Connacht 10-16 Munster

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Despite almost completing a sensational late turnaround, Connacht fell to a narrow, 10-16, defeat to Munster at the Sportsground in a keenly-contested Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash.

 

A Peter Sullivan try and a penalty and a conversion from Jack Carty accounted for the hosts’ points after a strong team performance, in both attack and defence.

 

But Munster — who registered their sixteen points via a Chris Farrell try and eleven points from the boot of J.J. Hanrahan — held on and sealed their victory after weathering a late Connacht storm in their 22 while being down to 13 men.

 

 

The visitors, who started the game one place ahead of the Westerners in Conference A of the PRO14, started well and they had their first points when Hanrahan made no mistake in slotting a penalty from just outside the hosts 22. The home team, meanwhile, played with 14 men in the opening period after Shane Delahunt was yellow carded.

 

Connacht reacted well to the concession of the first score and went in search of scores of their own. Munster, though, were solid in defence — especially at the breakdown, where Tadgh Beirne was prominent — and weathered the home teams’ early attacks.

 

At the other end, the Southerners took advantage of their opportunities and they scored the first try of the evening when Farrell crashed over from close range after a line out gave Munster territory in Connacht’s 22. Hanrahan made no mistakes from the tee and the hosts found themselves 10-0 down.

 

An extremely physical encounter was mostly played between both teams’ 22’s and Connacht were giving as good as they got on and off the ball, with Sean Masterson, Tom Daly, and Sean O’Brien all making big hits and denting carries.

 

The home team’s scrum was functioning well and it was via that avenue that Connacht registered their first points of the night. A strong collective push from the pack yielded a scrum penalty and Carty — in the last action of the half — was composed from the kicking tee and the Westerners went into the break trailing 3-10.

 

Munster started the second period in a strong fashion and they stretched their lead even further when Hanrahan successfully kicked his second penalty of the evening.

 

The Connacht scrum — where Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, and Shane Delahunt were impressive — was a source of penalties for the home team. But Munster’s well-orchestrated defence kept the hosts’ attack at bay with the Westerners pushing hard for a try of their own.

 

Against the run of territory and possession, Munster stretched their lead further when Hanrahan continued his 100% kicking rate for the evening with another successfully struck penalty.

 

With 20 minutes remaining, the hosts kept their intensity high and continued to probe. Enjoying the lion’s share of territory and possession, the pressure eventually told.

 

Munster were reduced to 14 men when Rory Scannell was yellow carded with Connacht — with Sammy Arnold and Tom Daly regular and effective ball carriers —  upping the ante. With a man advantage, the hosts spun the ball wide in the visitors 22, and John Porch’s pass fed Sullivan to dive in. Carty, despite the difficulty of the angle of the conversion, slotted the extras to set up a tense finale.

 

The visitors’ task was made even harder when substitute Nick McCarthy was yellow-carded, but Munster withstood Connacht’s late pressure and forced a knock-on to end the game.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Ben O’Donnell

13: Sammy Arnold

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Sean Masterson

7: Conor Oliver

6: Sean O’Brien

5: Quinn Roux(C)

4: Ultan Dillane.

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Matthew Burke for Buckley, Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sullivan for O’Donnell.

Leinster 24-35 Connacht

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht registered their first interprovincial victory of the season after a bonus point, 35-24 win away to Leinster at the RDS Arena in the Guinness PRO14. 

 

Two tries from Guinness player of the match Jack Carty — who also kicked three penalties and three conversions — and a try apiece from Alex Wootton and Tom Daly condemned Leinster to their first domestic defeat of the season.

 

The hosts scored four tries of their own via Scott Penny, Luke McGrath, Ryan Baird, and Ed Byrne, but it was the Westerners who deservedly triumphed in a performance built on a foundation of defensive intensity and attacking efficiency.

 

From the outset, it was clear that Connacht would play with tempo on and off the ball and it didn’t take long for that approach to yield try-scoring fruit.

 

Intelligently reading a Leinster move, Carty intercepted the ball on halfway and — backing his pace — ran in a try that he converted himself to give the visitors a more than merited early lead.

 

Leinster, who were unbeaten in the 26 prior PRO14 games, were keen to attack but Connacht were resolute in defence, especially at the breakdown. Conor Oliver was proving especially strong in defence and the Westerners rolled with the host’s punches before they claimed their second try in a fruitful opening 22 minutes.

 

After a line out in the defending champions’ 22, Connacht were patient in possession before working the ball to the flank. Assisted by the considerable size of Quinn Roux, Carty claimed his second try as he powered over from close range in the left-hand corner. The Roscommon was marginally wide with his conversion, but the visitors established a 12-0 lead.

 

Leinster got themselves back into the contest when Penny — spotting a gap at ruck  — smiped in for a try. Connacht, though, realigned themselves and scored on three more occasions before the interval.

 

Carty slotted two penalties before — on the stroke of half time — Wootton touched down for a try in the left corner in a brilliant ten-minute sequence before the break. Once again showing patience in the opposition 22, the ball was worked to the winger and he crossed for a score that Carty nailed from the touchline to see the Westerners go into the break leading 25-5.

