Scarlets 41-36 Connacht

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Despite a brilliant display of attacking rugby that yielded five first-half tries, Connacht fell to a narrow, 41-36, defeat to Scarlets in their final PRO14 game of the season.

 

John Porch, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien and Dominic Robertson McCoy all touched down for first half tries for the away team, earning them both try and losing bonus points. Conor Fitzgerald and replacement Jack Carty added eleven points to Connacht’s total via four conversions and a penalty.

 

It was a night for Dylan Tierney Martin as the hooker — formerly of the Irish under ’20s — made his professional debut as a second-half replacement.

 

 

The Scarlets needed a win to help their Champions Cup qualifications hopes and they started with intent. After only two minutes, Aaron Shingler — the blindside flanker — touched down in the left-hand corner after a well-crafted move. 

 

Connacht settled themselves thereafter, however, and began to take control of the contest. With a rock-solid set-piece, the Westerners began to string phases of attacks deep in the Scarlets 22 together. 

 

After a typically sturdy scrum, the away launched an attack and Tom Daly combined with Fitzgerald and the fly-halves pass found Porch and the full-back showed great pace to touch down. Fitzgerald slotted the extras to give the away team a deserved lead. 

 

With their tails up, Connacht added a second try not long after. Kieran Marmion’s incisive break gave the Westerners’ field position and, with advantage accruing, Fitzgerald’s beautiful fizzing pass found Papali’i on the right-hand wing. The big number fended off a would-be challenger to touch down for an excellently constructed try. 

 

Two tries soon became three as Connacht showed all their attacking flair and pace. A huge break from O’Brien saw the centre pass to Porch. The full-back then made an incision of his own through the Scarlets defence before offloading back to O’Brien to score. It was a try of beautiful proportions and Fitzgerlad confidently added the conversion to bring the score to 19-5 in favour of the away team. 

 

The flow of the game was tit for tat and Scarlets were the next team to score when Steff Hughes — after a beautiful offload from Steff Evans — picked up near the line and dived over for a converted try to bring the score to 12-19.

 

Connacht were to have the last say in the half, however and scored two quickfire tries to bring their first-half total of tries to five. First, Robertson McCoy — whose set piece work, as well as his ball carrying, was superb — smashed his way over from close range. Fitzgerald, once again, made no mistake in adding the extras. 

 

Then, after a huge break from Niall Murray established Connacht field position, Daly offloaded to Marmion and the scrum-half — so sharp throughout the half — picked up and scored. Fitzgerald added the conversion and Connacht went into the interval 33-12 to the good. 

 

Needing the win to secure third place, Scarlets started the second half with ambition and they had their first try of the second period five minutes in. Centre Hughes completed his brace and touched for a try which Dan Jones converted. 

 

Another try followed five minutes later when scrum-half Dane Blacker — following a break and offload from second row Sam Lousi — ran in the converted score to bring Connacht’s winning margin back to seven points at 26-33.

 

With the momentum behind them, Scarlets added two more tries — via Tom Rogers and replacement prop Javan Sebastian — and a Jones penalty to take the win. 

 

Carty’s late penalty earned Connacht a losing bonus point to go with their try bonus point.

 

Connacht team:

1: Jordan Duggan

2: Shane Delahunt 

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy 

4: Niall Murray 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

6: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

8: Abraham Papali’i 

 

9: Kieran Marmion 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

11: Alex Wootton 

12: Tom Daly 

13: Sean O’Brien 

14: Ben O’Donnell 

15: John Porch

 

Replacements: 

 

Dylan Tierney-Martin for Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke for Jordan Duggan, Finlay Bealham for Robertson McCoy, Oisin Dowling for Gavin Thornbury, Sean Masterson for Papali’i, Colm Reilly for Marmion, Jack Carty for Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan for Ben O’Donnell. 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that 21 players have re-signed for the province ahead of the 2021-22 season.

