By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht wrapped up their United Rugby Championship campaign with a 22-20 win over Zebre at the Sportsground. 

 

It was an emotional day as the fans said goodbye to Ultan Dillane, Eoghan Masterson, Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i who will all depart the province but the team delivered the bonus point win to mark the occasion in style. 

 

The hosts scored four tries in total, through Kieran Marmion, Niall Murray, Masterson on his Connacht swansong and John Porch in a performance showcasing some excellent attacking play. 

 

The away team, meanwhile, scored three tries of their own and added a penalty, but it was the home team who held on for the deserved win. 

 

With the Sportsground bathed in balmy weather, both teams were content to play an open brand of rugby in the opening exchanges and it was Zebre who drew first blood. 

 

Strong breakdown work won the visitors a penalty and Carlo Canna made no mistake in slotting the kick and the Italian team worked themselves into a 3-0 lead with barely five minutes gone. 

 

Connacht, however, worked their way back into the game immediately in what was proving a highly entertaining opening seven minutes of the contest. 

 

After a clever line-out routine, Tom Daly carried hard and punctured through the Zebre defence. The centre was stopped eventually, but the hosts had an overload wide on the left and the ball was moved to Marmion who dove in the for the score to move Connacht 5-3 ahead. 

 

The home team were totally in the ascendancy after their try – with Daly and Cian Prendergast central to their ball carrying and playmaking efforts – and they made it two tries not long after their first. A beautiful sweeping move from right to left saw Prendergast acrobatically dodge a would-be tackle with a step before delivering an even better offload to Murray to touch down in the left corner and take the score to 10-3. 

 

The Connacht broken play attack looked superb, but so, too, did set-piece attacks and it showed just after the midway point of the first half. In his final appearance at the Sportsground, a well–constructed line–out maul saw Masterson touch down for a try manufactured by the pack. Carty slotted the extras and the hosts lead 17-3. 

 

Zebre, to their credit, didn’t baulk and they had the game’s next try, on the stroke of halftime. Full-back Lorenzo Pani was the benefactor of a quick move and he touched down in the corner. The conversion was wide and the teams went into the interval with Connacht 17-8 in the lead. 

 

Connacht wrestled momentum back at the beginning of the second half and their pressure told with the second period eight minutes old. The hosts spread the ball wide quickly first through Carty and then Oran McNulty, with the full-back feeding Porch, whose step and pace took him away from the cover defence and over the line for a try of both collective and individual brilliance. The home team were deserving of both their bonus point and their 22-8 lead. 

 

With both teams emptying their benches – Dillane, Papali’i and Arnold came on for their Connacht swang songs – the game became fractious and it was the visitors who were the team to snap out of the lull first and they went over for an unconverted try through their replacement tight-head Matteo Nocera muscled over from close range to see the home team’s score reduced to 22-13 with ten minutes remaining. 

 

With their tails up, the Italians went in search of more scores and they registered their third try with the game approaching the 80th-minute mark. Centre Enrico Lucchin showed great pace and strength to breakthrough for an individual try that Cana converted to cut the host’s lead to 22-20 with just over a minute left. 

 

The hosts, however, showed determination to pin Zebre in their own half and close off the game to take the win at 22-20. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Oran McNulty 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Cian Prendergast 

7: Sean Masterson 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Gavin Thornbury 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dylan Tierney Martin 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dave Heffernan for Tierney Martin 

17: Matthew Burke for Buckley 

18: Sam Illo for Bealham 

19: Ultan Dillane for Thornbury 

20: Abraham Papali’i for E. Masterson 

21: Colm Reilly for Marmion 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for Carty 

23: Sammy Arnold for Farrell

Emirates Lions 30

Connacht 33 

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht became only the second northern hemisphere team to win in South Africa in the United Rugby Championship this season after a brilliant 33-30 win over the Emirates Lions. 

 

The away team dotted down three tries via Cian Prendergast, a penalty try, and Tom Daly with Jack Carty showing great nerve to slot four penalties. 

 

The hosts scored four tries – two of which were converted – of their own alongside two penalties, but it was Connacht – whose set-piece efficiency and attacking prowess made the difference – who deservedly held out for the win. 

