The Connacht squad are busy continuing preparations for the Guinness PRO14 interpro against Ulster on Sunday week – their first game in nearly six months.
 
Andy Friend’s side last took to the field at Port Elizabeth in a bonus point win over the Southern Kings before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the rugby season.
 
Now, the squad are working towards their #ReturnToRugby, and you can check out the latest pics below.
 

Fixtures and kick-off times for the return of the Guinness PRO14 from August 21 can now be confirmed after consultation with clubs and broadcasters.
 
An abbreviated schedule will see the 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 regular season run to 15 rounds followed by Semi-finals and a Final across four consecutive weeks.
 
Round 14 will kick-off in Italy on Friday, August 21 with Benetton Rugby welcoming Zebre to Treviso live on DAZN and Premier Sports before a jam-packed Saturday schedule delivers a feast of mouth-watering derby action in the UK and Ireland.
 
In Wales, Scarlets face Cardiff Blues in Llanelli upon their return to rugby with head coach Glenn Delaney taking charge of the hosts for the very first time. That game will be followed by Edinburgh’s clash with Glasgow Warriors in the Scottish capital and the final game on Saturday sees Munster visit Aviva Stadium in Dublin, where Leinster are looking to extend their record unbeaten run of 14 games in the Guinness PRO14.
 
The opening weekend rounds off on Sunday with Ospreys taking on Dragons in Swansea and Connacht facing Ulster in Dublin (live on TG4). All games are live on Premier Sports, eir Sport and DAZN. Round 15 will again feature derbies across the UK, Ireland and Italy across Friday, August 28 to Sunday, August 30.
 
David Jordan, Tournament Director of the Guinness PRO14, said: “So far we have been encouraged by the developments that have allowed all of our teams to return to training. Thanks to the great efforts of our clubs and unions, the willingness of governments and the support of our broadcasters we now have a fixture list to look forward to.
 
“Everyone who makes our games possible has had to adapt to a new way of working under the restrictions of the pandemic and the response of all our key stakeholders has been very impressive. With these fixtures now confirmed we are all geared to safe delivery of these games and to the welcome return of rugby after such a long period without the sport.”

 
Guinness PRO14 Restart Fixtures – Round 14 & 15
 
All games live on Premier Sports, eir Sport & DAZN. Live game on TG4 indicated below
All kick-off times listed at UK/IRE unless stated
 
Round 14

Friday, August 21
Benetton Rugby v Zebre | Stadio Monigo, Treviso at 19:00 (20:00 ITA)

Saturday, August 22
Scarlets v Cardiff Blues | Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli at 15:00 UK
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors | BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh at 17:15
Leinster v Munster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 19:35

Sunday, August 23
Ospreys v Dragons | Liberty Stadium, Swansea at 14:15
Connacht v Ulster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 16:30 (live on TG4)
 
Round 15

Friday, August 28
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh | BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh at 19:35

Saturday, August 29
Dragons v Scarlets | Rodney Parade, Newport at 17:15
Ulster v Leinster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 19:35

Sunday, August 30
Munster v Connacht | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 15:00
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys | Rodney Parade, Newport at 17:00
Zebre v Benetton Rugby | Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma at 19:00 UK (20:00 ITA)
 
Guinness PRO14 Final Series
Semi-Finals: To be played on the weekend of September 4/5/6
Finals: To be played on Saturday, September 12

Saturday, August 22 has been selected as a target date for the 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 season to restart across all five competing territories.
 
The target date was agreed at the PRO14 Board meeting on Tuesday (June 9) based upon the information currently available from each jurisdiction in which the Guinness PRO14 is played. Since announcing an indefinite suspension of match action in March, the tournament team at PRO14 Rugby has worked alongside key medical personnel at our unions and clubs as well as key stakeholders such as World Rugby to map out a return to action.
 
With rigorous protocols outlined for training, game-day logistics and match play, PRO14 Rugby is confident that proposals submitted by our unions to governments across the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa will allow our teams get back on the pitch. Discussions around these proposals will be on-going between each union and their respective governments.
 
Abbreviated Format
 
The 2019/20 season will have an abbreviated finish that features the most attractive match-ups and rivalries from the Guinness PRO14 with two rounds of derby games in each territory counting towards final positions. This will cut the regular season from 21 game rounds to 15. Games postponed prior to the indefinite suspension will be deemed 0-0 draws as previously stated by PRO14 Rugby on February 28, 2020.
 