In all 19 players from the existing Professional squad have renewed deals for next season while a further two players, Oran McNulty and Cian Prendergast, have been promoted from the Connacht Academy.

Today’s announcement includes four Irish internationals – Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan – while joint-leading Guinness PRO14 try scorer Alex Wootton has signed on a permanent contract having joined on loan from Munster last summer.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“I am delighted to see so many of our current crop of players sign on for another season. This is still a very challenging time for everyone in Irish Rugby so to have them commit to Connacht Rugby again says it all about the belief we have as a group to continue the progress we’re making.

17 of the 21 players were once part of the Connacht Academy, and in that group we have a mix of established Irish internationals, experienced players within the province and plenty of young players still in the early stages of their careers.

I have been very impressed by Cian Prendergast and Oran McNulty, and their first Professional contracts is the culmination of years of work from grassroots level to where they are now. Congratulations not just to them but their parents, coaches and all the other volunteers who helped them along the way.

We are continuing to shape the squad for next season, with further discussions ongoing, and supporters should expect more positive news in the weeks and months ahead.”

Connacht Rugby’s retention and recruitment remains ongoing and further announcements will be made in due course.

CONFIRMED NEW CONTRACTS FOR 2021-22

Finlay BEALHAM
Paul BOYLE
Denis BUCKLEY
Matthew BURKE
Jack CARTY
Shane DELAHUNT
Ultan DILLANE
Jordan DUGGAN
Conor FITZGERALD
Dave HEFFERNAN
Eoghan MASTERSON
Sean MASTERSON
Oran MCNULTY
Niall MURRAY
Conor OLIVER
John PORCH
Cian PRENDERGAST
Colm REILLY
Peter SULLIVAN
Gavin THORNBURY
Alex WOOTTON

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.

Montpellier 35

Connacht 29

With the clock in the red, French Top 14 side Montpellier held on to a six point lead as Connacht drove at their line in search of their fifth try in this enthralling Champions Cup game. The hosts had to fight all the way in this exciting encounter as the sides went in level at the break, after Connacht clawed back a 21 points to 0 deficit after 30 minutes.

With Connacht winning the corresponding game in the Sportsground back in November, this one was always going to go down to the wire. In that round one clash, Montpellier got on the scoresheet in the first three minutes and the script looked like repeating itself when Levan Chilachava raced onto a pass and touched down by that three minute mark this time around. This prompted a reaction as Connacht settled into the game and gave as good as they got, with captain Jarrad Butler and Bundee Aki in particular putting in some huge tackles early on.

Just as Connacht were growing into this game though Montpellier hit them with two converted tries in three minutes, both from winger Gabriel N’gandebe. To Connacht’s credit though, instead of dropping their heads as the second try went in on 28 minutes, they dug deep and started to play some of the most attacking, open rugby they have produced all season.

In the 35th minute Matt Healy got a ball out wide and had plenty to do before touching down. Straight from the kick off, Connacht were flying down the opposite wing and John Porch touched down with his finger tips from what seemed like an impossible angle. Carty’s successful conversion from the touchline put Connacht within a converted try. The away side then struck parity on the stroke of half time when Kieran Marmion was released, and he raced in under the posts.

Amazingly on the 44 minute mark, Connacht had secured a bonus point try when Kyle Godwin beat two defenders after taking a pass on the Montpellier 22. Montpellier were quick to respond with their fourth, which they converted after 52 minutes to nudge back into the lead. Connacht went toe to toe with the powerful French outfit and going into the final quarter they regained the lead through a Jack Carty penalty. Crucially though this was to be Connacht’s final score and when Montpellier got in for their fifth try of the day with three minutes remaining, a Connacht victory looked unlikely.

Connacht did what they did all day though and kept battling. John Porch bravely claimed the restart and the high tackle on him resulted in a Connacht penalty and a launch pad for a final effort at the Montpellier. Unfortunately, though the home side held on and won out on a 35 points to 29 scoreline.