 

Leinster started the second half in strong fashion and had a try only three minutes after the resumption. McGrath showed sharp instincts to run in near the posts. Jimmy O’Brien converted and the hosts were within 13 points at 12-25.

 

Connacht’s work at the breakdown was effective and after they won another penalty at the coalface, Carty stepped up and made no error from the tee to extend the Westerners lead further, 12-28.

 

The game was played in an end to end fashion and Leinster were next to score when Baird peeled off a rolling maul to touch down in the corner. O’Brien converted to bring the score to 17-28.

 

With their tails up, the hosts continued to pile on the pressure, but the visitors defence — where Gavin Thornbury, the Masterson brothers, Sean and Eoghan, and Daly were rock solid — was well drilled and eager for contact.

 

Connacht’s line speed was forcing errors from Leinster and it was through this aggressive approach that Andy Friend’s men wrapped up their bonus-point win.

 

Running a hard defensive line, Daly managed an interception and, despite the attention of two Leinster defenders, powered his way over the line for a try which Carty converted to bring the score out to 35-17.

 

Leinster would have the final say with a score from Byrne from close range, but it was Connacht who held out for a deserved win, their first away to Leinster since 2002.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Sammy Arnold

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

8: Sean Masterson

7: Conor Oliver

6: Eoghan Masterson

5: Quinn Roux

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Matthew Burke for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Conor Kenny for Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane for Quinn Roux, Cian Prendergast for S.Masterson, C.Reilly for Blade, Diarmuid Kilgallen for Wootton, Ben O’Donnell for Sullivan

Connacht 19-32 Ulster

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht fell to a 19-32 defeat to Ulster in a keenly contested Christmas interprovincial clash at the Sportsground.

 

The hosts scored three tries through Jack Carty, John Porch, and Tom Daly — two of which Carty converted — but it wasn’t enough in an entertaining contest.  The visitors came away with the spoils, thanks to six Ian Madigan penalties and tries from Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney, both of which Madigan converted.

 

It was a physical start to the contest, with both teams looking to make amends for recent European defeats and it was the visitors who profited from their early chances with Madigan kicking Ulster into a 6-0 lead with two well-struck penalties.

 

Connacht, though, were well in the game and their pack was in the ascendancy at scrum time. After three consecutive scrum penalties in the Ulster 22, the Northerners were reduced to 14 men when Kyle McCall was yellow carded. With the man advantage, Connacht ran their next penalty and — after a few phases of hard carries — the ball was worked wide to Carty to touch down in the right corner. The Roscommon native, from the most difficult of angles tight to the touchline, then kicked the conversion to his own try and the home team found themselves in the lead, 7-6.

 

The lead would swap hands twice more before half time as Ulster moved ahead through another Madigan penalty before Connacht — showing their trademark attacking flair — scored their second try of the evening.

 

Some big carries from the pack — with Ultan Dillane prominent — established the Westerners field position in the Ulster 22 and from there they launched an attack, with Jarrad Butler and Shane Delahunt carrying hard, that saw Daly offload to Porch to touch down in the right-hand corner. Carty slotted the conversion to see the home team go into the interval 14-9 to the good.

 

The visitors started the second period in a strong fashion and they notched a try when Murphy powered over from close range. Madigan made no mistake with the extras and the Northerners once again found themselves in the lead. With their tails up, Ulster scored another try in a profitable opening fifteen minutes of the second half. Timoney showed pace and power to touch down and — with the conversion successful from Madigan — Connacht found themselves 23-14 behind.

 

The energy and directness of Caolin Blade was giving Connacht momentum as they chased their way back into the game. After some heavy pressure in Ulster’s 22, the hosts had a deserved third try when Tom Daly — who assisted the second try — burst through the outside cover to score. The conversion was wide, but with twenty minutes remaining the hosts were well in with a shout of winning.

 

Chasing the game, Connacht committed to attack but the visitors — with Madigan on form off the tee — kicked three more penalties to take the game away from the hosts and seal a 32-19 win.

 

(15-9)
15 O’Halloran
14 Porch
13 Arnold
12 Daly
11 Healy
10 Carty
9 Blade

(8-1)
8 Butler(C)
7 Oliver
6 Masterson
5 Roux
4 Dillane
3 Bealham
2 Delahunt
1 Buckley

Replacements: Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Jordan Duggan for Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury for Roux, Kieran Marmion for Caolin Blade,  Sean O’Brien for De Buitlear, Colm De Buitlear for Tiernan O’Halloran

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht 18-27 Bristol Bears 

 

Connacht fell to a narrow 18-27 defeat to the Bristol Bears in a physical Heineken Champions Cup clash at the Sportsground. 

 

Despite scoring tries through Tiernan O’Halloran and John Porch — as well two penalties and a conversion from Jack Carty’s boot — the hosts weren’t able to turn the Premiership team over in a keenly fought contest and will exit the competition. 

