Ben O’Donnell is in line to make his Connacht debut in tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 interpro with Leinster at the RDS Arena (k/o 7.35pm).

The former World Sevens Player of the Year nominee joined the province last summer but has been forced to wait for his first appearance after recovering from a serious knee injury.

The back three player is named among the replacements and there are five changes to the starting XV that lined out against Ulster last weekend.

Dominic Robertson-McCoy comes into the front row alongside Denis Buckley and Shane Delahunt, while Gavin Thornbury returns in the second row beside Quinn Roux who is named as captain.

The back row features both Masterson brothers, with Sean at number 8 and Eoghan at blindside flanker, while Conor Oliver completes the pack from the opposite flank.

Caolin Blade and Jack Carty continue to partner-up at 9 and 10 respectively, as do Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold at centre. The final change comes in the back three with Peter Sullivan starting on the wing, with Alex Wootton and John Porch completing the side.

Connacht Rugby can confirm a number of players tested positive for COVID-19 this week. This follows the weekly round of PCR testing, and separate tests conducted at the start of the week after a small number of players presented minor symptoms. These players along with a number of others identified as close contacts are self-isolating in accordance with public health guidelines.
In total 68 Connacht players and staff tested negative this week and, following full engagement with public health authorities and PRO14 Rugby, they are satisfied the game can proceed as scheduled.

Commenting on his selected team, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“While we have had to deal with a few cases in the squad this week, we have still been able to name a strong team thanks to the depth we have been building these past few months. It’s also really pleasing to be able to include Ben O’Donnell in our 23 for the first time.
Even though there’s a lot of frustration about our last few results, the overall mood in the squad is good. We can’t wait to head to Dublin and test ourselves against what’s clearly a very strong Leinster side.”

CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Saturday 2nd January, RDS Arena, k/o 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (27)
14. Peter Sullivan (5)
13. Sammy Arnold (10)
12. Tom Daly (34)
11. Alex Wootton (9)
10. Jack Carty (147)
9. Caolin Blade (118)
1. Denis Buckley (188)
2. Shane Delahunt (86)
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (58)
4. Gavin Thornbury (46)
5. Quinn Roux (104) (C)
6. Eoghan Masterson (100)
7. Conor Oliver (10)
8. Sean Masterson (7)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (10)
17. Matthew Burke (16)
18. Conor Kenny (8)
19. Ultan Dillane (104)
20. Cian Prendergast (4)
21. Kieran Marmion (173)
22. Diarmuid Kilgallen (1)
23. Ben O’Donnell *

PRO14 Rugby have confirmed the dates and kick-off times for Connacht’s Christmas interpros, as well as the rescheduled clash with Benetton.
 
Andy Friend’s side welcome Benetton to The Sportsground on Friday 4th December, the first of three home games during the month.
 
Then at Christmas, Ulster make the trip to The Sportsground on Sunday 27th December, before we head to the RDS to face Leinster on Saturday 2nd January. The festive fixtures are completed on Saturday 9th January when we host Munster.
 
All games kick-off at 7.35pm.

Second row Niall Murray is set to make his first start for Connacht as they face Leinster in the Pro14 in the RDS on Saturday (Kick off 5:30pm). The 20 year old Roscommon man came off the bench in Connacht’s recent Champions Cup win over Gloucester, but this will be a first start for his home province.

In a boost to Connacht, Gavin Thornbury has returned from injury to partner Murray in the second row. Thornbury has been out of action since he picked up an arm injury against the Cheetahs at the end of October.

In the front row, prop Denis Buckley also returns to the starting team where he lines up alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson McCoy at tighthead. While in the backrow, Eoghan Masterson is included at blindside with his brother and Academy player Sean, named among the replacements.

Scrum half Caolin Blade captains the side in the absence of Jarrad Butler through injury. Blade continues his half back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald.

There is a new look back three for Connacht with Stephen Fitzgerald named at full back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings. While Tom Daly and the versatile Kyle Godwin make up the midfield.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We are fully aware of the challenge we face away to Leinster in the RDS. They have been impressing week in week out in the Pro14 and the Champions Cup and have set the standard so far this season. We really challenged them in the corresponding fixture last season and the lesson from that game is that to beat them you need to deliver a top class performance over eighty minutes, or they will punish you. That is exactly what we are asking of our boys, a consistent performance over the eighty minutes”.

