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)

Head coach Andy Friend wants to see his team bring a high intensity and physicality to Saturday’s 7:35 PM United Rugby Championship interprovincial game with Leinster at The Sportsground.

 

After a disappointing defeat to Edinburgh last time out, Friend is keen for his side to make amends this coming Saturday and the key to that – he says – is playing with bravery, on both sides of the ball, and speed, hallmarks of Connacht’s tactical blueprint.

 

“What I want to see when we’re carrying is we’re carrying with real intent and the opposition defenders who are trying to slow our ruck ball – which they will be – removed with real physicality,” the Australian said.

 

Sticking to Connacht’s principles – which have resulted in victories against Leinster before – is what Friend wants from his players and he wants to see those strategies put into practice from the first whistle on Saturday evening.

 

“We want our physicality to show, a functioning set piece where we’re winning our line out and defending well against their line out,” the former Australian Sevens coach said.

 

“Our kicking game being accurate and doing what we’re meant to be doing on it and our fundamentals, our key principles that we talk about ad nauseam, around attack and defence are being adhered to and we have 15 players connected on the field.

 

“If we see that, it should be a good afternoon.”

 

Meanwhile, Captain Jarrad Butler says that Connacht are focusing on the upcoming United Rugby Championship clash with Leinster at the Sportsground on Saturday as an individual game and not as part of a trilogy of fixtures against the Eastern province.

 

After Andy Friend’s men host Leinster at 7:35 PM on Saturday in the league, they will face the reigning league champions twice more in the Heineken Champions Cup in the following weeks, meaning that three of Connacht’s next four fixtures in all competitions will be interprovincial’s against their eastern rivals.

 

However, Butler knows that taking it each game at a time is the right approach and that is the mentality across the whole squad and coaching staff.

 

“Playing any team three times in four weeks is bizarre, I haven’t been in a situation like that before,” the back-row forward said.

 

“Those other two games, in the Champions Cup, we haven’t really started to focus on those now. We have put ourselves under some pressure with the URC(United Rugby Championship).

 

“I think if you went into this week you could put a lot of pressure on yourself, but I don’t think we can do that. We just have to focus on the game this week and do what we can do to put in a really good performance at home against really good opposition.

 

“I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we thought too long term, we just have to focus on this week.”

 

Butler is excited by the prospect of locking horns with Leinster, a team and squad he rates as among the best in Europe.

 

However, the 30-year-old says that the key to any Connacht win will be focusing on themselves and their own game rather than devising a plan solely based on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.

 

“That Leinster team is just full of so much talent. One of their biggest strengths is their depth,” the former Brumbies man said.

 

“They have got two full teams that they can put out on the pitch and can do a really good job for them. I think you can’t get too caught up in the selection of that team. You kinda have to worry about your own things, because you really don’t know what kind of team they are going to put out on the field.

 

“Regardless, all of them are class, they are littered with international players, really high-quality players. It is what it is, you can’t think too much about it, you just have to focus on your stuff. If you get too worried about the team that’s in front of you, you’re halfway to losing the game already.”

Connacht Rugby are delighted to confirm club captain Jarrad Butler has committed his future to the province with a two-year contract extension.
 
Butler joined the club from the Brumbies in 2017 and made an immediate impact – he won the Players’ Player of the Year award in his first season and was then chosen as the new captain by the coaches and his fellow players, taking over from John Muldoon.
 
Now in his fifth season at the club, the 30-year old has made 90 appearances for the club and is in line to become the latest Connacht centurion later this year. He will now remain at The Sportsground until at least the end of the 2023/24 season.
 
Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Jarrad has all the qualities you look for in a club captain. He leads by his actions on and off the field, and commands the respect of his fellow players. I’m delighted that he has chosen to stay at Connacht in what will be a really exciting period for everyone at the club.”

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht are keen to right the wrongs of last weekend’s defeat to Glasgow Warriors when they face off us against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening.

 

The Australian described last Saturday’s performance in the 42-20 defeat at home to the Scottish team as unacceptable, given the strides the team and squad have made this season and the positive impression they wanted to make in front of a full house at the Sportsground. 

 

However, Friend is confident that Connacht – whose training sessions have been aggressive and intense, with players looking to make amends and put their hands up for selection – can get back to winning ways on Friday, despite acknowledging the many qualities of Ulster.

 

“We actually saw a response yesterday afternoon,” the former Australia Sevens coach said.