 

The visitors scored four tries of their own, through Bryan Byrne, Ed Holmes, Piers O’Conor, and Ioan Lloyd, with Callum Sheedy kicking two conversions and a penalty to seal the win.

 

From the outset, Bristol were intent on attacking, but all of their early efforts were denied by Connacht’s defensive efforts. Ultan Dillane and Bundee Aki, in particular, were prominent in the tackling stakes and last season’s Challenge Cup winners were unable to turn territory and possession into points. 

 

The hosts were looking to play with pace and they almost opened the try-scoring account in the 25th minute from a typically fast break. Kieran Marmion burst through the defence of the English team and made significant yardage and then fed Alex Wootton a pass. The winger kept the move alive and Connacht turned the screw with numerous phases in the Bristol 22. 

 

The visitors, though, managed to turn the ball over and they cleared their lines and escaped the hosts onslaught. 

 

The Premiership team were looking to use their maul at every opportunity and it was through this route that they scored the only try of the half, five minutes before the interval. Turning down the opportunity to kick for goal in the Connacht 22, the visitors opted to go for the line. From the ensuing line out, Byrne touched down at the base of a powerful rolling maul. 

 

The conversion was wide, Carty made no such mistakes from the tee and in the last action of the half and the Roscommon man’s successful penalty saw the home team go into the break 5-3 down. 

 

Bristol started the second period in strong fashion and had their second try soon after the restart when lock Holmes — a try which fly half Sheedy converted — powered over for a try in the left hand corner. 

 

With the wind in their sails and a man advantage after Aki was yellow carded, the English team ran in their third try of the evening when O’Conor showed a great burst of pace to break down the flank and dive over for a try built on pace. Sheedy once again slotted the conversion to give the visitors an ideal first ten minutes of the second half. 

 

Connacht weren’t deterred, though, and they scored their first try minutes later in what was proving to be an action-packed period of the half. Replacement O’Halloran, after great work by the pack close to Bristol’s line, was on hand to run in a try which Carty — despite the difficulty of the angle — had no issues with converting and the score read 19-10 with 20 minutes left. 

 

After an enterprising break was ended breaks by the hosts was ended by Bristol — an incident which saw their captain Siale Piutau yellow carded — the hosts were awarded a penalty and Carty once again kept his composure and he brought the Westerners back to within six with a confidently struck penalty. 

 

The flow of the game was end to end and Lloyd was the next Bears player to score when he dove in the right-hand corner after good work from the visitors pack provided the platform. The conversion was wide and with nine minutes left, the game was still open. 

 

Connacht made it a tense finale when great work from both Carty and O’Halloran created an overload and Porch — showing great pace and positional nous — ran in a try in the right corner, tight to the touchline. The conversion drifted narrowly wide and Bristol — after winning a penalty in the hosts 22 — ended the scoring through a Sheedy penalty. 

 

Connacht team: 

(15-9)

 

15: John Porch 

14: Alex Wootton 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle(C)

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Sean Masterson 

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Eoghan Masterson 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jack Aungier for Bealham, Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Shane Delahunt for Denis Buckley, Cian Prendergast for Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler for S.Masterson, Caolin Blade for Marmion, O’Halloran for Wootton, Daly for Healy.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend said that Connacht’s close-run 26-22 defeat to Racing 92 in Paris last weekend has reinforced the squad’s confidence that they can compete with and beat teams at Champions Cup level. 

 

The Westerners scored three tries via Matt Healy, Alex Wootton, and Conor Oliver and pushed last season’s finalists — who are unbeaten in European competition at their The Paris La Défense Arena home since 2017 — all the way and almost snatched victory at the death after a strong all-round performance. 

 

Highlighting victories over Montpellier and Gloucester last season, Friend said that his group of players were always optimistic that they could beat Racing, and that, even in defeat, they can take ample positives ahead of Sunday’s 5:30 PM Champions Cup clash with Bristol Bears at the Sportsground. 

 

“It just reinforces it(the squad’s confidence), because we have done it before,” the Australian said. 

 

“Every time we do it, it’s a reinforcement of the fact that we do belong here. I said that leading into the game, we do belong in this competition. On our day, we can beat anybody in the competition. We honestly went into that game thinking we could beat Racing. We didn’t, unfortunately, but we went bloody close and I know we gave them a fright. 

 

“Confidence is high here, belief is high here. We are still building the squad. I thought some of the young blokes who came on — your Jordan Duggans, your Jack Aungiers, your Cian Prendergast’s, Sean Masterson starting — are straight out of the academy,  in fact, Prendergast is year 1 of the academy, and they’re just good young footballers”. 

 

In Connacht’s matchday 23 last Sunday, 13 of the players came through the club’s academy system and Friend says that their ability to come into the first-team fold and make an immediate impression is a testament to the quality of coaching at the club and the tactical clarity provided for players.

 

“In the matchday 23 the other day, we had 13 blokes who came through our academy, so we are producing quality academy players coming through here and we have got another string coming in behind them,” the former Australia Sevens coach said. 

