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

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht will go into next week’s Heineken Champions Cup last 16-second leg at the Aviva Stadium trailing Leinster 26-21 after a physically intense and entertaining affair at the Sportsground tonight. 

 

Despite tries from John Porch and Leva Fifita, it was Leinster who eked out the win and who hold the lead going into the second instalment of the tie. 

 

With the returning Bundee Aki, along with Fifita, Conor Oliver and Porch, instrumental next weekend’s fixture should be similarly enthralling. 

 

Connacht started in a rip-roaring fashion and they made it count after only two minutes. A huge break from Aki, which was facilitated by a Gavin Thornbury offload,  gave the host’s field position, before Tom Farrell – following suit – punctured the visitor’s defence again. Leinster managed to eke a turnover and thought they escaped the danger, but Leva Fifita blocked down their clearing kick. 

 

Regaining possession, the hosts launched another attack, and the ball was worked to Porch on the left wing and the Australian danced over the line to give the home team a 5-0 lead, much to the delight of the loud sell-out crowd. 

 

Leinster attempted to work their way back into the game in what was an open and entertaining opening fifteen minutes, but their attempts were met with staunch Connacht defence. Aki best personified this when he ended a dangerous attack with a textbook breakdown jackal that saw the hosts earn a penalty. 

 

The away team did manage to get on the board near the twenty-minute mark, however, when Sexton kicked a penalty to reduce Connacht’s lead to two points, at 5-3. 

 

And with their tails up, Leinster made it two scores in a profitable few minutes halfway through the first half. Despite an excellent tackle by Finlay Bealham on Josh van der Flier, the eastern province worked the ball to Lowe and the Ireland winger managed to cut through for the try. Sexton added the extras and the away lead 10-5 with fifteen minutes of the opening period remaining. 

 

Leinster’s first-half purple patch continued when Irish international Hugo Keenan found Lowe with a pass and the winger managed to work his way over the line for this second try of the half. Sexton missed the conversion and the visitors lead 15-5 near the half-hour mark. 

 

Connacht weren’t deterred, though, and stuck to the principles, looking to attack. Mack Hansen was key and, after a beautiful kick and field, he made significant yardage before being forced into attack. The home side pressured the resultant line out and were rewarded with a penalty that Carty slotted the bring the score back to 15-7. 

 

Both teams swapped penalties in the minutes before halftime, meaning the score at the interval read, Connacht 11-18 Leinster. 

 

Connacht began the first half in an electric manner, and they began the second period similarly. A searing break from Conor Oliver, with Aki also adding his considerable carrying ability, carved through the Leinster defence and the hosts, on the attack, earned a penalty which Carty nailed to take the score to 14-18 and bring the home team closer to overturning Leinster’s lead. 

 

The away team, however, grew their lead further when Keenan collected a pass from Jamison Gibson Park and touched down. The conversion was wide and Leinster lead 23-14. 

 

The home side’s attitude, despite being behind was exemplary, and they kept their attacking ambitions up, a style that lead to a yellow card for Gibson Park, who tackled Marmion high on a Connacht attack. 

 

Andy Friend’s men didn’t take long to make their man advantage count and, after a line out, Fifita muscled his way over the line from close range. Carty slotted the extras, the scoreline stood at 23-21 in favour with twenty minutes remaining in a pulsating affair. 

 

Connacht, with Porch, Dowling and replacement Abraham Papali’i prominent in the ball carrying stakes, continued to press for the winner but Leinster held firm in defence and when Ross Byrne slotted a late penalty they held on to win 26-21. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Mack Hansen

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1) 

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Leva Fifita 

4: Gavin Thornbury 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Heffernan 

17: Tietie Tuimauga for Burke 

18: Jack Aungier for Bealham 

19: Oisin Dowling for Thornbury 

20: Abraham Papali’i for Butler 

21: Caolin Blade for Marmion 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for O’Halloran 

23: Sammy Arnold for Farrell

Connacht Rugby are delighted to confirm Matthew Burke and John Porch are the latest players to renew their contracts with the club.
 
Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke came through the Connacht pathway system, playing for Ballinrobe RFC and Galwegians RFC before joining the Connacht Academy and making his Pro debut in October 2018. He has played 34 times for the province.
 
Porch has been a mainstay in the squad since joining in the summer of 2019, already reach over half a century of caps and scoring 13 tries. Prior to joining the club he was a member of the Australia Sevens squad where he played under Andy Friend.
 
Burke has signed a two-year deal with Porch signing on for the 2022/23 season.
 
Connacht Rugby Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“I’m delighted that John and Matthew have both renewed their contracts with Connacht. They’re two players with very different backgrounds – John has been an important member of the squad since moving from Australia in 2019, and Matthew has gone from strength to strength since coming through the ranks as a Ballinrobe man.”
 
Further announcements on the squad for next season will be made in the coming days.

Tom Daly is one of a number of players returning to the Connacht starting team for tomorrow’s URC interpro against Ulster in Belfast (k/o 8.15pm).
 
Daly has missed the last three months with a knee injury he sustained against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, but now makes a welcome return to inside-centre alongside Sammy Arnold.
 
The starting XV also includes Denis Buckley for the first time since June, Conor Fitzgerald & John Porch who were unavailable last week, and Cian Prendergast who has returned from a stint with Ireland as a development player.
 
In all there are 11 changes to the side that disappointingly lost to Glasgow last weekend. Buckley is named in a new-look tight five with Shane Delahunt at hooker and Tietie Tuimauga who’s named at tighthead, while Niall Murray and Oisín Dowling are paired together in the second row. Jarrad Butler captains the side from number 8, with Prendergast and Conor Oliver on the flanks.
 
In the backs, out-half Conor Fitzgerald is handed his first start of the season with Kieran Marmion alongside him, while a new-look back three features Porch at full-back with Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan on the wings.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had an honest week with difficult conversations about what happened last weekend. The performance wasn’t nearly good enough and we need to see a major improvement tomorrow against a strong Ulster team who are on a good run of form.
 
We’re welcoming back a number of players for various reasons which is always a plus, and we can take confidence from a good record up in Belfast the last few years.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
Friday 4th February, 20:15 @ Kingspan Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (48)
14. Peter Sullivan (17)
13. Sammy Arnold (29)
12. Tom Daly (53)
11. Alex Wootton (28)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (45)
9. Kieran Marmion (198)
1. Denis Buckley (201)
2. Shane Delahunt (113)
3. Tietie Tuimauga (4)
4. Niall Murray (26)
5. Oisín Dowling (17)
6. Cian Prendergast (20)
7. Conor Oliver (32)
8. Jarrad Butler (86) (C)
 
Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (17)
17. Jordan Duggan (22)
18. Greg McGrath (3)
19. Leva Fifita (6)
20. Paul Boyle (66)
21. Colm Reilly (8)
22. Cathal Forde (1)
23. Oran McNulty (6)

Senior coach Pete Wilkins says he expects an exciting game of Rugby when Connacht visit Ulster in a United Rugby Championship interprovincial on St. Stephens’ Day. 

 

 

The northern province are sure to be in buoyant form after consecutive European wins, including a huge victory away to Clermont Auvergne, and will be looking to extend their good run in front of their home fans.

 

 

Wilkins believes that Ulster, who will be looking for revenge after the Westerners defeated them 36-11 in their last meeting at the Aviva Stadium two months ago, will pose a different challenge to Connacht’s last two opponents — Stade Francais and Leicester — but the clash of the two attacking teams should make for an entertaining fixture.

 

 

 

“Yeah, you wouldn’t expect as much kicking(as the Stade Francais or Leicester games). Certainly, when we previewed them for the game earlier in the season in the Aviva and leading into this one, we would expect them to run the ball more, whether that’s in their half of the field or ours,” the Englishman said when asked whether Dan McFarland’s men’s style would contrast with the kind of tactics the Westerners have recently faced. 

 

 

“At the same time, they have very strong kickers, particularly off 9 in terms of Cooney and Doak, they got two guys there who may not kick as much as others teams, but when they do they are very effective with those contestable kicks and they look to apply pressure, if not in the air then certainly in the ruck and they will look to squeeze us there. 

