By John O’Sullivan 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Following the end of week 4 of pre-season training, the Connacht management team have issued the following squad update.
 
Jonny Murphy (head), Matthew Burke (thigh), Finlay Bealham (ankle), Kieran Marmion (ankle), Tom Farrell (shoulder) and Matt Healy (ankle) have all returned to team training follow injuries they sustained prior to the postponement of fixtures.
 
Oisin Dowling (back) is undergoing a period of rehabilitation for a long term back injury and will integrate into team training towards the end of August
 
Quinn Roux (hand) is continuing his rehabilitation from a recent surgery on his hand and will integrate into team training towards the end of August
 
Sean O’Brien (foot) is progressing his rehabilitation and will integrate into team training in early September.
 
Peter Robb (thigh) is recovering from a hamstring injury and will integrate into team training towards the middle of August
 
Stephen Fitzgerald (knee) is continuing his rehabilitation from knee surgery earlier this year and will integrate into team training in early October.

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).

Ireland international Kieran Marmion has recovered from a back injury to take his place on Connacht’s starting team for the Champions Cup clash away to Montpellier on Sunday (Kick off 3:15pm Irish Time).

The scrum half hasn’t played for Connacht since the win over Ospreys in the Sportsground at the beginning of November. Marmion’s inclusion sees him renew his half back partnership with fellow international Jack Carty.

Elsewhere in the backline, Kyle Godwin comes into the Connacht midfield to partner Bundee Aki. While in the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is named at fullback with John Porch and Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy on the wings.

In the forwards, hooker Dave Heffernan who was named in Andy Farrell’s first Six Nations squad during the week, starts alongside props Paddy McAllister and Dominic Robertson McCoy. In the second row Joe Maksymiw and Gavin Thornbury are both selected in the second row, with 20 year old Niall Murray among the replacements.

In the backrow, Eoghan Masterson comes in at blindside with Colby Fainga’a at openside and Captain Jarrad Butler at number 8.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We had a great win over Montpellier in the opening round but we are under no illusion that the return leg will be a huge challenge. We have picked a strong side and are aiming to win the game and regain some momentum ahead of an important block of games coming in the Pro14”.

“We are delighted to see Kieran Marmion back from injury. He has been out since November and has worked really hard to get back on the field. His experience alongside Jack Carty, will be a boost to us on Sunday”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Montpellier (Sun 19 Dec, 3:15pm Irish Time)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Denis Buckley, Conor Kenny, Niall Murray, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Irish international scrum half Kieran Marmion has signed a three year contract extension with Connacht up to the end of the 2022/23 season.

The 27 year old joined the Connacht Academy in 2011 and since his arrival in the Sportsground has played over 160 games for the province. Marmion’s outstanding form during his time with Connacht has led to him being capped 27 times for Ireland since making his debut against Argentina in 2014.

His international representation began in his teens when he played for Ireland at Under 18, 19 and 20 level.

Commenting on the signing, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Kieran has been an outstanding player for Connacht and for Ireland. He is a diligent professional and through his hard work he has progressed through the Connacht Academy and on to play for Ireland. His progress demonstrates the support that is available to players through our academy pathway.  Kieran’s commitment to Connacht for a further three seasons demonstrates his ambition to contribute at provincial and international level in the coming years. His signing also ensures that we continue to retain a squad equipped to compete at the highest level of European club rugby”.

Ends

Head Coach Andy Friend has made four changes to the Connacht starting team from the side that recorded a bonus point win over Dragons two weeks ago.
 
With Tiernan O’Halloran and Paddy McAllister out of action until December, Connacht have had to reshuffle slightly but Darragh Leader has returned from a leg injury to take his place on the bench.
 
Stephen Fitzgerald comes straight into the side at fullback for the injured O’Halloran. He is part of a new look back three that sees Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings. Fitzgerald’s brother Conor is retained at out half following his impressive start to the season, and he forms a half back partnership with Kieran Marmion.
 
The midfield remains unchanged with Peter Robb and Kyle Godwin continuing their partnership.
 
Loosehead Denis Buckley comes back into the side for his first start of the season, alongside hooker Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.
 
The second row sees Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux together for the fourth straight game, while the backrow also has a familiar look to it with Captain Jarrad Butler at openside, Eoghan Masterson at blindside and Paul Boyle occupying the number 8 jersey.
 
Connacht face a Cheetahs side that have been hugely impressive in their opening games with three bonus point wins recorded in Bloemfontein. This impressive form is something that Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend says his side will be well prepared for:
 
“The Cheetahs have been impressive in their opening three games and have three bonus points on the board so we will have to be at our best against them. But we have a had a really good start to the season as well, with two wins from our opening three games so fans can expect an exciting game on Saturday evening”.
 