 

“It’s all about belief, they’ve got to have belief, you’ve got to give them belief and you have to give them clarity around what they have to go to do. That’s a real compliment, I reckon, to the coaching staff, to Pete Wilkins, to Nigel Carolan, and to Jimmy Duffy. They continue to present a message which makes it very, very clear for these boys to follow, and what you saw was the execution of that last weekend; just four points shy, that’s all.”

 

Meanwhile, out-half Jack Carty, who assisted a try and kicked two conversions at Racing, says that the performance of the Westerners’ younger players in Paris — where Cian Prendergast, Sean Masterson, Jordan Duggan and Jack Aungier all gave good accounts of themselves — bodes well for the future. 

 

Carty is optimistic that the crop of young players, including Paul Boyle and Conor Fitzgerald, will continue to pressure the more experienced members of the squad for their places and that Connacht will benefit from the strong competition for selection.

 

“That’s what you want, you want all them younger lads coming through,” the Roscommon man said. 

 

“We don’t have the resources of some teams, so it’s massively important for us to have younger lads coming through who are massively hungry to succeed. Cian Prendergast is a fella who, during pre-season, everyone was like ‘wow, look at this fella’. The way he’s able to carry the ball on the move into contact is quite something. 

 

“There’s a few older lads in the squad who are pushing on and there’s this new wave of younger lads coming through. People probably forget that Paul Boyle is only 23 and Fitzy(Conor Fitzgerald) is the same age. You have a lot of young lads who you know in the coming years will be big names.”

 

Bristol are next up at the Sportsground on Sunday. The Bears are coached by former Connacht head coach Pat Lam — whose coaching ticket also includes former Connacht flanker John Muldoon and attack coach Conor McPhillips — while the English team’s squad also contains three ex Connacht players in Jake Heenan, Niyi Adeolokun and Peter McCabe. 

 

Despite the familiar faces, Carty says that the Westerners squad are preparing for the game like they would any other. 

 

“No different from the game at the weekend, to be honest,” the Irish international said. 

 

“I think if you get drawn into what it means, you’ll fundamentally and ultimately miss what the point of the game is and that is to win. I know there’s a lot of external factors, John Mul would be a very good friend of mine — as would Niysi(Adeolokun), Pete, Pat, and Conor McPhillips — but I’m not really looking at that. 

 

“I just really want to win, so we can go into the Christmas period with confidence and then, when he have the reverse fixtures, that ultimately we can qualify.”

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Racing 92 26-22 Connacht

 

Connacht fell to a narrow four-point defeat to Racing 92 in Paris La Défense Arena in the Heineken Champions Cup.

 

In a brilliant exhibition of attacking Rugby, the visitors scored three tries — from Matt Healy, Alex Wootton and Conor Oliver — and collected a losing bonus point while they threatened to inflict the French team’s first-ever European defeat in their new stadium.

 

Racing, last season’s finalists, scored four tries of their own — from Georges Henri Colombe Kurtley Beale, Donovan Taofifénua, and Dominic Bird — but had to see out a nervous last few minutes to complete the bonus-point win.

 

The Westerners started with authority and made an early impression in attack. Both Dave Heffernan and Ultane Dillane made piercing carries early on, but the defence of the three-time finalists held firm and they repelled Connacht’s advances.

 

Slowly, the Parisians grew into the game and they made it count on the scoreboard when Colombe, the tighthead prop, managed to burst over from close range. Racing’s rolling maul was defended stoutly by the visitors, but — after a few phases of carries from close to the line — the hosts pressure eventually told and they opened the scoring. The difficult conversion from Maxime Machenaud landed and the Top 14 side were 7-0 to the good.

 

Connacht reacted well to the concession of the try and they had their own points soon after. Another barrelling run from Heffernan brought the Westerners into the 22 and Racing were penalised at the breakdown. Jack Carty made no mistake from the kicking tee and the visitors deservedly found themselves on the scoreboard, 7-3.

 

With the PRO14 team’s pack carrying hard and winning territory, the home side weren’t having it all their own way but their defence was firm and they were efficient with all of their attacking opportunities, especially in the transition.

 

A typically classy move from last season’s finalists saw Vakatawa — the France international centre — make a burst and then feed Kurtley Beale, the former Australia full-back, to run in a try which Machenaud slotted to stretch the Parisians lead to 14-3.

 

Another try soon followed when winger Donovan Taofifénua acrobatically flew in for a try in the left-hand corner. The angle was difficult, and the conversion fell wide but the French team lead 19-3.

 

Connacht, though, never lost composure and kept their attacking intensity up. A series of line outs and hard carries — with Dillane especially prominent — brought the visitors close on several occasions and they had a deserved try on the stroke of half time.

 

With an advantage, Carty beautifully executed a cross-field kick that landed flush into the arms of the jumping Healy. The winger caught it perfectly in midair and held his balance to touch down. The conversion was wide, but the visitors went into the break 19-8 down but definitely in the game.

 

Racing started the second half in a strong fashion and had a try ten minutes in when Dominic Bird — the former All Black — was the benefactor of a rolling maul and he touched down at the base. The conversion landed and the hosts found themselves 26-8 to the good.