 

 

“There are some similarities in their ability to squeeze the opposition team when they kick the ball to them, like Leicester, but certainly in terms of what they want to do with the ball, it’s a different profile.”

 

 

In the teams’ last meeting, on October 23rd at the Aviva Stadium, Connacht won thanks to a high tempo, attacking game plan. Wilkins believes this could provide the blueprint for another win, but with some slight alterations to the game plan.

 

 

“For us, it helps that we played them recently, in terms of us having really good familiarity with the game plan that we think worked well last time, and obviously we’ll look to make some tweaks to that this time, but at the same time try and reproduce the good bits from it. 

 

 

“But at the same time, it’s also recent enough in their memories that it will only fuel their fires to exact revenge. I think it promises to be a really good match-up and a really exciting game of Rugby.”

 

 

 

Meanwhile, back John Porch has praised the environment of up-skilling at Connacht and the hunger of the players to learn and improve their skillsets.

 

 

The Westerners, who endeavor to play with attacking verve and pace, are known to operate with a quick, skill-based game plan with all players — backs and forwards — contributing to attacking phases.

 

 

The Australian credits Pete Wilkins and Mossy Lawler not only — the senior coach and assistant attack and skills coach — with creating a game plan that allows the players to express themselves in attack, but also with helping individuals sharpen up their skills on the training pitch.

 

  “Pete Wilkins has done a really good job and Mossy Lawler has done a really good job on the attack,” Porch said.

 

 

“We’re trying to play an exciting brand of Rugby but it comes with a lot of intricacies and we’re really working hard in training to make sure that every week when we go out there we’re doing the stuff correctly to be able to play that style of Rugby. It’s entertaining for the outside, but it’s also entertaining for the people on the outside. 

 

“It’s all combined, yeah. It’s individual, it’s players working with coaches, players working with other players; building combinations, working on stuff that might be a little bit of a weakness for you, so when you go out there at the weekend, that sort of up-tempo, high-speed Rugby we want to play works for us.”

Leicester Tigers 29

Connacht 23

 

Connacht were defeated 29-23 by Leicester Tigers in an entertaining Heineken Champions Cup clash at Welford Road today. 

 

Despite tries from John Porch and Jack Carty – who also added thirteen points with the boot, via two penalties, two conversions and a drop goal – it was the home team who secured the bonus-point victory. 

 

Connacht were strong throughout, however, against the unbeaten English Premiership leaders and earned a deserved losing bonus point.

 

Connacht employed a clever kicking game early on and this yielded a score when Carty expertly slotted a long-range penalty after the Tigers were penalized for offside.

 

Connacht’s attack was troubling the host’s defence and they conceded a raft of penalties which brought Connacht lineouts in advanced attacking areas. However, strong defending from Leicester held the away team at try-scoring bay, despite some powerful rolling mauls close to the try line in what proved to be an entertaining opening fifteen minutes. 

 

The visitors were in the ascendancy for the majority of the opening quarter, but Leicester – on their first attack of the game of note – opened the try-scoring. Hooker Nic Dolly dove over the in the corner for an unconverted try after the ball was worked wide after Connacht stoutly defended a rolling maul from the home team. 

 

One try soon became two in what was becoming a profitable five-minute spell from the Tigers. After Connacht excellently repelled an extended spell of pressure, the home team eventually broke their resistance when Bryce Hegarty dove in a try that Freddie Burns converted to make the score 12-3 to the English Premiership team. 

 

To their credit, though, Connacht responded brilliantly and they had their first try not two minutes after conceding. A sweeping move saw the ball worked wide to Porch from Bundee Aki’s sumptuous offload. The Australian then showed searing pace to burst through the gap and touch down under the posts. The conversion was a formality from Carty and the away team narrowed the score to 12-10. 