 

Connacht began the game at a rate of knots and they had a try only two minutes in. Carty elected to go to the line from a penalty in midfield and, from the resultant line out, the Irish team launched an attack deep in the Lion’s 22. Hard carries from Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen drew them closer to the line before Caolin Blade’s cutting pass met the incisive line of Prendergast and the back row skipped in for the try. Carty converted and the away team were 7-0 ahead. 

 

Not content with one score, Connacht were ambitious in search of tries and they were rewarded for their mentality with a second try in what was proving a bountiful opening ten minutes. 

 

Carty turned down the shot at goal in the Lions’ 22 after the forwards powerfully won a scrum penalty and instead opted for a kick to the line for a line out. The away team pack powerfully drove their opponents backward and, when the maul collapsed, the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try and brandishing a yellow card to the hosts for Ruan Dreyer. With the guaranteed seven points, Andy Friend’s men were one man and 14 points to the good. 

 

The Lions, back to their full allocation of players after Dreyer’s time in the sin bin elapsed, managed the wrestle back some momentum as the half neared its midway point and Jordan Hendrikse opened their account for the afternoon with a sweetly struck penalty, to take the score to 3-14 in Connacht’s favour. 

 

The remainder of the half was an even affair, with both teams enjoying spells of pressure, only for the defences to come out on top until, on the stroke of halftime, Maxwane ran a clever support line to run in a try in the right-hand corner. The conversion was wide, so Connacht were 8-14 ahead going into the break.

 

Connacht began the second half in fine fettle and they were the first to add the scoreboard when Carty – from just inside the Lions’ half – powerfully hit a penalty between the posts to stretch the away team’s lead to 8-17. 

 

 The Lions joined in on the act soon after and Hendrickse’s penalty had them on the scoreboard for the first time in the half as we approached the 50th minute, cutting Connacht’s lead to six points at 11-17.

 

Carty, whose use of the boot – both from the tee and in open play – was superb through, added Connacht’s next score, by expertly dispatching a penalty that saw them break the twenty-point mark. 

 

The Lions, though, began to turn on the pressure from that point and, after a penalty they chose to kick to the line, they launched an attack that ended with scrum-half van Den Berg opportunistically sniping in over the line. The conversion from Hendrickse was good and the lead Connacht had built was reduced to two points at 18-20.

 

The flow of the game was even and Connacht were the next side to trouble the scoreboard when Carty once again showed his prowess from the kicking tee with a beautifully hit penalty that stretched the Irish team even further ahead, leading by five points at 18-23 with the game an hour old. 

 

With their bench bringing a fresh impetus and new energy, the visitors showed great fitness in the closing stages and they registered their third try of the afternoon with a beautifully worked seven-pointer. Using a line out as an attacking platform, the ball was worked to Aki, and – showing a great understanding with his fellow centre – the Irish international brilliantly found the cutting line of Daly, and the Carlow native powered over the line. Carty added the extras and Connacht found themselves 18-30 up with fifteen minutes remaining. 

 

The Lions, to their credit, dusted themselves off quickly and they worked a neat move that saw winger Van Der Merwe collect a pass to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try that took the score to 23-30. 

 

With their tails up, the hosts added a second try in quick succession when their captain, Odendaal, burst through to touch down. Hendrickse added the conversion and the score was level at 30-30 with ten minutes remaining. 

 

Connacht, though, didn’t panic and they regained their lead with five minutes remaining when Carty accurately slotted a penalty to take the score to 33-30 to the away team. A brilliant counter ruck allowed Fifita to carry through and earn the penalty that the Roscommon man made no mistake with. 

 

Despite the hosts throwing the kitchen sink at it, Connacht held out firm to record a brilliant win in South Africa. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Mack Hansen 

14: John Porch 

13: Bundee Aki 

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Jack Aungier 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: 

 

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Dave Heffernan 

17: Jordan Duggan for Denis Buckley

18: Greg McGrath for Jack Aungier 

19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling 

20: Conor Oliver for Paul Boyle 

21: Kieran Marmion for Caolin Blade 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for Alex Wootton 

23: Shayne Bolton for Bundee Aki(temporarily for HIA)

Connacht were defeated 45-8 by Leinster in a physical interprovincial at the Sportsground tonight in the United Rugby Championship. 

 

A Jack Carty penalty and a Tiernan O’Halloran try accounted for the home teams scores, but – after Tom Daly’s red card after just two minutes – playing with a man down for the majority of the game, Leinster ran out winners. 