The postponed Round 13 fixtures Zebre Rugby Club v Ospreys and Benetton Rugby v Ulster have now been deemed 0-0 draws and all four teams will have two points added to their totals as a result. The updated tables can be viewed at www.pro14.rugby/match-centre/table/2020
 
Derby rounds in Italy, Scotland and South Africa will see the two teams from each territory play back-to-back fixtures. The derby fixtures for the teams in Ireland and Wales have yet to be confirmed and will be announced in line with kick-off times and broadcast selections.
 
The season will be concluded across four consecutive weekends with the Guinness PRO14 Final targeted for Saturday, September 12. The two teams which finish top of their conferences will qualify for a semi-final stage in order to compete for places in the Final. PRO14 Rugby will consider the latest information in the territories that knock-out games could take place before making a final decision on the venue(s).
 
Tournament Director Comment
 
David Jordan, Tournament Director of the Guinness PRO14, said: “Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019/20 season. We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.
 
“The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense. Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness PRO14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action.”
 
Proposed Game Rounds
 
Round 14: Saturday, August 22
Round 15: Saturday, August 29
Semi-Finals: Saturday, September 5
Final: Saturday, September 12
 
Venues, Timings & Cross-border Travel
 
When venues across all five territories are agreed upon, consultations will begin with broadcast partners and all key stakeholders around suitable kick-off times. The respective unions involved in the Guinness PRO14 are in continued discussion with their relative authorities and governments regarding travel protocols and protective measures.
 
Health and safety protocols in relation to Covid-19
 
An overview of all the health and safety protocols and protective measures that will be put in place to prevent and mitigate the threat of Covid-19 will be published in due course. At that time tournament representatives will be made available to the media.
 
European Qualification & 2020/21 Season
 
PRO14 Rugby has agreed that rankings for European qualification for the 2020/21 season will be decided on the Conference table positions from Round 13. This will include the points awarded to teams whose postponed games in Round 13 have been deemed 0-0 draws. Once the competition formats for the 2020/21 season have been announced by EPCR then PRO14 Rugby will confirm its qualifying teams for the Heineken Champions Cup.
 
The 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 Season
 
Planning for the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season has begun, October 3 has been identified as the provisional date for Round 1.

The Board of the Guinness PRO14 has completed a significant strategic partnership investment from CVC Capital Partners Fund VII (“CVC Fund VII”) that will allow the league to work towards its full potential – for the benefit of fans, players, clubs and unions in these key rugby nations over the years ahead.
 
Under this agreement, CVC Fund VII will acquire a 28 per cent share of PRO14 Rugby from Celtic Rugby DAC, the Unions will retain the 72 per cent majority share.
 
The partnership commitment will allow both PRO14 Rugby and the Irish, Italian, Scottish & Welsh rugby unions to continue to invest in the sport, both professional and amateur, to achieve its potential over the long term.
 
A portion of the investment will also be held centrally at PRO14 Rugby, for the Board to invest in further capabilities for the business and in upgrading league operations in line with its growth ambitions.
 
As part of this agreement, the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR), will also become a member of Celtic Rugby DAC, and receive a share of the investment.
 
Martin Anayi, CEO, will continue to lead the management team at PRO14 Rugby, working closely with CVC and the unions on execution of the commercial plan. The unions will also remain independently responsible for the sporting and regulatory elements of the league, via the Sporting & Regulatory Committee.
 
In the past four years, the Guinness PRO14 has performed well both on and off the field; doubling distributions to clubs and facilitating record investment back into the sport from the league. This has been recognised by CVC, who share PRO14 Rugby’s vision for the long-term potential of the league.
CVC was selected by PRO14 Rugby and the unions as their partner due to the extensive experience of prior CVC funds investing in multiple sports businesses, such as Formula 1, Moto GP and Premiership Rugby.
 
Dominic McKay, Chairman of Celtic Rugby DAC and Chief Operating Officer of Scottish Rugby, said: “I am delighted that we have managed to welcome CVC into the Guinness PRO14 as our partner. As a Board, we have been ambitious in our outlook and have significantly developed the league in recent years. One of our key goals was to secure a strategic partner to help accelerate our plans and CVC bring a wealth of experience and great expertise in this regard.
 
“Sport, like all of society is dealing with major challenges currently that we could not have imagined just a few months ago, and it is testament to the strength of our partnership with CVC that they have committed to the game of rugby in a such a significant way.
 
“Their enthusiasm and commitment is a welcome vote of confidence in the future of the sport and the Guinness PRO14 as an international competition. Completing this partnership with CVC is testament to the hard work invested by many people who have focused to deliver a bright vision for PRO14 and enable it to realise its commercial value in the global sports market.
 