 

Proactive in defence and eager to blitz, Connacht were looking to force errors from the home team and that is exactly how they scored their second try. Running aggressively together, the away team’s defence made Leicester cough up possession and Carty – intelligently anticipating a spill – picked up the loose ball and ran in unopposed under the posts for a try. The Roscommon man converted it himself and the away team went into the halftime break leading 17-12. 

 

Connacht began the second half in the same manner that they ended the first and they extended their lead to eight points when Carty – after an attacking move was ended by an intentional knock-on from the hosts – expertly struck a long-range penalty between the sticks to continue his 100% record off the tee and stretch the lead to 20-12.

 

Leicester began to work their back into the game near the hour mark and their pressure, which Connacht stood up manfully to, eventually paid dividends when Finlay Bealham was yellow carded for an infringement close to the try line. 

 

Attacking against fourteen, it didn’t take the Tigers long to take advantage and Freddie Steward soon crossed for a try after a neat move found the England international. The conversion was successful and Connacht’s lead was cut to one point at 19-20.

 

Another try was soon to follow for the team when Hosea Saumaki showed pace and evasion to touch down after the Westerners initially stopped a Tigers’ maul dead in its tracks and they were forced to run the ball wide. Hegarty added the extras and the English team retook the lead at 26-20.

 

The momentum was with the home team and they added further to their lead when Hegarty – from over forty metres away – kicked a penalty that brought the score to 29-20.

 

Connacht kept plugging away in search for scores and their resilience paid off when – with the last kick – Carty’s drop goal gave them a losing bonus point with the final score reading 29-23 to the home team. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Bundee Aki

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

Replacements: 

 

16: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan 

17: Tietie Tuimauga for Burke 

18: Jack Aungier for Butler(temporarily to scrummage with 14) then for Bealham

19: Leva Fifita for Murray 

20: Abraham Papali’i for Prendgergast 

21: Caolin Blade for Marmion 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for O’Halloran

23: Diarmuid Kilgallen for Wootton

British & Irish Lion Bundee Aki will make his first appearance for Connacht Rugby since the summer tour of South Africa tomorrow night.
 
He comes straight into the starting XV for the URC interpro derby with Munster Rugby at Thomond Park (k/o 7.35pm), and his inclusion is one of five changes from last week’s side that faced the Dragons.
 
Aki forms a new-look partnership with Sammy Arnold at centre, while John Porch is drafted into the back three alongside fellow winger Mack Hansen and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran. Caolin Blade and Jack Carty are retained, with Carty named as captain for the game.
 
The front-row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged, while Niall Murray comes into the second row alongside Ultan Dillane. The final switch sees Conor Oliver start at openside flanker, with Cian Prendergast on the opposite flank and Paul Boyle at number 8.
 
The Connacht management team have opted for a 6:2 split on the bench, with back rowers Abraham Papali’i and Jarrad Butler both included as well as Kieran Marmion. Summer arrival Greg McGrath is also in line for his Connacht debut after he was named as replacement loosehead prop.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“There’s no getting away from the fact last week wasn’t good enough, so now it’s up to us all to put in the type of performance we know they’re capable of. Training this week has been good & Bundee’s return is a boost as he’ll give us his typical energy that is needed for an interpro.
 
Both games in Limerick last season ended with a single score between the two sides, so we know it’ll be a tight game. The team that is most consistent for the full 80 minutes and is clinical with the chances they create will be the team that wins it.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Saturday 16th October, Thomond Park @ 19:35

Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (193)
14. John Porch (42)
13. Sammy Arnold (19)
12. Bundee Aki (111)
11. Mack Hansen (3)
10. Jack Carty (162) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (133)
1. Matthew Burke (26)
2. Dave Heffernan (147)
3. Finlay Bealham (162)
4. Niall Murray (19)
5. Ultan Dillane (117)
6. Cian Prendergast (13)
7. Conor Oliver (23)
8. Paul Boyle (60)

16. Shane Delahunt (103)
17. Greg McGrath *
18. Jack Aungier (16)
19. Eoghan Masterson (111)
20. Abraham Papali’i (15)
21. Kieran Marmion (189)
22. Jarrad Butler (76)
23. Tom Daly (52)

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.

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