“I am delighted for Niall Murray who gets his first start in a Connacht jersey and there is no bigger challenge for him than going to the RDS to face Leinster. He has really developed his game and is an exciting prospect for the future. He has a good group of experienced heads around him so that is always a help when you’re making your first start”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Leinster (Sat 5:30pm)

(15-9): Stephen Fitzgerald, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt) (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Tom McCartney, Paddy McAllister, Conor Kenny, Joe Maksymiw, Sean Masterson, Stephen Kerins, David Horwitz, Tiernan O’Halloran

A breathless game of the rugby at the RDS as Leinster claim the spoils past the 80th minute despite a brilliant performance by Andy Friend’s men, who come away with two bonus points.
 
Here are some of the best pics:

MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO THE GUINNESS PRO14.
 
Leinster denied Connacht a first away victory in Dublin since 2002 as Leo Cullen’s men staged a late rally to battle back from 17 points down to win 33-29.
 
Andrew Porter fought his way over the line in the 82nd minute to prevent Andy Friend’s men from earning only a second ever victory in the capital since 1955.
 
Leinster had won eight of their last nine meetings, but 14 points from Jack Carty looked to have swung the tie in the favour of the Galway side before Porter was at hand to break Connacht hearts.
 
With Leinster shuffling their pack after their Champions Cup travels, Connacht looked the more fluid of the two sides early on and they took advantage thanks to the dab hand of an ex-Leinsterman.
 
Bundee Aki drew the Leinster pack, before switching the ball wide right leaving Cian Kelleher to slide across the whitewash for an early lead inside six minutes.
 
But Leinster hit back when Rob Kearney burst his way through to set up Jamison Gibson-Park, who found a gap and expertly threaded in Conor O’Brien to score his third try of the season.
 
Connacht continued to threaten, and they made it count when Tom Farrell’s pass was dispatched to Darragh Leader and on only his second Guinness PRO14 appearance he evaded two thunderous challenges to dive into the corner and score. Jack Carty kicked for two.
 
When Connacht turned over possession, it enabled the visitors to stretch their advantage when Carty sumptuously chipped over the Leinster backs before catching the ball and diving over to score.
 
The fly-half converted his try seven minutes before the break to send the western Ireland side into half-time with a 19-7 lead at the RDS Arena.
 
Leinster roared out the blocks after the break and within minutes they were chipping away at the scoreboard as Mick Kearney scrapped his way to the line for his first ever try for the men in blue.
 
But Connacht weren’t initially fazed, especially half back Carty who dazzled his way through a slim gap in the line before showing the presence of mind to lay in Caolin Blade to score a bonus point. Carty duly converted.
 
Carty sent the Galway men two converted tries clear with a penalty 16 minutes from time, but the hosts didn’t give in easily as replacement Sean Cronin powered his way over to set up a grandstand finish. Ross Byrne added the extras.
 
Then when Connacht were unable to clear their lines, Leinster broke and Dan Leavy snuck across the line to cut the deficit to only three points.
 
Drama ensued as relentless Leinster pressure eventually told as Porter summoned all his muscle to throw himself over the try line and seal a dramatic win.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made a total of ten changes to the side that won away to Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup last weekend, as Connacht take on Leinster in the RDS on Saturday (kick-off 7:45pm).
 
Included in the starting side are internationals Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane as Bundee Aki is named among the replacements.
 
Bealham comes back into a front row that sees Denis Buckley returning at loosehead and Tom McCartney retained at hooker. In the second row Dillane will line up alongside Gavin Thornbury with James Cannon named among the replacements.
 
Captain Jarrad Butler comes back into the side at blindside alongside Colby Fainga’a and Paul Boyle at number 8.
 