 

The home team will face Bennetton away in the United Rugby Championship next weekend. 

 

The contest began with a typical Interprovincial intensity and Leinster were reduced to 14 men temporarily when Tommy O’Brien was reprimanded for a tackle in the air on Niall Murray right from the game’s kick-off. 

 

However, Connacht soon joined the away team in losing a man when Tom Daly was red-carded for a tackle on Ciaran Frawley, meaning both sides were brandished cards in the opening two minutes. 

 

The away side were soon restored to their full complement and they began to put pressure on Connacht, whose defence was stout – withstanding phase after phase of close carries near their line –   and Leinster eventually recycled the ball wide to Rory O’Loughlin to touch down. Ross Byrne added the conversion and Leinster found themselves 7-0 in front after an extremely physical opening fifteen minutes. 

 

The hosts began to work their way back into the contest from that point, and after a huge break, including defence cutting carries from Niall Murray and Jarrad Butler, they earned a penalty that Carty slotted to put Connacht on the board and bring the score back to 3-7 midway through the first half. 

 

With one score under their belts, the home team – whose scrum was proving a great launchpad, with replacement Matthew Burke and the entire front row to the fore – pushed for more, and their ambition bore fruit when O’Halloran caught an exquisite offload from Carty, who was playing from a penalty advantage, to touch down for the home teams opening try, which saw Connacht lead 8-7 going into the half time break. 

 

The second half began with the same ferocious tempo with both teams committed to attack, but it was Leinster who opened the scoring for the second period when David Hawkshaw went over from close range. Byrne slotted the extras the away team lead 14-8.

 

Two tries soon became two for the visitors when Luke McGrath ran in a try from inside the 22. Hawkshaw added the conversion and the margin stretched to 21-8. 

 

With their tails up, the away team secured their bonus point try when Ciaran Frawley dived on a bouncing ball in the in-goal area to take the score to 26-8 to Leinster. A fifth try soon followed when Tommy O’Brien fielded an offload to slide in for the five-pointer to take the score to 31-8.

 

Connacht were still game and dogged, but the man deficit told late on and Josh Murphy added Leinster’s sixth try – which Hawkshaw converted – to grow their lead to 38-8. O’Brien added his second score to take the final score to 45-8 in Leinster’s favour. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Oran McNulty 

10: Jack Carty © 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Jack Aungier 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements:

 

16: Jonny Murphy for Dave Heffernan 

17: Matthew Burke for Denis Buckley 

18: Greg McGrath for Jack Aungier 

19: Ultan Dillane for Niall Murray

20: Paul Boyle for Conor Oliver

21: Caolin Blade for Kieran Marmion

22: Sammy Arnold 

23: Diarmuid Kilgallen for Oran McNulty

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht were defeated 56-8 away to Edinburgh tonight in the United Rugby Championship. 

 

Despite establishing an 8-0 lead at the DAM Health Stadium, through a Peter Sullivan try and a Jack Carty penalty, the away team’s quest for three URC wins on the bounce was ended when the Scottish team scored eight unanswered, converted tries. 

 

Connacht’s next outing will be the home InterPro at home to Leinster on March 26th

 

With the artificial surface lending itself to a quick, expansive style of rugby, the opening exchanges saw both teams commit to running the ball, with Conor Oliver particularly impressing in this facet of the game for the away team. 

 

Connacht’s cause was helped when the home team’s number eight Mesu Kunavula was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Caolin Blade. The visitors didn’t take long to make their man advantage count when Carty – after a typically expansive move ended with Edinburgh being penalized for offside – coolly slotted a penalty to open the scoring at 3-0. 

 

The visitors were in the ascendancy for the majority of the opening half, but it took until past the twentieth minute, thanks to steely Edinburgh defence, for them to make it count on the try-scoring board. 

 

A beautiful sweeping move – with Carty and Tom Daly both lending their playmaking capabilities – moved the ball from left to right. Dave Heffernan then supplied the try assist to Peter Sullivan, whose step avoided the cover defence and saw him touch down for a deserved 8-0 lead. 

 

To their credit, the home team worked their way back into the contest near the half-hour mark and they opened their account for the evening when Emiliano Boffelli collected Blair Kinghorn’s offload and dove in the score to take the score to 8-7 in Connacht’s favour. 