 

Connacht never relented the pressure and they were game both in defence and attack and they showed this when they turned defence into attack and got themselves back into the game with 20 minutes remaining. Showing a brilliant turn of pace and spatial awareness, Wootton intelligently intercepted a Racing pass in his own 22 and went the length of the pitch to touch down for a try which Carty converted to bring the Westerners to 26-15 and within touching distance of the Top14 men.

 

With the wind in their sails, Connacht — where Paul Boyle and Dillane were both inspired in the ball carrying stakes — kept probing and pushing for a score. With five minutes remaining, they had the score their pressure merited when Oliver powered his way over from close range. The conversion was good from Carty and Andy Friend’s men found themselves only four points behind with as many minutes remaining.

 

The Westerners almost snatched what would have been a famous win when Tiernan O’Halloran kicked through a ball in the dying moments, but the ball beat everyone and went dead. The hosts saw it out and claimed the win.

 

Ultimately, it was a defeat but Connacht can be happy with their losing bonus point and performance in Paris.

 

Connacht team:

15-9
15: John Porch
14: Alex Wootton
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Tom Daly
11: Matt Healy
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion

8-1
8: Paul Boyle
7: Jarrad Butler
6: Sean Masterson
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Eoghan Masterson
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Shane Delahunt for Dave Heffernan, Jack Aungier for Bealham, Cian Prendergast for Sean Masterson, Conor Oliver for Butler, Caolin Blade for Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki for Arnold, Tiernan O’Halloran for Porch.

By John O’Sullivan

Backs coach Nigel Carolan says Connacht will need to be at their physical best if they are to win Saturday’s 7:35 PM Guinness PRO14 kick-off at home to Benetton Rugby.

 

The Westerners will look to make it back to back wins after their 52-7 victory away to Zebre last time out and ahead of their European campaign kicking off at Racing 92 on December 13th.

 

Benetton, meanwhile, were defeated 26-19 by the Dragons in their last game, but Carolan says that Connacht will need to be at their best and follow the same game plan that saw them defeat the Italians 41-5 last season.

 

“Last year we played them and we won 41-5, in the second or third game of last year. We referred it to briefly during the week. What won us that game last year was physicality. It was an extremely physical game. Looking back at the end of last season, that was one of the most physical games of the season,” he said.

 

In that game in October 2019, the Sportsground team also kicked intelligently and Carolan says that accuracy — as well as being efficient when presented with try-scoring opportunities — will be the key to victory again on Saturday evening.

 

“We know we’re going to need to match them physically. They have a huge pack and they need to be moved around the pitch,” the former Connacht player said.

 

“We need to match them physically upfront and in the set-piece. That level of accuracy, every time you get a chance you’re going to need to take them. They have a dangerous back three and if you kick loosely to them you’re going to create problems for yourself. We have to make sure that when we kick, we kick accurately and we get contests in the air.”

 

In Connacht’s last home game, a 20-14 loss to the Scarlets, the weather alternated between strong winds and torrential rain. Carolan maintains that his team’s gameplan respects the weather, but they will stick to their principles.

 

“You’ve got to respect it,” the former Ireland under 20’s head coach said of the conditions.

 

“Obviously, the wind has a big influence on how we play the game. It’s just the types of kicks you gotta put in. If you gotta kick the ball into the breeze, it’s a more contestable kick and you set yourselves up quite differently. That’s nearly on a weekly basis and daily basis in training as well. It’s something that comes with the territory here and we have to deal with the weather and we manage that the best we can.”

 

Elsewhere, centre Tom Daly says that he is enjoying covering multiple on-pitch roles for Connacht this season. Already, the 27-year-old — who scored a brace of tries in the victory away to Zebre — has played at centre and fly half and has covered the wings from the bench.

 

Daly — as shown in the win away to Edinburgh — is also comfortable with kicking for goal and he says that he enjoys the responsibility.

 

“Yeah, obviously it’s something(goal kicking) I have done for a long time. I would have kicked for the Irish under 18’s, 19’s and 20’s and throughout my time at Leinster I would have done a lot of goal kicking,” the Carlow native said.

 

“Obviously here, Jack(Carty) and Fitzy(Conor Fitzgerald) have been going really well so maybe the opportunity hasn’t always come to place kick, but I have always been practicing and I knew I was going to be ready when the chance did come. That came pretty early against Edinburgh and that went pretty well, so hopefully, Friendy(Andy Friend) and Nige(Nigel Carolan) will look at that and see it as a viable option for me to goal kick and to cover ten.

 

“I think some people thought I was just thrown in at ten against Edinburgh and it was something I had never done before. But it’s something a practice quite a lot here and it’s something I would have done quite a lot of coming up through the age grades. I feel pretty comfortable there(at ten) and pretty confident. If it means I get more game time and I’m on the pitch more often then I’m happy to play wherever,” the former Irish Sevens player said.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht defence coach Pete Wilkins says that the Westerners will need to show a high level of game management to win their Saturday 5:15 PM kick off away to the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14.

