the season.
 
In the back-row Copeland at number 8 and Boyle at blindside will line up alongside skipper Jarrad Butler.
 
Adeolokun is the only change in the backline with his inclusion on the wing. He will be part of a back three that incudes Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Jack Carty, man-of-the-match last week, continues his half-back partnership with Caolin Blade as do the midfield duo of Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell.
 
While Head Coach Andy Friend was satisfied with the bonus point win last weekend, he says they were still left with plenty of areas for improvement this week: “The win against the Kings last week was hugely important for the morale among the group and it sets us up for the challenge of taking on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The players have worked really hard in training over the two weeks. They have been hugely challenged in the intensity and physicality that we have worked on and they have responded really well. Coming over here we set ourselves the target of two wins and that firmly remains our goal.”
 
Friend is not underestimating the challenge that his side face, against the Cheetahs whose home form has been extremely competitive since joining the PRO14 last season: “We will need a step up in intensity and execution from where we were last weekend to challenge the Cheetahs. They are a competitive side who are well able to throw the ball around and open teams up and the boys are well aware of that. But we will continue to focus on our game and constantly improving ourselves and delivering a result”, Friend added.
 
#CHEvCON
 
Kick-off 3pm (Irish Time):
 
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Cian Kelleher.

Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy has recovered from injury to take his place on the wing against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Sunday (kick-off 1pm Irish time).
 
Connacht have been based in Cape Town for the past week ahead of the game and are on a tour that will include a visit to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs next weekend.
 
Healy returns to a back three that includes Cian Kelleher on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back. With Bundee Aki unavailable through his involvement in the November internationals, Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell form the midfield while the half back pairing sees out half Jack Carty and Caolin Blade renew their partnership.
 
Loosehead Denis Buckley, tighthead Conor Carey and hooker with Shane Delahunt make up the front row trio. In the second row Ultan Dillane and James Cannon are named in the starting XV while Gavin Thornbury has returned from injury and is named among the replacements.
 
The back row includes Sean O’Brien and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively while Captain Jarrad Butler starts again at number 8.
 
Naming his side, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “The squad has travelled well. We left Dublin on Sunday morning and have been based out of Cape Town all week. The facilities have been top class and so too has the attitude of the players so that has allowed us to get a lot of work done. We have a squad of 25 in South Africa for the two weeks so that gives us some flexibility for the two games”, Friend said.
“Matt Healy has returned after missing a couple of games and he is fully fit and ready to start on the wing. The other good news on the injury front is the return of Gavin Thornbury who had a more long term injury but is back now and reading to go also. We will start Gavin on the bench but no doubt he will feature during the 80 minutes”, he added.
On the challenge that the Southern Kings present, Friend says that Connacht cannot afford to take them lightly; “The Kings have been really impressive this season especially when they are at home in Port Elizabeth. They put 31 points on Leinster and 34 points on Scarlets and were unlucky to lose both games. They put 38 points on Glasgow and won that game so their form against three of the top teams in the Pro14 has been really impressive and we know how dangerous they can be. If they get space out wide, they will punish any team and we will need a big performance to overcome them”.
 
#KINvCON
 
CONNACHT TEAM & REPLACEMENTS v SOUTHERN KINGS
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Darragh Leader.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that lock Gavin Thornbury has signed a two-year contract extension to take him up to the end of the 2020-21 season. The 24-year-old has made seventeen appearances since joining the province last season. 

 

Prior to joining Connacht, Thornbury spent six months in New Zealand where he played for club side Border on the North Island and helped them to victory in the Wanganui premier club competition. During that time, he also played for the Wanganui provincial representative team.  He has previously represented Ireland at Under 20 level.

 

Commenting on the signing, Connacht Head Coach, Andy Friend said: “Gavin is a top quality player who has really impressed me and everyone at the club. He is a big powerful player who is continuing to get better and better the more he plays. He has a really bright future and has the potential to play consistently at the highest level. He will be a vital player for us in the seasons ahead.”

 

Following his contract extension, Gavin Thornbury added: “I’m absolutely delighted to extend my contract with Connacht. I am part of an excellent squad that is full of ambition about where we can go and what we can achieve. I am really enjoying my time at Connacht and I look forward to many more games in the Connacht jersey.”

Back row Sean O’Brien and lock Gavin Thornbury have both returned from injury and are named in Andy Friend’s Connacht side to face Zebre in the Sportsground on Saturday in the Guinness PRO14 (Kick off 5:15pm).

 

Centre Eoin Griffin and lock Quinn Roux, who came off the bench last week, are the other two changes to the side that lost by the narrowest of margins to Glasgow in Round One. 

 

O’Brien comes into a back row that includes captain Jarrad Butler at openside and Academy player Paul Boyle who moves to Number 8 for his second start of the season. New signing Colby Fainga’a increases Connacht’s back row options as he is named among the replacements for the visit of the Italians. 