 

“We put it to bed yesterday morning. We had a lengthier team meeting yesterday morning. The players were good. They get it and they own it. Things were presented to them and conversations were had, but we parked it as of about 10:30 yesterday morning. 

 

“What we saw today was a much more energized team today like we’re used to seeing and what we thought we were going to see last Saturday.”

 

Friend says that the key to any win for the Westerners will be focusing on their own game and executing to the standard they know they can, rather than shaping their game plan depending on their opponents with the October win over the Westerners’ interprovincial rivals providing the template.

 

“It’s got to be about us. The last time we played Ulster at The Aviva, we had that hunger and physicality about us and we took the game to them and that’s what, unfortunately, you didn’t see last Saturday.

 

“It’s about us taking the game to Ulster. They’re a good team, so they don’t lose at the Kingspan very often. But we have shown, over the last few years, that if we do front up there and if we do play a brand of football with that physical edge to it, we actually can get wins against them. 

 

“So, it’s about us turning up and doing that.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row Jarrad Butler says that the Westerners’ trip to Ulster on Friday evening poses a massive challenge.

 

The Sportsground men won the sides’ last meeting 36-11 in a brilliant performance at The Aviva Stadium last October. 

 

And after three defeats in a row – including in Europe and the league – Butler hopes that the interprovincial in Belfast will spark Connacht back into a winning run of form.

 

“Yeah, it’s a massive challenge,” the former Brumbies flanker said.

 

“I think it’s exactly what we need to try and bounce back from last week and then a couple of close games before that as well. We really need to get ourselves back into the winner’s circle.

 

“I think Ulster are the perfect opposition for that. They have been outstanding for the past few games. They have been consistent, they have been playing really good footy. But like you said, we’ve had some really good results against Ulster. 

 

“I think back to the Aviva and we were able to put them under a lot of pressure, we were able to move forward and assert ourselves and we think if we can do that again, we can definitely get a good result, that’s for sure.”

 

Last weekend’s home defeat to the Glasgow Warriors – coupled with the narrow European reversals against Leicester Tigers and Stade Francais in the previous weekends – have provided lessons for Connacht and Butler believes they are ready to apply them when they lock horns with Ulster.

 

“There was a bit of extra physicality and energy this morning at the training session but it was good and it was warranted because we needed a kick up the rear end, you know what I mean?

 

“I think we have to be able to look back at that and say ‘hey, let’s not put ourselves in a position, sitting in the sheds, scratching our heads and wondering what happened out there for the last 80 minutes. We need to have a reaction.”

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht were defeated 37-31 by Stade Francais in a hugely entertaining Heineken Champions Cup game in Paris today. 

 

Despite securing a try and losing bonus point, thanks to five pointers from Alex Wootton, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell and Jarrad Butler – with Jack Carty adding four conversions and a penalty – the Westerners, who had already qualified for the last sixteen prior to kick-off, lost out to the home team. 

 

The hosts, meanwhile, knew they needed a bonus-point win to potentially qualify for the next round and they kept their end of the bargain up.

 

Connacht looked to be aggressive from the very first whistle and they played with width and tempo. Their ambition was rewarded after six minutes when Sammy Arnold’s accurate cross-field kick – with an advantage accruing – found Wootton and the winger showed a great step to dart into the defensive gap and strength to dot down the ball. Carty added the extras and the away team were deservedly ahead, 7-0

 

Stade Francais knew that a bonus-point win – plus results going their way elsewhere – would give them a chance to qualify for the last 16 and they continued to pile on the pressure and it reaped rewards when Nicolas Sanchez added a penalty and then, only two minutes later, Adrien Lapegue crossed for a try. Sanchez converted and the home team lead for the first time at 10-7 in what was an entertaining opening twenty minutes in Paris. 

 

The away team were using their accurate line out as a launchpad for attacks and, after turning the screw for a few phases after the set-piece with Cian Prendergast carrying hard, they earned a penalty that Carty slotted to tie the score up at 10-10.

 

Stade Francais thought they had scored a second try when Leo Barre went over in the corner, but – upon a TMO check – the try was correctly disallowed when Tolu Latu was yellow-carded for a dangerous clear-out on Shane Delahunt in the build-up. 

 

With the man advantage, Connacht went for the jugular and their pressure yielded a score close to halftime. Once again, a safely secured line out gave the Westerners a platform, and, from the back of the maul, Blade showed bravery and strength to power over the line from close range. Carty kicked the extras and the away team went into the interval leading 17-10.