 

The try seemed to revive the hosts and with renewed confidence, they scored another barely five minutes later. Kinghorn was once again integral, starting a move that ended with full-back Henry Immelman dotting down the ball that, with the added conversion, took the score to 14-8 in favour of Edinburgh. 

 

The Scottish team continued their momentum and they made it three tries in quick succession when Dave Cherry – the Scottish international hooker – touched down from close distance. Boffelli made it three conversions from three and Edinburgh held their 21-8 lead going into the interval. 

 

Edinburgh carried their try-scoring form into the second half and they registered their bonus point try just a minute after the half began. Kinghorn’s pass found Ben Muncaster and the flanker returned the favour and the fly-half ran in the try. Boffelli kept his 100% kicking record alive and the home team lead 28-8. 

 

Four tries soon became five for the hosts when Ramiro Moyano, the Argentinian international, was fed a pass by Kinghorn and he showed pace to run in for the try, which Boffelli converted to lengthen the hosts’ score to 35-8.

 

Edinburgh continued to pile on the pressure and they scored three more tries – through Boffelli, who also added three conversions, Glen Young and Ben Vellacott – to seal the win at 56-8.

 

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: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Leva Fifita 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Jack Aungier 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

Replacements: 

 

16: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan

17: Tietie Tuimauga for Duggan

18: Dominic Robertson McCoy for Aungier 

19: Niall Murray for Fifita

20: Abraham Papali’i for Boyle 

21: Kieran Marmion for Blade 

22: Tom Farrell for Wootton 

23: Jarrad Butler for Oliver

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

A last gasp Leicester Tigers try gave them a 29-28 win over Connacht at the Sportsground in the Heineken Champions Cup today. 

 

Despite registering a try bonus point – thanks to tries from Tiernan O’Halloran(2), Cian Prendergast and Kieran Marmion, all of which were converted by Kieran Marmion – it was the English Premiership leaders, who trailed 28-10 midway through the second half, who took the victory in a pulsating clash. 

 

Joe Heyes, Kini Murimurivalu(2), Charlie Clare, and Hosea Saumaki all crossed for the visitors, with Freddie Burns also notching two conversions. 

 

Connacht looked to start the game with typical attacking intent, but it was the English Premiership table-toppers who took the lead after scarcely two minutes. 

 

A cleverly worked line-out routine saw Leicester crash over through Joe Heyes. 

 

After turning down two kickable penalties, the away team were rewarded for their ambition when the tight-head prop went over the line from a short distance. The conversion was wide, so the away team lead 5-0. 

 

The English team doubled their try count in what was proving to be a profitable opening ten minutes when Kini Murimurivalu – after a scrum just outside the Connacht 22 gave them field position – dove over in the corner. The conversion hit the upright but the away team doubled their lead to 10-0.

 

Connacht – with their line out an effective weapon –  began to grow into the game thereafter and this bore try-scoring fruit in an extremely entertaining opening seventeen minutes. 

 

A powerful rolling maul brought the hosts close to the line and they then elected to put the ball through the hands of the backs. Kieran Marmion found Carty and the Roscommon native passed to Matt Healy who – unselfishly – fed O’Halloran the try-scoring pass. Carty added the extras and the hosts trailed by three at 7-10. 

 

With their tails up, the driving maul was a tool the home team looked to use extensively and their confidence in the set-piece was justified when they used it as a source of crossing the whitewash for the second time in the half. 

 

Once again, Leicester did well to stop the initial surge but they had no answer to Connacht working it wide through the backs and Bundee Aki’s pass found Prendergast and – showing great strength – the blindside muscled his way over the line. Carty added the extras and the Westerners lead 14-10 at the half-hour mark. 

 

The Tigers tried to respond in kind in the remaining minutes of the first half, but all of their efforts were met with the same Connacht defensive resistance – where Conor Oliver and Niall Murray were particularly impressive – and the hosts went into the interval leading 14-10. 

 

Connacht started the second half in menacing, attacking fashion and they scored two tries – both from attacking lineouts – in the opening ten minutes of the second period. Such was the pressure and the spate of penalties awarded in the home team’s favour, the English team were also reduced to 14 after Tommy Reffell was yellow carded.

 

First, Marmion – showing great instincts – quickly nipped in for a score and then O’Halloran, with his second try of the afternoon, was the benefactor of a brilliant move, starting from the line out, that included offloads from John Porch and Mattew Burke, and pirouetted over in the corner. Carty converted both and the hosts lead 28-10.