 

In Connacht’s last game, they left the Scottish capital with a bonus point 37-26 victory over Edinburgh. The win was underpinned by the Sportsground teams excellent exit strategy and efficiency in attack, with scrum-half Caolin Blade and out halves Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly expertly pulling the strings. 

 

Against a mobile and skilful Dragons pack, marshalled by their quality half-back pairing of Rhodri Williams and Sam Davies, Wilkins believes that Connacht will need to show the same qualities that saw them take all five points at Murrayfield on their trip to Rodney Parade.

 

“I thought in that Edinburgh game, it was one of the best examples of game management that this team has produced, certainly in my time here,” the former Queensland Reds coach said. 

 

“The way our 9’s(Caolin Blade) and 10’s(Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly) controlled the game, with their kicking from our half of the field and their kick selection — of when to go long, when to go for touch, when to go for contestable kicks in the attacking half of the pitch — I thought they managed it really effectively. 

 

“I think their 9 and 10 are really important for them,” Wilkins said of the Dragons’ game plan. 

 

“Rhodri Williams at 9 and Sam Davies at 10, I think both of them have effective kicking games, whether that’s contestable kicks or clearing kicks. It’s not often you see 9’s consistently hitting the half-way line when they’re kicking for touch from rucks or from mauls and Rhodri Williams brings that ability for them to clear their lines really effectively. 

 

“How we can pressure those kicking games will be important. Under their new coaching staff, they’ve got, there’s an organisation about them, an intent to play and if you give them front foot ball they will offload. 

 

“You’ll get show and goes from Sam Davies, you’ll get quick throws and you’ll get offloads from the forwards and little tip ons. Things that will really test our ability to be cohesive in our defence, in terms of being really well spaced and watching the ball really well to make sure that we’re applying pressure. 

 

“The kicking game, the tempo and the improvement in their organisation are the things we will be wary of going into this game,” The Englishman said. 

 

Abraham Papalii’i made his first start of the season in Edinburgh. The New Zealander number 8 made a big impact, carrying for 24 metres from five carries and beating two defenders. Wilkins is excited by the former Rugby League player’s potential and has backed him to continue improving. 

 

“He’s been a great addition to the squad,” the defence coach said. 

 

“The power and physicality — especially around the ball carries — is clear for all to see, even in those few minutes he had in the unfortunate Munster game. With that comes an ability to offload and to get others involved in the game. Certainly that’s something I think we’ll see more and more of as he gets more game time. 

 

“Defensively, very similar to his carrying, he loves to hit hard. He loves to be in the game, to be around the ball and to be contributing. That physicality and that power of the tackle technique is something that, if we can continue to work on the accuracy and consistency of that,  allied with his natural power we can get someone who is a really effective defender. The more he plays the better, from all aspects.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that seven of his Connacht teammates being called into the Irish squad for the Six Nations gives him an extra motivation to eventually follow them to international selection. 

 

Bundee Aki, Dave Heffernan, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Ultane Dillane and Finlay Bealham were all part of Andy Farrell’s squad for the recently finished Six Nations.

 

The 23-year-old has been an integral part of the Westerners squad since his debut in January 2018 and the Gorey native is confident that — provided he continues to play to a high standard — he can win a place in future Ireland squads. 

 

“If you play well enough, you’re going to be picked,” Boyle said of the path to winning Irish caps. 

 

“I know that if I play well enough here and put in outstanding performances week in and week out that I’m going to get picked. As you can see with the seven guys that we got selected for Ireland, if you’re playing well enough you’re going to get picked.

 

“I just use that as motivation to try and get better every day. It sounds simple, but I try to improve every day and improve every game and hopefully try to force my way into selection.”

There’s a strong Connacht contingent in the Ireland squad for the return of the Guinness Six Nations later this month.
 
Six players from the province are named in Andy Farrell’s 35 player squad, with Bundee Aki and Dave Heffernan retaining their place after they were named in the initial Six Nations squad before the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
There’s also a return to the Ireland setup for Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Quinn Roux with the quartet showing some impressive form since the return of rugby.
 
The squad which will be captained by Johnny Sexton contains six uncapped players – Ryan Baird, Ed Byrne, Will Connors, Shane Daly, Hugo Keenan and Jamison Gibson Park. While Baird and Connors have been involved in national camps before it will be a first time with the national squad for the other uncapped players.
 
In addition Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, James Lowe, James Tracy and Fineen Wycherley will train with the squad next week at IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin. Ireland take on Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 24th October before facing France in Paris the following Saturday (31st).
 
Ireland currently sit fourth on the Six Nations table one point behind Scotland and 4 points behind England and France who have all played an extra game. Back in February Ireland recorded wins over Scotland (19-12) and Wales (24-12) before losing to England (12-24) at Twickenham.
 
Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell commented, “There has been a huge effort right across Irish Rugby to ensure that the professional game could return safely and that work is greatly appreciated by the national management. We have protocols in place to safeguard the welfare of the players and staff and are looking forward to completing the Six Nations Championships.
 