 

If Connacht ended the first half well, then Stade started the second period on the front foot and they had a try barely a minute in Laumape – the former All Black – went over in the corner. The conversion was wide, so the Westerners held onto their lead 17-15.

 

The Westerners’ dusted themselves off and looked to work their way back into the game and they had their third try of the afternoon not long into the second half. Latu had received a second yellow for the hosts for dissent and, sniffing blood, the away team looked to move the ball wide. Arnold’s beautiful offload found Farrell and the centre showed pace to canter over in the corner. Carty once again nailed the conversion and Connacht found themselves nine points ahead at 24-15.

 

To their credit, Stade kept fighting with fourteen men and they registered the next try when Kylan Hamdaoui crossed for an unconverted try that meant the Westerners still lead at 24-20.

 

Continuing the tit for tat nature of tries, it was Connacht’s turn next to go under the posts. A beautiful line from Butler saw him dart into space. The back row then combined with Conor Oliver and the openside unselfishly returned a pass to Butler to go in unopposed under the sticks. Carty made no mistake from the tee and the away team wrapped up their try bonus point and lead 31-20 after an hour. 

 

An enthralling fixture had its next big moment when Ryan Chapuis, the back row, went over for a try in the corner. Sanchez kicked the conversion and Connacht’s lead was reduced to four points. The Westerners’ also lost Oliver to a yellow card in what was set up to be a tense finishing ten minutes. 

 

With the numbers even, the Parisians added another try when Lapegue crossed for his second try and the hosts took the lead at 34-31.

 

With their wind in their sails and an even number of players on the field, the hosts slotted a late penalty through Sanchez to give them the bonus point win and six-point margin of victory they needed to potentially qualify for the latter rounds. 

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran

14: Alex Wootton 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Sammy Arnold 

11: Mack Hansen 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Greg McGrath 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dave Heffernan for Delahunt

17: Charlie Ward 

18: Sam Illo for Greg McGrath

19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling

20: Paul Boyle for Prendergast

21: Colm Reilly for Blade

22: Conor Fitzgerald 

23: Diarmuid Kilgallen for Tiernan O’Halloran

Head coach Andy Friend is confident in Connacht’s preparation ahead of the Westerners’ inaugural United Rugby Championship fixture away to the Cardiff Rugby at 7:35 PM on Friday evening. 

 

Connacht reshuffled their coaching staff over the course of the pre-season, with Dewald Senekal joining the province as a forwards coach, while Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler have both moved to the first team picture from the academy set up. Peter Wilkins, meanwhile, moved from defence coach to attack coach. 

 

Friend insists that the new coaches — most of whom have experience of working with the Westerners — will bring a fresh impetus that will prove beneficial as the new season starts and progresses. 

 

“Yeah, it’s a good feeling and it’s a fresh coaching group,” the Australian, who is going into his fourth season as head coach, said of Connacht’s pre-season preparations. 

 

“Pete(Wilkins) has been moved into that senior coaching role and he’s thriving in that. As you know, he’s done defence for four years here, but he felt he had done enough with the defence and wanted to get his hands onto the attack stuff and I was more than happy to accommodate him there. He has got great knowledge of the attack. He’s thriving in that position. 

 

“Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawler, having come through the pathway in our academy which is a nice seamless transition, have come in. Two younger coaches with a lot of energy and a lot of good thought. That’s adding good value. 

 

“Dewald(Senekal) coming from France, played a lot of Rugby in France and South Africa, has added some newness to our forward pack. Across the board, I think it’s been a pretty seamless transition. I suppose the results will tell us in the next few weeks, but I’m really happy with the way the first ten weeks have gone.”

 

Given the structure of the Rugby United tournament, Friend is eager for Connacht to start quickly with a win, but the former Australian Sevens coach is wary of the threat posed by Friday’s opponents in Wales. 

 

The head coach highlighted the Welshmen’s fitness, their fast style of rugby and their familiarity with their 4G pitch as their particular strengths.

 

Last season, the sides finished on a win apiece in their two meetings and the Australian is expecting a similarly tight contest at the Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

“We’ve been guilty in the last few years of maybe not getting the start we wanted, we’re very aware of that,” Friend said. 

 

“We’ve got Cardiff away, as we know, on Friday night. That’s going to be a really tough game. They’re a formidable outfit and they’re very hard to knock over over there. I think we’ve had two successes there in the last ten years, so it’s not an easy game. We’re all aware of that, but our intention is to start well and hopefully — if we’re at our best — it will be a really impressive win for us.”