 

The Tigers worked their way back into proceedings soon after, however, when Murimurivalu – their most impressive player all afternoon – showed great pace to touch down for a converted try which reduced the deficit to 28-17. 

 

The tide of momentum was with the away team as we reached the final ten minutes and they scored their fourth try when Charlie Clare was at hand to touch down at the base of a maul. The conversion was good and the Westerners lead stood at four points; 28-24.

 

The visitors would have the last say when replacement Hosea Saumaki dove over in the corner to give the Tigers the win – 29-28 – with the last play of the game. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty ©

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

Replacements:

 

  1. Dave Heffernan for Delahunt
  2. Tietie Tuimauga for Burke
  3. Jack Aungier for Bealham
  4. Ultan Dillane for Dowling
  5. Paul Boyle for Butler 
  6. Caolin Blade for Marmion
  7. Conor Fitzgerald 
  8. Tom Farrell for Matt Healy 

Head coach Andy Friend believes Connacht are in a good place after the break in their season for the international window.

 

The Westerners have had over a month off since their last outing, the excellent 36-11 win over Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, allowing players and staff alike to rest and recuperate.

 

Connacht now go into a ten-week block of games, but Friend is confident that his team can begin this period on their best foot when Ospreys visit Galway on Friday, kick-off 19:35

 

“We’re in a good spot. We all had a break and three good weeks of training. We’ve got most of our internationals back, which is good,” the Australian said.

 

“We’ve had three really good weeks of continual work and we’re focusing on these first two games. We’ve got ten games, we’ve got Christmas in there, we’ve got New Year in there, we’ve got European games in there, URC games in there, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games.

 

“All we can do is zone in on these next two weeks, which is Ospreys and Leinster, two Friday night games and we’re looking forward to those.”

 

Ospreys arrive in Galway with a strong record in their opening five United Rugby Championship games, boasting four wins and a loss.

 

Friend says that Connacht will need to be at their best at the breakdown to attack the Welshmen, who the former Australian Sevens coach rates among the best teams so far this season, an opinion which reflects their impressive statistics.

 

“They have been one of the quality sides when you look at their stats across the board, in terms of metres gained up the field, in terms of their turnovers — they have the least amount of turnovers in the competition. They have a very good disciplinary record and don’t give away many penalties. Access into the game is going to be very tricky. We’ll have a tough night on Friday night, we know that. They’re a formidable outfit.

 

Elsewhere, Ireland international out-half Jack Carty says he is excited for Connacht’s future after committing himself to the province by signing a new three-year deal.

 

The Roscommon native, who made his debut for the first team in 2012, is an integral part of head coach Andy Friend’s plans with the Westerners and his retention and commitment to the club is another feather in the cap for the Sportsground team.

 

While Carty is delighted to spend the next three years with Connacht, his immediate focus remains on Friday’s home clash versus the Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship.

 

“Being on the periphery of the Irish team, people kind of presumed you would look to move elsewhere, but the main thing for me was I felt I was getting better as a player and better as a leader.

 

“Then obviously being close to family and stuff like that that you can’t measure if you go somewhere else. I think the change-up we’ve had in the coaching staff this year has massively benefited my game. It was really a clear-cut decision for myself and I am really enjoying where we’re at and where we’re going,” the Irish international said of his decision to extend his contract.

 

Carty, 29, says that the alterations to Connacht’s game plan — albeit slight and subtle — suit his best attributes as a Rugby player. He gave credit to the three new coaches in the Westerners’ backroom team, Mossy Lawler, Dewald Senekal, and Colm Tucker, alongside Friend and Pete Wilkins, for their role in the team’s growth.

 

“Yeah, that’s how I would have played Rugby growing up, in terms of the different coaches with Pat(Lam), KK(Kieran Keane) and Friendy’s(Andy Friend) first couple of years. They were different, but quite similar with the role the 10 played.

 

“It was a lot of facilitating how the shape worked, but now I feel I can get my hands on the ball and ask questions of defenders while also having the ability to look for kick space, which is something we’ve probably seen in the last few years.

 

“The element of the running game is definitely something I have enjoyed and carrying the ball to the line and putting players through holes. I feel like I have a freedom that may not have had before.”