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade renew their half-back partnership, while the back three sees Darragh Leader come in for Matt Healy who picked up a knock in training during the week, with Cian Kelleher named on the opposite wing with Tiernan O’Halloran at full back. The midfield pairing of Tom Farrell and Kyle Godwin completes the side.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Head Coach Andy Friend says his side face a big challenge in the RDS: “We have gone through a really good run with five wins in row, with real competition emerging in the squad. The win away in France last weekend keeps the confidence levels up and keeps that momentum going in the squad and throughout the organisation. We face a big challenge away to Leinster on Saturday. We know the depth they have and the quality in their squad so we will need a huge performance to challenge them especially when they are at home”, Friend said.
 
However, Friend says that his side are hugely looking forward to the challenge; “Everyone wants to play against the top sides and see how they perform. We will play our game and implement our game plan and we will know where we are as we go into the new year. We have a huge series of games, with three interpros over the Christmas and New Year period so these three fixtures will be a huge test for our squad”.
 
#LEIvCON
 
Kick-off 7:45pm:
 
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Darragh Leader, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Colby Fainga’a, Paul Boyle.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson McCoy, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Bundee Aki.

Connacht head coach Andy Friend reflects on last week’s impressive win in Perpignan and discusses the challenge of facing European champions Leinster tomorrow in the Guinness PRO14.

“There’s great confidence in the squad, and that’s come from the competition we have for places.”
 
Ahead of Saturday’s Christmas interpro with Leinster, Tiernan O’Halloran spoke to the media at the pre-match press conference and discussed the increasing strength in depth within the squad, and the challenge of taking on the European champions in their own backyard.
 

The Connacht squad have been training all this week at The Sportsground ahead of Saturday’s interpro with Leinster – the first of a very busy festive period for Andy Friend’s side.
 
Connacht are looking for their first win in Dublin since 2002, and following the game attention turns to a run of three straight home games which could have a big impact on our season.
 
First up is the visit of Ulster on Friday December 28th, followed by further meetings with Munster and Sale early in the new year.
 
Check out some of the best pics from training earlier in the week.

Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has made three changes to his starting team that travel to the RDS to take on Leinster on New Year’s Day (K.O. 3:15pm). Hooker Tom McCartney, lock James Cannon and winger Cian Kelleher come into the side having all started as replacements in the home win over Ulster last weekend.

McCartney takes his place in the front row alongside loose head Denis Coulson and tight head Finlay Bealham. The pack that dominated against Ulster and contributed four tries, two from lock Ultan Dillane and one each from flankers Eoghan Masterson and Jarrad Butler, sees one other change. Lock James Cannon comes in as a direct replacement for Quinn Roux.

Cian Kelleher joins a back three that includes the in form winger Matt Healy and full back Tiernan O’Halloran. In the midfield Ireland international Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell continue their partnership.

Jack Carty continues at out half alongside scrum half Kieran Marmion.

Connacht will take confidence from the win against Ulster but will be fully aware of the challenge they face against an in form Leinster side according to Head Coach Kieran Keane. “It was great to get the interpro series off to a flying start against Ulster and coming off two big wins in Europe it was no more than the boys deserved. They are a great group and have been working really hard and we saw the results of that hard work with the performance they delivered against Ulster”, Keane said.

“We face another big challenge against Leinster. They are a top side and are really in form as we saw with their performance against Munster in Thomond Park. We will be focusing on ourselves and our game plan and will try and implement it as best we can. We had a fantastic home crowd that really got behind us in our win last weekend, but the roles will be reversed on New Year’s Day. We will be the underdogs against Leinster and we will need to put in a big performance against them”, added Keane.

Flanker Eoghan Masterson who scored a try in the win over Ulster, feels that Connacht’s game plan has been coming together over the last few weeks. “It takes time to get used of a new style and a new system and that’s what we have been working on since the start of the season. When people outside of Connacht don’t see immediate results, they presume that the plan isn’t working but that’s not the case and we have seen things really coming together over the last few weeks. Against Leinster we are fully aware of the challenge. The RDS is a very tough place to go and win and very few teams manage to do it. The interpro games are difficult games, especially when you are playing away from home, so we are under no illusion of the challenge we face on New Year’s Day”.

 

#LEIvCON

Kick-off 3:15pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Denis Coulson, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, Naulia Dawai, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Niyi Adeolokun.

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