 

Meanwhile, club captain Jarrad Butler says the players have enjoyed the pre-season schedule and working with the new coaches ahead of the season’s curtain-raiser. 

 

The back row, 30, says that there is an air of positive energy around the training camp and he is confident that it will stand the squad in good stead for the season ahead. 

 

“Even from the start of the pre-season, there was a lot of changes,” the Australian said. 

 

“But I think it’s been pretty refreshing for the group to have some new voices around the place, new drills, new energy. We’ve definitely gotten that from all the coaching staff. D(Dewald Senekal) has come in with a lot of energy and philosophies he’s had from coaching over in France. 

 

“Everyone knows Mossie and Collie, having come through the academy, but they were highly regarded, given the stuff they were with the academy, so there was a real eagerness for them to be involved and work on some of the things we felt we needed to work on, come the end of last season. It’s been good.”

 

With nine new players in the Connacht squad this season, including academy graduates moving to the senior team, the transition isn’t just off the pitch. 

 

Butler, though, says he enjoys the role of being the club captain and helping these new players — whether they are local or from overseas — to adjust to life with the Westerners. However, the former Brumbies back-row says the environment in Connacht allows for all players, whether young or old, to show their leadership credentials. 

 

“A lot of new guys have come into the setup and they have been integrated well. I think having a new coaching set up in there has made that transition a little bit easier because everyone has kind of been on the same page. 

 

“The last couple of years, we have been able to roll onto the following year. This year has been a real change of direction and a real change of style from the coaches, so it’s been new for everybody. 

 

“In saying that, we had a lot of guys who performed really well last year — you think of guys like Paul Boyle, who had a great year and got himself involved with the Irish squad — you think of guys like Tom Daly and Caolin Blade. 

 

“You’ve got these younger guys coming in and stepping up to leadership roles as well. It opens the door for them to have a voice. It opens the door for new guys to come in and have a voice as well and I think it works best for everybody.”

The Connacht management team have made five changes to their starting XV for tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup interpro with Leinster at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Captain Jarrad Butler will make his first appearance in nearly 2 months following suspension and injury – he comes straight into the starting XV. Denis Buckley comes into the front row for his 198th appearance, while Niall Murray starts in the second row. Conor Fitzgerald starts at no.10 following an impressive cameo off the bench against Ulster, while the man who scored the match-winning try in that game, Peter Sullivan, is also handed a starting berth on the wing.
 
There’s also a 150th appearance for Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy who is named on the opposite wing.
Buckley lines up alongside Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Gavin Thornbury completes the tight five. Butler starts at number 8 alongside flankers Eoghan Masterson and Conor Oliver.
 
Caolin Blade partners Conor Fitzgerald, while Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien play together at centre for the 5th straight game. With Healy and Sullivan on the wings, John Porch completes the side from full-back.
 
There’s also a welcome return among the replacements for Sammy Arnold, who hasn’t featured for four months since undergoing chest surgery.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We had a great win last time out in Belfast, but as always this year it’s now about backing that up and getting some consistency going. Leinster will travel to The Sportsground wanting to avoid three defeats so that’s a challenge in itself, but we’re also confident we can put in a performance capable of getting a win.
We’ve got a few players returning from injury which is always good, and Matt Healy hits a significant milestone as well so we’re very pleased with the team we’re able to select.”

CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Saturday 8th April, The Sportsground, kick-off 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (37)
14. Peter Sullivan (13)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (8)
12. Tom Daly (45)
11. Matt Healy (149)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (33)
9. Caolin Blade (128)
1. Denis Buckley (197)
2. Dave Heffernan (141)
3. Finlay Bealham (156)
4. Niall Murray (14)
5. Gavin Thornbury (57)
6. Eoghan Masterson (108)
7. Conor Oliver (18)
8. Jarrad Butler (70) (C)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (14)
17. Matthew Burke (21)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (64)
19. Cian Prendergast (6)
20. Abraham Papali’I (11)
21. Kieran Marmion (183)
22. Sammy Arnold (12)
23. Oran McNulty (1)

Connacht 32-17 Cardiff Blues

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht made it consecutive Guinness PRO14 wins with a 32-17 victory over The Cardiff Blues tonight. 

 

A brace of tries from Guinness man of the match Alex Wootton, a try apiece from Jarrad Butler and Abraham Papali’i, and 12 points from the boot of Jack Carty accounted for the hosts’ points, which were earned thanks to a performance of attacking class and set-piece efficiency.