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce Irish international Jack Carty has committed his long-term future to the club, signing a new three-year deal until 2025.
 
The Roscommon native has made 164 appearances for his home province since his debut over 9 years ago. He was part of the squad that won the 2015-16 Guinness PRO12, and further impressive performances resulted in an Ireland debut away to Italy in the 2019 Six Nations.
 
In total he has made 10 caps for his country and was a member of the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
 
Carty is a product of the Connacht pathway, playing club and school rugby with Buccaneers RFC and Marist College before graduating from the Connacht Academy.
 
Jack Carty has released the following statement:
 
“I’m so thankful and grateful to be able to represent my home province for another 3 years. The last 6 months have easily been the most enjoyable part of my career, and in that time I feel I’ve matured as a player, leader and person.
 
The staff and my teammates have been incredible and create an environment where you can feel yourself growing daily. It’s easy to stay motivated because of them, even on a wet and windy day training in Galway! The club is represented by people from every pocket of Connacht, Ireland and beyond, but everyone is incredibly proud in representing Connacht and the West.
 
From speaking to Willie about the plans for the future, along with seeing first-hand the work of Friendy and the coaches, I’m excited about what lies ahead. A special thanks to Friendy who goes above and beyond for his players. There is no doubt that this club and squad are in a position to challenge for silverware. I can’t wait to see where the journey takes us over the coming years and I’d like to thank Keith Matthew for his help and guidance. Along with that, I hope to add to my international caps.
 
Most importantly, I want to thank my family, friends and loved ones especially Mum, Dad, my sisters Aoife and Deirdre, my brothers Ben and Luke, my brother-in-law Donie and my niece and nephew Juliette and Ted for all the support and love.”

 
Head Coach Andy Friend added:
 
“This is brilliant news for everyone associated with Connacht. Jack is a top-class international out-half and a crucial player for our squad.
 
He has an incredible skillset and excellent game management. He is therefore an extremely important person for us in how we want to play the game.
 
Jack has also grown as a leader within our group. He has recently earned the right to be our matchday captain which is testament to his leadership qualities.
 
Jack is a very proud Connacht man and loves representing his club, school, province & country. I’m really excited to see him going from strength to strength and committing to us for another next three years.”

 
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 Munster 20

Connacht 18

 

Connacht were narrowly defeated by Munster in the United Rugby Championship tonight in a keenly fought contest at Thomond Park. 

 

Despite a converted try and two penalties from Jack Carty and a Paul Boyle touchdown, the visitors were ultimately pipped by the hosts who had two Joey Carbery penalties and conversions and tries from Chris Cloete and Diarmuid Barron to thank for their points. 

 

Connacht started the game with breakneck tempo and they had a score to show for their efforts after barely a minute of play. 

 

A well-orchestrated set-piece routine saw Mack Hansen speed through a gap and offload to Bundee Aki, who, in turn, found Conor Oliver with a pass. Munster infringed and the away team were awarded a penalty that Carty slotted with ease to open the scoring at 3-0.

 

After absorbing pressure from the hosts, the Westerners launched an attack of their own and this yielded a penalty which Carty — showing composure — slotted to make it 6-0 for the away team in what was proving to be a profitable opening ten minutes. 

 

Munster were in the ascendancy, in terms of possession and territory, but Connacht — with Aki, Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver especially prominent — were resolute in defence, be it at the breakdown, maul or in open play. 

 

The Westerners — who were reduced to 14 men temporarily when Sammy Arnold was unfortunate to slip into a high tackle — held the hosts at bay until the stroke of half time but Cloete, diving on a deflected kick through, pounced on a ball in the 22 to score the games first try. Carbery converted and Connacht went into the interval trailing by a point at 7-6. 

 

The home team began the second half in a similar manner to the way they ended the first and they capitalised on this when Carbery scored the first points of the second period with a penalty to take the score to 10-6 in favour of Munster. 

 

Connacht weren’t deterred, however, and they wrestled their way back into the game and earned a number of penalties deep in the Munster 22 with enterprising attacks. Showing quick thinking, number eight Boyle chose to take a quick tap penalty and he dove in for the Westerners’ first try of the evening and the away team took the lead at 11-10.

 

The leads swapped hands again when Carbery kicked Munster back into the lead with a penalty to set up a tense final twenty-minutes. 