We have two competitions to play in over the coming months but will focus first on a strong finish to the 6 Nations Championships. The return to rugby has not been without its challenges as some players have suffered injury setbacks and there has been limited playing opportunities ahead of a busy and exciting international window. We will be closely monitoring the form and fitness of players competing in the Guinness PRO14 over the coming weeks.

 
Ireland Squad 2020 Guinness 6 Nations Championships Round 4 & 5
 
Backs (16)
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 26 caps
Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 6 caps
Jack Carty (Connacht/Buccaneers) 10 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 21 caps
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Con) uncapped
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 9 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) uncapped
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 43 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 24 caps
Kieran Marmion (Connacht/Corinthians) 27 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 3 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 81 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 29 caps
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 91 caps CAPTAIN
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 28 caps
 
Forwards (19)
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) uncapped
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Corinthians) 9 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 13 caps
Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 17 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD) 2 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 98 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 1 cap
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 55 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 11 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 3 caps
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 67 caps
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
Quinn Roux (Connacht/Galwegians) 12 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 21 caps
CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 41 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps
 
Training with Squad w/c 12th October
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) uncapped
James Lowe (Leinster) uncapped
James Tracy (Leinster/UCD) 6 caps
Fineen Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped

Living together can test many of us, whether that is living with a friend, workmate, or partner. Living with another human being is never a harmonious experience but it builds relationships and can make them stronger.

Teammates Jack Carty and Jonny Murphy have been living together in Galway the past year. They talked us through what it was like to be each other’s teammate and housemate during the quarantine period. They provided a good anchor for each other to push through and create a routine to come back to The Sportground better and stronger than they were before.

Guys, how is everything? What has been like living together over the past 2 and half months during lockdown?

Jonny: It’s been good, beforehand, we would have joked that Jack and I fought all the time, but it was Joe Maksymiw who was the instigator! When Joe moved out there was harmony for most of the lockdown period. Of course, we both have qualities that we annoy each other with.

Jack: We were getting annoyed with certain things that the other person did, Jonny would get annoyed with me when it came to the recycling bin and I would get annoyed if he left stuff out. We had a frank conversation from the offset, we were able to air it out and eradicate those tensions from the start. Apart from that, it has been good fun, Jonny has been doing loads of baking and I have been doing nothing which has made me feel inadequate. Jonny also built a bar in the back garden and “I helped him”.

Both your families are living outside of Galway, I am sure you became your own family during quarantine but was it hard not seeing your actual family during that period?

Jonny: When Connacht Rugby divided all the gym equipment out, it made sense for me to stay in Galway from a training point of view. By not going home it took the temptation away when it came to visiting friends and family, it was good in that respect. By staying in Galway, Jack and I were able to train with each other. It’s always better when you have someone beside you to push you even harder. The first month was fine but then I began to miss the interaction with my family, facetime was a lifesaver and I ended up getting used to that as the main way of interacting with them.

Jack: At the start of lock-down it was my nephew’s birthday, missing that was tough enough. My whole family lives on the same road in Athlone, that would have been the thing that I missed the most. Before lock-down, I would have been in Athlone once or twice a week because my girlfriend lives in Dublin, it would have always been a stopping off point. Not having that anymore and not seeing them in person was hard, but eventually, you end up getting used to it. When the restrictions were lifted it was nice to be able to get back home for a week and spend some quality time with them. It made me appreciate seeing my family a whole lot more.

When all this began, did you establish a routine together or did you both do your own thing?

Jack: We did most things together whether it was training or road running. We got into a good routine together and we were doing well, it did get to the point where we were nearly over training. We ended up at a plateau when week nine came around, then there was a gradual fall off which is to be expected. It was hard when you didn’t know what was going on around games and the season. We trained hard during the week from Monday to Friday and took our weekends off to have a few beers or eat the things we craved during the week. It was great to have Jonny here to push me on because there would be some days where I wouldn’t want to train and that would be the day he would push me and vice versa. It was important to have him.

Jonny: When we had a down week, it was weird, without having a routine you wouldn’t know what time or what day it was. It felt like that period between Christmas day and New Years’ day when you don’t know what’s going on. Living with Jack meant I had structure and we were able to keep each other sane.

It sounds like you both needed each other during lock-down, what did you do to motivate each other if someone was slipping and not eating healthy or staying on track with training?

Jack: We never said anything directly to each other but if I saw Jonny going out doing his training, he would set the example of going out and getting it done and put pressure on me to train. It would have been very easy to take shortcuts at various times but if I saw Jonny doing his training, it would make me feel guilty that I wasn’t so I would go out and join him. At the end of the day, it is our job, we had Johnny O’Connor, David Howarth, and Barry O’Brien sending us through really good stuff throughout the whole period so it was important to do the work, as they put a lot of time into making the plans and put a lot of trust in us to get it done.

Jonny: I don’t think we were ever not going to get the training done because we are both so competitive. If one person was doing something you felt obliged to do it. Jack might have added in an extra assault bike session and I would think to myself, I guess I will have to do one too, even though I hate them. For some of the runs you could choose self-selected pace, sometimes we would have to run separate ways because we would end up going too hard and would end up racing each other, towards the end of the run we would be completely dead which wouldn’t have been the aim of the session. If we kept that up, we would have been dust by the end of the week.