“We are also delighted that the FIR has now joined Celtic Rugby DAC as a shareholder after 10 years of participation in the league. Alongside my PRO14 Board colleagues at the Irish, Italian, Welsh and South African rugby unions I would like to warmly welcome CVC to the Guinness PRO14.”

 
Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby, said: “CVC’s show of faith has been impressive and is in keeping with their proven track record of success when it comes to sports investment, including Formula 1, Moto GP and Premiership Rugby. This partnership allows all of our stakeholders to plan for a sustainable period of growth, which will benefit the fans, the players and the game.
 
“We are very pleased to partner with CVC, who saw us as an ambitious, fast paced and innovative organisation, situated across a number of core rugby nations that can deliver an increasing impact.
 
“We have been clear that we believe the Guinness PRO14 is a world-class club league, that is still in its growth phase and we are confident that it will become a major standard bearer in our sport. We are excited that CVC clearly shares that ambition and we look forward to working with them to deliver on the league’s promise in the years ahead.”

The suspension of the 2019/20 season of the Guinness PRO14 is now on an indefinite basis due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
 
The board of Celtic Rugby DAC met by teleconference this week and agreed upon a strict list of criteria that would enable the Championship to recommence. However, no decision on a definitive re-commencement date can be made until four key criteria can be met within our respective competing territories:

  • Public Health Authorities cease to prohibit the resumption of sport and group training
  • Travel restrictions between our territories are lifted
  • No forced isolation or quarantine orders are in force when visiting our territories
  • Player welfare is safeguarded, including requirement for a suitable pre-recommencement training period, to be established in conjunction with the high-performance personnel at our participating unions and teams

Due to the evolving situation, unfortunately the board had to take the further decision to cancel the Guinness PRO14 Final at Cardiff City Stadium, set to take place on June 20. Refunds will be made automatically to all who have already purchased tickets.
 
Full information on refunds will be available on https://www.pro14.rugby/final in the next 24 hours.
 
Proposals regarding how to restart the season will be reviewed in the near future. PRO14 Rugby is working with key stakeholders to carefully examine several proposals that can be implemented and delivered in order to close out the season – albeit at a later date.
 
Should any final be played as part of the 2019/20 season, it will be hosted by the team with highest ranking based upon league records from this campaign.
 
When positive indicators on the criteria listed above PRO14 Rugby will provide another update.
 
Everyone across the Guinness PRO14 would urge fans and everyone involved in the sport of rugby to heed the directions from their local health authorities regarding the COVID-19 outbreak and play their part in staying safe.

The current Guinness PRO14 season has been suspended in response to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak.
 
The PRO14 is an international league. Cross border travel is inevitable and that brings with it unique challenges. With governments in Italy and Ireland already putting in place clear directives and restrictions around public activities and travel, the decision to suspend the competition is appropriate. It is in the best interests of everyone that games are not played at this time. The suspension has been directed by the board of Celtic Rugby DAC and will be remain under constant review.
 
David Jordan, Tournament Director PRO14 Rugby, said: “We have made this decision with everyone’s welfare foremost in our minds. With an evolving situation in the five countries that take part in Guinness PRO14 it is important to make a clear decision that is in keeping with the advice of the various governments involved.”
 
Resumption of the 2019/20 season will now become a matter of constant review. To this point PRO14 Rugby has ensured that it has the latest information and guidance made available by the local and national authorities via our participating unions in the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa.
 
This will remain the case for the duration of the suspension. This is an unprecedented action for the tournament and as such no end date to the suspension can be provided at this time.
 
In keeping with our practice during the outbreak, PRO14 Rugby will provide updates on the suspension when more information is available.

Two Guinness PRO14 fixtures due to take place in Italy in Rounds 14 and 15 have been postponed due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the northern part of the country.
 
The Italian government has now extended restrictions on sporting events until April 3 and the latest travel alerts from the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advise against non-essential travel to certain regions of Italy, including Veneto and Emilia-Romagna.
 
Consequently, PRO14 Rugby has taken this action in order to protect the well-being of our participating clubs’ players, other staff and supporters, and provide some degree of certainty in an evolving situation. This decision is fully supported by the board of Celtic Rugby DAC.
 
The fixtures affected are:
 
Round 14: Benetton Rugby v Munster Rugby (originally scheduled for March 21)
Round 15: Zebre Rugby Club v Connacht Rugby (originally scheduled for March 28)
 
As none of these clubs are involved in EPCR competitions, PRO14 Rugby will aim to reschedule these matches on dates during the European weekends in April and May. PRO14 Rugby is currently engaged with EPCR to avoid any scheduling conflicts with European knock-out games.
 