Commenting on his team selection he added; “Unfortunately we have to plan without Tiernan O’Halloran and Paddy McAllister until December but I have always said that this block of thirteen games in a row was going to require real depth in our squad. We have picked a match day 23 targeting a home win.”

 
Connacht Matchday Squad V Toyota Cheetahs (Sat 26 OCT, 5.15PM)
 
(15-9): Stephen Fitzgerald, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (C), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Cillian Gallagher, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell, Darragh Leader.

Connacht 41
Benetton 5
 
Connacht secured a bonus point win over Italian side Benetton in their first home game of the Pro14 season. In a game that the home side dominated in all areas, they never looked like losing when they Kyle Godwin races into the corner to score the opening try after seven minutes.
 
That opening try was preceded by a penalty after three minutes from the boot of Conor Fitzgerald who controlled the game throughout with the aid of a powerful Connacht pack. That early lead gave Connacht huge confidence and after twenty minutes the attack was in full flow as the home side delivered another killer blow with Caolin Blade’s first of two tries.
 
By now the Connacht pack was completely dominant and the rolling maul was used to great effect resulting in a  Tom McCartney try. With 15 minutes to half time Connacht went in search of the bonus point try but Benetton did manage to hold them out by forcing a turnover on the stroke of half time albeit after giving away a succession of penalties.
 
With a 22 – 0 lead at half time, the result was never in question and it seemed inevitable that Connacht would drive on.
 
The home side didn’t have long to wait long in the second half as Caolin Blade picked up the ball at the base of a ruck on the Benetton 22. He showed a clean pair of heals to round three Italian defenders and touch down with the best try of the game.
 
Three minutes later Tom McCartney added his second and it was one way traffic from there. Kieran Marmion wrapped up the win with Connacht’s sixth try of the evening with four minutes remaining.
 
Next up for Connacht is an away trip to Dragons next weekend.
 
Connacht Scorers:
Tries: Caolin Blade x 2, Tom McCartney x 2, Kyle Godwin 1, Kieran Marmion 1.
Penalties Conor Fitzgerald 1
Conversions – Conor Fitzgerald x 3 Kyle Godwin 1
 
Connacht Team:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Stephen Fitzgerald (John Porch), Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald (Tom Farrell), Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion), (1-8) Paddy McAllister (Denis Buckley), Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt) Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson McCoy), Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (Ultan Dillane), Eoghan Masterson (Sean Masterson), Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki and man-of-the-match Jack Carty all produced impressive performances in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup warm-up win over Wales on Saturday.
 
Carty, who was making his first Test start for Ireland, slotted over 5 points and also produced the break which resulted in the opening try for Jacob Stockdale.
 
The trio are now waiting to hear if they will be named in the final 31-man squad for the World Cup with less than 3 weeks to go until the opening game against Scotland.
 

The Ireland coaching group have named the first match day 23 of the Guinness Summer Series and Ireland take on Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
 
Rhys Ruddock will captain the Ireland for the seventh occasion and is joined in the backrow by Tommy O’Donnell at openside and Jordi Murphy at No.8. Devin Toner and the uncapped Jean Kleyn pack down at lock with Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter making up the front row.
 
Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery fill the half-back positions with Chris Farrell and Garry Ringrose named in the centre. Jordan Larmour starts at fullback supported by Andrew Conway and Dave Kearney on the wings.
 
The replacements named for Saturday’s game are Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty and Mike Haley.
 
IRELAND Squad v Italy – 2019 Guinness Summer Series

Player/Club/Province/Caps

15. Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 13 caps
14. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 12 caps caps
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 20 caps
12. Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 5 caps
11. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 17
10. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 18 caps
9. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 10 caps

1. Jack McGrath (St Marys College/Leinster) 54 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 7 caps
3. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 14 caps
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 64 caps
5. Jean Kleyn (Munster) 0 caps
6. Rhys Ruddock (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 21 caps CAPT
7. Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster) 12 caps
8. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Ulster) 27 caps

REPLACEMENTS
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 14 caps
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 88 caps
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 18 caps
19. Iain Henderson (Queens University/Ulster) 44 caps
20. Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster) 5 caps
21. Kieran Marmion (Galwegians/Connacht) 25 caps
22. Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 3 caps
23. Mike Haley (Munster) 0 caps

Guinness Summer Series 2019 Fixtures

IRELAND v Italy
Aviva Stadium, Saturday 10th August, KO 2.00pm
(Live Coverage: RTE & Channel 4)

IRELAND v Wales
Aviva Stadium, Saturday 7th September, KO 2.00pm
(Live Coverage: RTE & Channel 4)

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