 

Connacht kept in the fight, however, and they were rewarded for their doggedness when Carty — showing determination — charged down a kick from Carbery before collecting the ricochet to touch down for a try that he converted to give the away team an 18-13 lead. 

 

In what was a topsy turvy encounter, Munster were next to take the lead when Barron barged over from short range for a try that Carbery converted to take the score to 20-18 to the home team.

 

That’s the way the contest ended and the home team narrowly took the intepro, 20-18.

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Mack Hansen 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Niall Murray 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Matthew Burke.

 

Replacements: 

 

Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Greg McGrath for Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier for Finlay Bealhan, Eoghan Masterson for Ultan Dillane, Abraham Papali’i for Boyle, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Jarrad Butler for Prendergast, Tom Daly.

Fly-half Jack Carty says that Connacht will take learnings from last weekend’s home defeat to The Dragons and will apply them to the rest of their season, starting with Saturday’s United Rugby Championship Interpro versus Munster at Thomond Park. 

 

Despite leading at halftime, the Westerners eventually lost 35-22 to the Welshmen in last Saturday’s 5:15 PM kick-off at the Sportsground. 

 

However, the Irish international is confident that Connacht can bounce back at a venue where they won last season, but admits it will be an arduous task against their 100% winning record boasting southern rivals. 

 

“We spoke about backing up a big performance with another one after last week(The Bulls game), but unfortunately we didn’t do that,” the Roscommon native said. 

 

“It was bitterly disappointing and I think there was a couple of things there like if we scored Bladey’s try we go in at halftime with a bigger lead and I think it changes the dynamic a small bit. 

 

‘We were a bit flat throughout the game and it was a bit disappointing because we had a good week, and again we didn’t back it up how we wanted to.”

 

“It usually comes down to an error, or a piece of brilliance, if you think about the game last year,” Carty said of the generally tight encounters between Munster and Connacht. 

 

“Mike Haley, with a piece of brilliance from him, fielded a high ball and ended up scoring. We ended up getting a yellow card at a pivotal point and that was the turning of the game. 

 

“And down there in Thomond, we kind of grinded it out and held them out in the end. Usually, they’re one score games and it comes down to those finer things, like discipline, staying in the fight and sticking to what our game will be. When we play against Munster, it’s always a dog fight and always those one or two little pivotal things that are the making or the breaking of the game.”

 

Carty, 29, referenced Connacht’s win against The Bulls — a team with a similar size and athletic profile to Munster — as the kind of standard the Westerners will need to hit once again if they are to win the upcoming interprovincial. 

 

“Yeah, I think so. That’s the benchmark, defensively and in an attack sense, that everything from that point on would be that or more. Munster have totally changed the way they have played in certain facets of the game as well. 

 

“It will be a bit different from how they’ve been previously. They are obviously incredibly good in the air, and they have changed in how they look to shift the ball into the wider edges and in terms of where their players are going in terms of kick receipts. 

 

“It should be really interesting and it’s always a tight game when you go down there and it’s going to come down to the top two inches.”

 

Meanwhile, senior attack coach Pete Wilkins says Connacht are on track to improve, despite last weekend’s reversal to the Dragons. 

 

The Englishman, who moved from his defensive coaching berth to senior attack coach role this summer, said that there are positives for the Westerners to take — even in defeat — and that progress towards an enhanced style of play is clear for the coaching staff to see. 

 

And Wilkins is confident that squad will move forwards and adapt further to their new style of play and overall strategy. 

 

“I think that any time you’re going to change the way you play the game — particularly in an overall identity — it’s not going to be done in one pre-season, in one or two or three games,” Wilkins said. 

 

“If you can start to see a real semblance of that identity come together in the middle of that first season, I think that’s a good outcome. That said, you need to see key markers along the way. On a game-by-game basis, you want to see those aspects of your identity growing as you go, you don’t just wait six months and be patient, you need to see that building and then see that final product halfway through the season. 

 

“In that sense, I’m happy with how we’re tracking and every game gives us the opportunity to learn where we’re at and how we can fix things.”

 

“Unfortunately, sometimes you have to go through that pain and learn those lessons by reviewing it. But what you don’t want to see is that being repeated week by week, you want to see growth. We’re on track, we’re on the right track. There are some difficult lessons out of a defeat like that but we take the lessons and we will move forwards.”

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