Discussions are still on-going regarding the rescheduling of the postponed Round 13 fixtures – Zebre Rugby Club v Ospreys, and Benetton Rugby v Ulster Rugby.
 
As indicated on February 28 (click here), PRO14 Rugby has activated a live channel of communication with each of the Chief Medical Officers for each participating union who are providing the latest information, advice and requirements from national governments and health authorities in their respective territories.

Connacht kept the pressure on the top three in Conference A with a hard-fought victory over Isuzu Southern Kings, with the side playing 65 minutes with 14 men.

Early tries from Colby Faing’a and Tiernan O’Halloran saw the visitors 14-0 up within ten minutes, before Peter Robb saw red for leading with a forearm.

Stefan Ungerer and Erich Cronjé’s brace got the hosts in contention in Port Elizabeth, but a resilient second-half performance saw Connacht take the victory, with Jack Carty scoring a crucial try after the break.

The writing looked to be on the wall within the first 60 seconds for the Kings, as Fainga’a profited from Ungerer’s fumble on halfway to run in unchallenged and get Connacht off to the perfect start.

And just five minutes later the visitors added their second, as some quick hands from Carty and Kyle Godwin on the Kings’ 22 allowed O’Halloran to break through, before sidestepping two defenders to touch down.

The game-changing moment came after 15 minutes in Port Elizabeth, as substitute Robb was adjudged to have connected with the neck of Howard Mnisi with his forearm, and was given his marching orders.

Things got even worse ten minutes later, as Godwin was shown yellow while trying to stop the unrelenting pressure on their try line, with Ungerer burrowing over from the ensuing penalty.

The hosts made the most of their time against 13 men, as Cronjé pierced the Connacht defence to level the scores three minutes later, before Carty slotted through a penalty to make it 17-14 to the visitors at the interval.

The Irish side came out after the break rejuvenated, and extended their lead through Carty as the fly-half crossed in the corner, while Cronjé went over for his second of the game on the hour mark to reduce the arrears back to three.

Connacht continued to dig deep in the last 20 minutes, with an outstanding effort at the scrum to force a penalty try to secure the bonus point, as the Kings struggled to break down the visitors’ defence.

 

Irish internationals Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan have both been included in the Connacht squad to face the Southern Kings in Round 13 of the Guinness PRO14 this Sunday in Port Elizabeth (k/o 1pm Irish time, 3pm local time).
 
The pair were both released from the Ireland camp following the postponement of the Six Nations tie with Italy, and duly met up with the squad for the one-match trip to South Africa.
 
Dillane starts in the second row alongside Joe Maksymiw with Heffernan named among the replacements.
 
In all there are six changes from the side that lost to Edinburgh last weekend.
 
Paddy McAllister is drafted back into the front row alongside Shane Delahunt, while there’s also a start for prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy following an ankle injury to Finlay Bealham.
 
The back row is unchanged for the third straight game with Jarrad Butler captaining the side at number 8, with flankers Paul Boyle and Colby Fainga’a alongside him.
 
Caolin Blade comes back into the starting side to partner Jack Carty in the half-back positions, while there’s also a change at centre where Tom Daly is named alongside Kyle Godwin.
 
The final swap comes on the wing where Connacht’s record try-scorer Matt Healy makes up a back three with John Porch and Tiernan O’Halloran.
 
Commenting ahead of the fixture, Head Coach Andy Friend says everyone is keen to put the disappointment of last weekend behind them:
 
“We didn’t get the result we wanted in Edinburgh, so this week has been all about ensuring we get another win on the board. The Kings are a dangerous side especially at home so we will have to be at our very best.”
 
Regarding his team selection, Friend added:
 
“We’ve been able to call on two international footballers in Dave and Ultan which is a nice boost for us. This mini-block of three games is key for us so I believe we have named a squad that can get the job done on Sunday and finish on a high before the short break.”
 
CONNACHT SQUAD V SOUTHERN KINGS (SUNDAY 1 MARCH 2020 @ NELSON MANDELA BAY STADIUM, PORT ELIZABETH)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade.
(1-8): Paddy McAllister, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c).

Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Conor Kenny, Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon, Kieran Marmion, Conor Fitzgerald, Peter Robb.

The Connacht pro squad endured the West of Ireland weather for the last time this week as they stepped up their preparations for Sunday’s clash with the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.
 
The squad begin their travels to South Africa tomorrow for a Thursday arrival, in what will be their third trip to the country since the inclusion of the two sides to the Guinness PRO14 in 2017.
 
Check out some of the best pics from this morning’s session here.

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