 

The results sees the Westerners two points clear of the Scarlets in second place in Conference B, having played two games less than the Welsh team.

 

Cardiff, meanwhile, scored two tries of their own — as well as a penalty — but it was the home team who deservedly won all five points.

 

The visitors started the game in a strong manner and Connacht had plenty of defending to do in the opening ten minutes. Matt Healy and Tom Daly, in particular, came up with some big defensive interventions but the away team’s perseverance eventually told and — after a series of phases in the hosts 22 — loosehead prop Rhys Carre forced his way over. Jason Tovey added the extras to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.

 

The hosts grew into the game in an attacking sense thereafter and they made it count on the scoreboard thanks to two Carty penalties before Cardiff get a three-pointer of their own through Tovey to bring the score to 10-6 to the visitors with only five minutes of the half remaining.

 

The Westerners’ pack were beginning to gain the ascendancy and were providing their backs the platform to attack. Connacht took full advantage of the opportunity to bring their outside backs into the play with two quick tries before halftime, both from Wootoon.

 

The first try saw both wingers combine as Healy fed a pass to Wootton and the 26-year-old sliced through the outside cover to touch down in the left-hand corner. Carty made no mistakes adding the extras and Connacht lead for the first time, 13-10.

 

An even more spectacular finish was to follow after a series of phases of hard carries — with Ultan Dillane especially prominent — established Connacht field position just outside Cardiff’s 22. The ball was then worked to Carty, whose delicate pirouette and offload released Wootton.

 

The winger stood up a Blues’ defender with a beautiful step and then sped into the space he created to touch down for a brilliant try. Carty slotted the conversion to see Connacht go into the interval 20-10 to the good.

 

The Westerners began the second half with attacking intent, but the visitors were stout in defence and repelled all of the home teams attempts to score and then — after weathering a Connacht attacking storm for the opening 20 minutes of the half — struck for their second try.

 

Corey Domachowski, the replacement prop, barged his over from short range and Tovey’s successful conversion brought the score back to a three-point differential, 20-17.

 

Connacht didn’t’ let the tide of momentum flow against them, however, and they finished the game strongly — with their bench bringing freshness and attacking impetus — with two more tries.

 

First, Jarrad Butler touched down at the tail of a powerful rolling maul after Carty elected to kick to the line after winning a penalty in the 22. The subsequent line out trundled it’s way forward and the captain was the beneficiary after he dove over the for the try to make the score 25-17.

 

With their tails up, the Westerners pushed for the bonus point win and they sealed it when replacement Papali’i smashed his way over from close range. The Connacht pack carried their way into an advanced position into the Cardiff 22 and worked an opportunity for Papali’i and the big number 8 took it with both hands and touched down.

 

Carty expertly kicked the conversion to cap off an excellent performance and seal the win, 32-17.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Alex Wootton 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle

7: Jarrad Butler ©

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Denis Buckley for Duggan, Jack Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Daly, Tiernan O’Halloran for Porch.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that dominance in tackles and making the most of attacking opportunities will be key for Connacht in Saturday’s 7:35 PM kick off Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash away to Leinster. 

 

After a 32-19 reversal at home to Ulster last time out, the Westerners will look to make amends against the defending champions in the second of the Christmas interprovincials.

 

Friend said that Connacht’s 33-29 defeat to the eastern province in December 2018 — a game in which the Sportsground men lead 29-12 with 11 minutes remaining — gives his squad belief that they can compete with, and defeat, Leinster. 

 

Executing the basics of the game well, in a manner similar to their interprovincial rivals, is, according to the Canberra native, will be the bedrock of any Connacht win in Dublin.

 

“First and foremost, you have to try and get your tackle right,” the Australian said of Connacht’s defensive approach for the game in the Irish capital. 

 

“You have to make sure that when you go in to tackle that your body is in the right position and that you are trying to make the most dominant tackle you can. That’s where they get their nose through just slightly and then they’re off. 

 

“That’s no big secret, there’s nothing special to that. Just with every tackle you make, get yourself in the best position to make the most dominant tackle you can. 

 

“Secondly, from an attack point of view, we are going to try a couple of things a little different,” the former Australia Sevens coach said of the Westerners attacking strategy for the derby at the RDS. 