So this result marks the end of Connacht’s Champions Cup season but their six outings in the competition showed that they are certainly not out of place in the top tier of European rugby. The challenge now turns back to the Pro14 and the visit of Cardiff to the Sportsground on the 15th of February – a must win fixture against their conference rivals (Get tickets here).

Connacht Scorers –

Tries: Matt Healy, John Porch, Kieran Marmion and Kyle Godwin

Penalties: Jack Carty (1)

Conversions: Jack Carty (3 from 4)

Connacht: T O’Halloran, J Porch, K Godwin, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, P McAllister, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy, J Maksymiw, G Thornbury, E Masterson, C Faianga’a, J Butler (c).

 

Replacements: J Murphy, D Buckley for McAllister (49), E McKeon for Materson (53), C Blade for Marmion (54), T Daly for O’Halloran (57m) N Murray for Maksymiw (58m), C Kenny for Robertson-McCoy( 63), J Murphy for Heffernan (68), Robertson-McCoy for Heffernan and C Fitzgerald for Carty (70).

Gloucester 26

Connacht 17

A strong second half Gloucester performance turned around Connacht’s three point half time lead as the English side claimed the bonus point win in this Champions Cup Round 3 clash. After the first of the crucial back to back fixtures, the return leg in the Sportsground next Saturday now becomes a must win for Connacht.

Gloucester drew first blood just 4 minutes into the game when Tom Marshall raced onto a pass outside the 22 and ran in under the posts. Amazingly though, Cipriani’s conversion was to prove their final score of the opening half for Gloucester as Connacht mounted a massive defensive display.

Connacht responded with their opening try after 8 minutes when John Porch scored his third try in two games. Porch looked confident in his new full back position and looked an attacking threat throughout.

While Gloucester made a handful of visits inside the Connacht 22 throughout the first half, they couldn’t break down a resolute defence. Connacht had their chances too and their period of pressure was rewarded on 18 minutes when Carty converted a penalty to leave the visitors 3 points to the good – a lead they held to the break.

It was a different Gloucester side that emerged for the second half and within seven minutes of the restart, Louis Rees-Zammit was in for the home side’s second try.

Connacht to their credit tried to stay in touch, but the English Premiership side had found a new level of confidence matched by greater accuracy.

At the game hit the 60 minutes mark, Gloucester were in again just after Kyle Godwin was sent to the bin following a succession of Connacht penalties – the final quarter was always going to be an uphill challenge from here. The home side capitalised on that numerical advantage and in the 65th minute Jake Polledri claimed the bonus point try with Cipriani scoring the conversion to leave it 24 – 10 with 15 to go.

From here Connacht went in search of a losing bonus point but and were unlucky not to have a try with 5 minutes remaining. The try did eventually come though when Quinn Roux drove at the Gloucester line 2 minutes into injury time. Unfortunately though, even with Fitzgerald’s conversion success, Connacht left with nothing.

So Gloucester draw first blood in the back to back battle. Both sides have just six days to regroup for the return leg in the Sporstground next Saturday.

For tickets to the crucial Champions Cup clash clash – Click here

Connacht scorers

Tries: J Porch, Q Roux

Conversions: Jack Carty (1), Conor Fitzgerald (1)

Penalties: J Carty (1)

Gloucester: Tom Marshall,  Louis Rees-Zammit,  Chris Harris (B Twelvetrees),  Mark Atkinson,  Ollie Thorley,  Danny Cipriani (M Banahan), Joe Simpson (Callum Braley ) Val Rapava Ruskin (Josh Hohneck), Franco Marais (Todd Gleave), Fraser Balmain (Jamal Ford-Robinson) Gerbrandt Grobler,  Franco Mostert (Alex Craig), Ruan Ackermann (Lewis Ludlow), Jake Polledri,  Ben Morgan.