 

Caolin Blade and Jack Carty continue their half back partnership with returning Irish international Kieran Marmion also named on the bench. 

 

In form winger Cian Kelleher is named in a back three that includes Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back. 

 

Announcing his team, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend spoke of the threat that Zebre bring; “We have picked a strong side again this week and I am satisfied that we are seeing some real competition in the squad. With the Eagles side playing Munster in the new Celtic Cup all of our available players will get game time this weekend”, Friend said.

 

“We are well aware of the challenge that Zebre pose. From what I have seen of them they are a big physical side who are well able to throw the ball around. We are expecting another big crowd in the Sportsground and a similar atmosphere to what we witnessed last weekend”, he added. 

 

#CONvZEB

Kick-off 5:15pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Kyle Godwin, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle.

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Conán O’Donnell, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Kieran Marmion, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun. 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Connacht Captain John Muldoon is set to lead his Connacht side out for the final time when they take on Leinster at the Sportsground on Saturday (Kick off 3:05pm). In the process he will make his 327th appearance for his native province having made his debut in October 2003.

The Portumna man is named at his familiar number 8 position alongside flankers Eoin Mc Keon and Jarrad Butler in the clash with the Champions Cup finalists. Lock Gavin Thornbury is named to start against his home province in what will be his 14th appearance of the season. Thornbury starts alongside Quinn Roux with Ultan Dillane named among the replacements.

In the midfield Tom Farrell and Bundee Aki continue their centre partnership, while the back three of full back Tiernan O’Halloran and wingers Matt Healy and Niyi Adeolokun remains unchanged.

Speaking to journalists ahead of the game, Muldoon spoke of the immense challenge that his Connacht side face. “It’s my final time to throw on the green jersey and I just want to do the lads justice before I bow out at the Sportsground. It has actually crept up on me and I have had mixed emotions this week when I have gone into training with the lads.” he said

“It’s been bittersweet getting ready for this game against Leinster. It has built up nicely towards a game against a phenomenal team and they were outstanding in their Champions Cup win over Scarlets again last weekend. It certainly won’t be easy to finish my career against them, but I am looking forward to getting stuck into my last game for my province”, Muldoon added.

#CONvLEI

Kick-off 3:05pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt).

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.

Our senior squad returned to training on Monday as pre-season for the upcoming campaign began with the countdown now on for our fixtures against Wasps and Bristol next month.

Decked out in the new training kit, which will be available in Elverys Sports stores from July 20, there were a number of new faces settling in with the squad over the last three days.

Scrum-half James Mitchell, prop Peter McCabe and second row Gavin Thornbury have all been training along with Academy graduates Conor McKeon (scrum-half), Cormac Brennan (utility back) and Pat O’Toole (hooker).

Today, a number of the squad will be out among our local clubs with 12 senior players visiting Connacht Rugby Summer Camps, sponsored by Galway Free Range Eggs.

Two fixtures are lined up in August and Season Ticket holders for the 2017/18 season have free access to the pre-season fixture against Bristol at the Sportsground on Saturday, August 26 (3pm).

That game will be new coach Kieran Keane’s first home game at the helm with Pat Lam leading the opposition and tickets will be available to purchase shortly with a high demand expected.

Prior to that clash, Connacht travel to the Ricoh Arena on Wednesday, August 23, to take on Premiership runners-up Wasps.

 

Connacht Rugby and the IRFU are delighted to announce the signing of Irish second row Gavin Thornbury on a two-year deal.

23-year-old Thornbury recently spent six months in New Zealand where he initially joined club side Border on the North Island. Having helped Border to title glory in the Wanganui premier club competition, the former Ireland under-20’s player earned a place in the Wanganui provincial representative team, who play in the Heartland Championship – the tier below New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup. The 6-foot 7-inch lock was part of the Wanganui team that won the Meads Cup in October 2016.

Thornbury’s successful stint in New Zealand came after his first season as a professional with Leinster which was unfortunately affected by injury.

Commenting on the announcement, Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane said:

“We’re delighted to have Gavin joining us next season. He is a young Irish lock who has huge potential and has shown his desire to succeed at this level by taking a chance with his move to New Zealand where he did very well.”

Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy added:

“We are delighted to be adding Gavin to our squad for next season. He is someone we have been monitoring over the past number of seasons. Gavin is a strong set piece operator, has a huge appetite for work and has shown an eye for scoring opportunities. We are looking forward to seeing what he can bring to the club.”

Gavin Thornbury said:

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to play with Connacht Rugby. The exciting brand of rugby is hugely attractive and I very much hope to build on my experience to date – particularly from New Zealand. I look forward to making a positive contribution to the club’s continued success over the next few years.”

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