 

“We need to be adaptable, but at the same time, we need to make sure that when those key opportunities and moments come that we’re good enough to take them because you’re not going to get many against Leinster. I don’t see it as a magic formula. They’re(Leinster) very good at doing the basics really well and they tend to do them better than every team they play. 

 

“So, it’s for the teams that can rock up there with a gameplan — which we will have — but also it’s about being as brilliant  at the basics as we can and putting ourselves in the best position to win it.”

 

Meanwhile, captain Jarrad Butler says that Connacht will need to bring an 80-minute performance against the unbeaten Leinster to earn a win on Saturday. 

 

Referencing the December 2018 defeat away to Leinster — where the Sportsground team were in front as late as the 69th minute — Butler is confident the western province can cause Leo Cullen’s team issues but they cannot afford to play in fits and starts and must be consistent across the game as a whole. 

 

“They’re an extremely good team and anything less than an 80-minute performance and you’re not going to be able to beat Leinster. We’ve seen it before. We’ve been over there and played 69 minutes of good footy and not come away with a win,” the Australian said. 

 

“And against Ulster, we played well for 40 minutes. It’s about consistency, it’s about taking the game to Leinster. They are a very good team when they have things on their terms and if you’re going to let them play and just try and counter everything then you’re going to have a hard day at the office. 

 

“Going up there and playing with confidence is going to be really important. Playing on top of them and trying to be aggressive because — like I said — you see so many teams go up there and try and weather the storm, but it’s an 80-minute storm if you let it be.”

 

Despite three consecutive defeats in two competitions for Connacht, the 29-year-old says that he — as well as the other squad members — expect a bounce back and to bring an increased level of aggression and energy for a game that will require no extra motivation.

 

Being proactive in attack and looking to make things happen, as opposed to just attempting to shackle Leinster, is an approach Butler says Connacht will take and he is confident that they can successfully pull it off. 

 

“You got to go there and throw caution to the wind and try things because you know that you can’t play conservative. You have to go for it and try things. We’ve lost the last three weeks in a row, so I expect — and so the group as a whole — us to bounce back and bring some energy. If you can’t get up for an Interpro versus Leinster then what can you get up for?”

Andy Friend has named his squad for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 season opener against the Glasgow Warriors, with Jarrad Butler leading out the side from blindside flanker.
 
Butler begins his third season as Connacht captain having joined in 2017, and he starts in the number 6 position with Conor Oliver earning a start at openside after an impressive pre-season campaign. Paul Boyle completes the back row at number 8.
 
There’s an experienced look to the front row with Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham all named, while Gavin Thornbury and Quinn make up the rest of the pack in the second row.
 
Friend has named the same backline that put in a brilliant attacking display against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, with Irish international trio Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty and Bundee Aki forming the 9-10-12 axis.
 
Tom Farrell partners Aki in the centre, while John Porch continues at full-back with Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan on the wings.
 
200 spectators will be in attendance at The Sportsground – including previous season ticket holders – in what will be the first Guinness PRO14 game at The Sportsground in over seven months.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“There’s no hiding the fact that last weekend’s Eagles game was very disappointing and we’re keen to quickly move on from it. That said, the spirit and energy at training has been really positive all week and there’s always a sense of excitement when you start a new season. If this squad can produce what I know they’re capable of, I know we’ve a great chance of picking up a win.”
 
Regarding the fixture itself, Friend added:
 
“It’s always vital you pick up home wins in this competition and Saturday will be no different. We’re coming up against a very strong Glasgow outfit and our recent record against them isn’t great, but our aim in these opening two weeks is two victories and I firmly believe we can achieve that and start the season on a high”.
 
CONNACHT RUGBY SQUAD V GLASGOW WARRIORS
Saturday 3rd October @ The Sportsground (k/o 5.15pm)

Number, Name, Caps
15. John Porch (18)
14. Peter Sullivan (1)
13. Tom Farrell (58)
12. Bundee Aki (101)
11. Alex Wootton (1)
10. Jack Carty (140)
9. Kieran Marmion (167)
1. Denis Buckley (179)
2. Dave Heffernan (130)
3. Finlay Bealham (142)
4. Gavin Thornbury (39)
5. Quinn Roux (101)
6. Jarrad Butler (56) CAPTAIN
7. Conor Oliver (2)
8. Paul Boyle (40)

16. Jonny Murphy (7)
17. Jordan Duggan (1)
18. Jack Aungier (1)
19. Niall Murray (7)
20. Seán Masterson (3)
21. Caolin Blade (112)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (24)
23. Sammy Arnold (1)

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