Connacht:  John Porch,  Niyi Adeolokun,  Bundee Aki, Peter Robb (Tom Daly,  Kyle Godwin,  Jack Carty (Conor Fitzgerald) , Caolin Blade (Stephen Kerins)  Denis Buckley (P McCabe), Tom McCartney (Jonny Murphy), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy) Joe Maksymiw (Ultan Dillane ), Quinn Roux,  Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a (Robin Copeland), Jarrad Butler.

 

Connacht 24

Southern Kings 12

John Porch scored two tries as Connacht moved to within a point of Conference B leaders Munster with a hard-fought victory against Isuzu Southern Kings.

The Australian winger crossed once in each half, while further scores from Bundee Aki and Finlay Bealham settled a bonus-point win.

The Kings stay bottom of the Conference with just a single win this season, but they impressed at the Sportsground and scored two tries through Erich Cronje and Scott van Breda.

Connacht, who arrived with four wins from six league games, started impressively, with Ireland international centre Aki powering over in the 12th minute.

But the Kings, filled with confidence from securing their first ever Guinness PRO14 away win at Ospreys last time out, hit back as centre Cronje wrestled his way over four minutes later.

However, Connacht boast great forward power and they moved back ahead mid-way through the first half thanks to tries from prop Bealham and winger Porch.

The Kings hit back on the stroke of half-time through full-back Van Breda, who only joined on loan from Worcester Warriors this week.

After camping near the Connacht line, the Kings moved right and Van Breda dotted down after stepping up to collect a flat pass.

Connacht strengthened their advantage early in the second half, as Conor Fitzgerald and Aki combined to release Porch, who sprinted in for his second try in the corner.

No more points were scored in a lacklustre second half but that won’t matter to the hosts, who got the job done.

John Porch underlined just why Connacht decided to take him to Galway. With two predatory tries, the wing made the difference as the Irish province once again showed how dangerous they will be this season.

Next up for Connacht is back to back Champions Cup games against Gloucester with the English Premiership side coming to the Sportsground on the 14th of December – For tickets click here

Connacht Scorers – Tries: John Porch (2), Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham. Conversions: Conor Fitzgerald (2 from 4)

Connacht: Matt Healy, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin (Peter Robb), Bundee Aki, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald (Jack Carty), Caolin Blade (Angus Lloyd), Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke), Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy), Ultan Dillane  (Joe Maksymiw), Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Paul Boyle (Jarrad Butler).

John Porch is set for his first competitive start for Connacht after he was named in the starting 15 for Friday Night’s Guinness PRO14 tie with the Dragons at Rodney Parade (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The inclusion of the Australian winger is the only change from the side that defeated Benetton last weekend, with the Connacht side running in 6 tries in the 41-5 win.
 
Porch plays in a back three that includes winger Matt Healy and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran, while Peter Robb and Kyle Godwin are selected at midfield.
 
Caolin Blade and Conor Fitzgerald, who both impressed last time out, continue their half-back partnership at scrum-half and out-half respectively.
 
The front five is unchanged for the third straight game, with hooker Tom McCartney alongside props Paddy McAllister and Finlay Bealham, and a second-row combination of Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux.
 
Captain Jarrad Butler continues at openside, with Eoghan Masterson at blindside and Paul Boyle at number 8.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Andy Friend says it’s important to build on the performance at The Sportsground last Saturday:
 
“I was really pleased with the performance last weekend, so with a 6-day turnaround we’ve selected much the same squad to keep the momentum going. We’ve handed John Porch his first start after his competitive debut last weekend, and Cillian Gallagher is among the replacements after some good performances for the Connacht Eagles, so we are continuing to build the depth required for a long season.”
 
Speaking ahead of the trip to Wales, the Head Coach says:
 
“Rodney Parade is a tough place to go and with the Dragons playing a more expansive game this season we know our defence has to be on top form, but we also need to be clinical in attack when opportunities arise. This is our last game in this block before a short break so we’re aiming to finish on a high before our run of 13 weeks of games.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY SQUAD V DRAGONS (FRI 11 OCT, 7.35PM @ RODNEY PARADE)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade
(1-8): Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (C), Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Cillian Gallagher, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell, Stephen Fitzgerald.