Talking about motivation, routine, and staying healthy we know you have been baking a lot Jonny, Jack how did you stay away from all of Jonny’s baked goods and avoid eating every single thing that he baked?

Jack: I think I am pretty good at not eating everything. I didn’t want to come across rude but by not trying anything it meant that I could keep that self-control that I had, I knew if I had tried a small bit I would keep eating more. Some of the stuff that he has baked has just been unreal, especially when he started making cakes and things that I hadn’t seen him bake before and seeing how creative he can be. There would be some days he would be on his feet for 6 or 7 hours baking jam doughnuts and I was like “Murph, how have you been standing in the same place the past 6 hours filling doughnuts with jam?”. It was nice to be able to test a few things, but it did require a lot of self-control.

Jonny: I did try and only make bad things on the weekends and then do healthier protein snacks during the week. To be fair, we weren’t that bad.

Jonny, how does a rugby player get into baking?

Jonny: It extends form when I was younger, during the summer or anytime I was off I would stay in my granny and grandad’s house. When my granny baked, I was over her shoulder giving her a hand, if I wasn’t doing that, I would have been with my grandad helping him out in the garden. I took it from there and seemed to have a knack for it. I started making stuff for the players after our tough sessions on a Tuesday, from protein treats to some of the “unhealthier” stuff, but we won’t tell Gavin our nutritionist that. The guys in the team encouraged me to do something more with it, so I made a social page and it took off from there.

Spending 2 and half months with anyone is intense, what has been the best part of quarantine while living together?

Jack: I enjoyed the time when we built the bar, we got the pallets delivered to the house and it was like a mini project for us. It kept us preoccupied for a while, then getting the keg put it in and having our first pint was cool. We also got into cooking a bit more, I wasn’t big into cooking before, but I got into smoking food on the barbecue and making things like beef brisket. Overall, nothing too exciting, we are coming across as really boring but I will save some of the other stories for another time.

Jonny: I agree, we started to build it in week 5 when we thought quarantine was never going to end. It was a nice pick me up. We said one evening that we should build a bar in the shed and next minute we had the structure up, then we had the shelves in then the tap was installed. It was a nice accomplishment for us and the pint at the end was a nice reward.

You have just finished your second week of Pre-season training, what is it like being back at the Sportsground and what is the new setup like?

Jonny: Initially it was strange, especially in the 1st week, the areas in the gym are taped and you must stay in your section. We are used to giving each other a high five and hugging each other but now you can’t do that. It’s weird trying to keep your distance, after every gym session you are wiping down and disinfecting everything. I think we are getting used to it now in week two. It’s different now because you are trying to squeeze a day’s training into around 3 hours, afterward you end being wrecked. It’s now the new normal and it’s just brilliant to be back in some shape or form.

Jack: To get back and see the work that S&C did along with the other staff in Connacht Rugby has been incredible. There was so much hard work put in by the staff behind the scenes to get us to a place where we can train again. It’s a testament to them, we are in 3 hours a day every second day, whereas they are in for a lot longer. It’s what makes Connacht Rugby the place it is. The first week we came in, we trained in small groups, this week the group was a bit larger and we got some ball work in, which was a nice change-up from the monotony of running and lifting weights. Seeing the coaches back this week and having a laugh during training was brilliant.

Looking towards the games in August, how do you plan to get yourself match fit again after being away from it for so long?

Jack: We will start getting back into larger groups in the coming weeks. All the training over the last few months will never replicate the intensity of a game, change of direction, chasing a kick, or chasing a line break. There will be building blocks this week and over the next few weeks where we can build a position where we can do that. From what we have seen and what the lads have put back in, all of them have come back in really good shape. You would think that we are ahead of a lot of the other teams in respect of that. In that regard it’s quite exciting as you won’t have to spend as much time on the physical development and we can focus more on skill development and the team plays earlier than anticipated.

Jonny: It’s a level up every week, even the difference from the 1st week to this week. There’s a plan in place to have us ready for the games even though we can’t do contact right now, we will be periodically building towards the games. Yesterday’s training was extremely tough, but it’s all just prepping you for the real thing.

Lastly, Friendy requested that everyone had to come back from quarantine with a new skill on or off the field. What would you say you improved on when you were in quarantine?

Jonny: I’ve got a beard and a blonde mullet now! I worked a lot on my cooking and my baking. I put a lot of time and effort into it and it got a following over the quarantine period and people appreciate what I have been doing. I had University stuff that I needed to get done and I got it ticked off.

Jack: I tried to add on to the stuff I have done already. I would have a keen interest in leadership, I got a list of different books to read. I got to read books that I had been meaning to read for a long time. I am also in the middle of a personal reflection questionnaire. I set out a routine that I would get up early every day and it has now become a habit for me. Nothing as extravagant as Jonny, but I have gotten a lot more self-awareness of myself and a keener interest in all things leadership.

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