A Conor Fitzgerald try which he duly converted 10 minutes from time gave Connacht a hard-earned win away to Oyonnax in the squad’s opening pre-season game of the 2019/20 season.
 
With all 30 players of the travelling party seeing at least 20 minutes of action, it was clear this was a game in which the focus was on giving players an opportunity to impress after the first month of pre-season.
 
Connacht found chances had to come by in the 1st half against a physical French outfit who are just one week out from the start of their league campaign. They led 7-0 at the break after a converted try after 23 minutes, and that could have been more after they saw two of their penalties hit the post.
 
Mass changes took place at the break with almost an entirely new team taking the field – among them Connacht Academy player Seán O’Brien and summer signing John Porch. The intensity increased almost immediately from the restart and the pressure eventually told after 45 minutes when Colby Fainga’a ran a great line inside the 22 to touch down underneath the posts.
 
Oyonnax responded well to that try and almost immediately regained the lead from a penalty, and that was then stretched to 6 points after a further shot at goal 15 minutes later.
 
However Andy Friend’s side found an extra gear when needed, as a well-worked play released Kyle Godwin out wide who showed good pace before finding Conor Fitzgerald on his inside to score their second try.
 
Fitzgerald’s resulting conversion was no gimme, but he made no mistake to give Connacht the slenderest of leads which they never relinquished.
 
1st half team:
15. Darragh Leader, 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Kyle Godwin, 12. Peter Robb, 11. Matt Healy, 10. David Horwitz, 9. Caolin Blade.
1. Matthew Burke, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 4. Joe Maksymiw, 5. Ultan Dillane, 6. Seán Masterson, 7. Paul Boyle, 8. Robin Copeland.

2nd half team:
15. Tiernan O’Halloran 14. Niyi Adeolokun / Kyle Godwin, 13. Seán O’Brien, 12. Tom Daly, 11. John Porch, 10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Angus Lloyd.
1. Denis Buckley, 2. Dave Heffernan, 3. Finlay Bealham / Rory Burke, 4. Cillian Gallagher, 5. Gavin Thornbury, 6. Eoghan Masterson, 7. Colby Fainga’a, 8. Jarrad Butler (c).
 

Connacht Rugby have announced the signing of Australian Sevens international John Porch ahead of the 2019/20 season.

The speedy winger was recruited into the sevens programme when by Andy Friend was Head Coach of the Australian Sevens team in 2016. In his first nine appearances for Australia, Porch scored 96 points and earned a place at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. In the 2017/18 World Series he went on to score an impressive 28 tries throughout the competition.

Commenting on the signing, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “John Porch is a player that was identified as a prospect for the Australian Sevens squad in early 2016. I was extremely impressed by his performances in his first tournament and subsequently offered him a contract. He was a hugely impressive player at sevens level, and I believe that he will suit the style of play and culture in Connacht as we prepare for the season ahead”.

Following his contract signing, John Porch added: “I am really excited about signing for Connacht. I obviously know Andy from his time with the Australia Sevens programme and he  gave me my debut in 2016. The possibility of playing Champions Cup rugby in the Sportsground next season is an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down. I’m looking forward to getting over to Ireland now and linking up with the squad”.

Following the latest signing, Andy Friend also spoke about the depth that now exists in the province with the large number of contract extensions and new players being added to the squad: “Ahead of next season I am extremely happy with the depth of our squad. We have already announced the signing of Paddy McAllister, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, Angus Lloyd and Rory Burke in addition to Paul Boyle, Conor Fitzgerald, Matthew Burke, Conor Kenny and Stephen Kerins who have graduated from our Academy this season. We have also had a huge focus on retaining our existing talent with contract renewals for many of our internationals and more senior players in the squad”.

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