Head coach Andy Friend is confident that Connacht will put last weekend’s defeat to Leinster in the United Rugby Championship(URC) behind them when they travel to Benetton Rugby in the URC this coming weekend. 

 

Benetton sit fourteenth in the table this season, but, despite this, Friend is wary of the Italians’ strengths and says that his team will need to be at their best to get what could prove to be a crucial win. 

 

“It’ll be a tough task to go to Bennetton this weekend and we’re licking our wounds again,” the Australian said. 

 

“But I know what this team is capable of and I know if we go over there and do what we can do, we can get a performance and a win.”

 

Friend will have some of his Irish international contingent to call upon in Italy, with Mack Hansen and Finlay Bealham available for selection. However, Bundee Aki – who only arrived back to team training on Tuesday – will not play. 

 

“Bundee only just arrived back today(Tuesday), so he won’t be in the reckoning at this stage. The other two boys(Bealham and Hansen) came back in yesterday and trained well with us and looked fresh and good to go. It’s nice to have that calibre of player coming back in.”

 

Meanwhile, loosehead prop Matthew Burke has praised the work of forwards coach Dewald Senekal at Connacht. 

 

The South African was appointed last summer after years of coaching in the French Top 14, where he coached current Connacht player Leva Fifita at Grenoble. 

 

Senekal has put a particular emphasis on the maul – both in attack and defence – and his friendly nature has made it easy for players to communicate with him, says the Mayo native prop. 

 

“I think one thing about him is he’s a very approachable guy, a very friendly guy,” Burke said of the forwards coach. 

 

“That’s really worked well, in terms of bringing us together as a forward pack. We’re very close. He’s targeted certain focus areas, like our maul defence and maul attack, which has been a been big focus for us this season and not conceding tries. “

 

“Every time we review a match, we ask ‘did we concede a maul try?’ and we kind of give ourselves a little pat on the back if we were particularly good at that. The maul would be the biggest change, in terms of where we have targeted something different.”

 

The coming weeks will bring big games – in Europe and domestically – for Connacht and Burke says that the squad are looking forward to the challenges. 

 

“Obviously we are tremendously disappointed with the way that went,” the Ballinrobe man said of last weekend’s defeat to Leinster at the Sportsground. 

 

“At this stage, we’ve just had to park it. We can’t let that bleed in and affect us this weekend. We have reviewed it yesterday, talked a bit about it today and now we’re really focusing on Bennetton. 

 

“Obviously it’s a big game this weekend. Bennetton are obviously a lot stronger than maybe they would have been a couple of seasons ago. They are playing good rugby and they have a lot of internationals in there.”

 

Burke is confident that Connacht have learned from recent defeats and that they can apply these lessons going forward and turn losses into wins. 

 

“We’ve got a number of games over the next few weeks, both the URC(United Rugby Championship) and those two Leinster games in the Heineken Champions Cup, and we’re targeting every game for a win.

 

“Unfortunately, because of results during the season, we have kinda taken things out of hands in terms of how we qualify for the URC, but we’re really just targeting every game we’re going into as a must-win We’re confident. We know what we’re capable of. 

 

“Some of the losses have been hurtful – that loss versus Leinster and the loss to Edinburgh – but we know what we’re capable of and we know what went wrong and how we can fix it, so we’re still confident going forward that we can do really well and finish the season on a high.”

 

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.

Matthew Burke, Paul Boyle and Ben O’Donnell have been drafted into the starting XV for Saturday’s URC meeting with the Dragons at The Sportsground (k/o 5.15pm).
 
It’s a first appearance of the season for O’Donnell, who forms an exciting back three with winger Mack Hansen and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.
 
The remaining backs are unchanged for the third straight game, with Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty at 9 and 10 respectively and Tom Daly and Tom Farrell pairing together at centre.
 
Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke comes into the front row with Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while locks Oisin Dowling and Ultan Dillane also start together for the third week in a row.
 
The side is completed by flankers Cian Prendergast and captain Jarrad Butler, with Boyle wearing the number 8 shirt.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Last week was very pleasing not just because of the result, but the performance gave everyone the confidence that we’re heading in the right direction. We know more than anyone that we now need to replicate that level consistently. Dragons are a tough team to play against and showed that against Leinster last week, so we’ll need to be at the top of our game.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS DRAGONS RUGBY
Saturday 9th October, The Sportsground @ 17:15
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (192)
14. Ben O’Donnell (6)
13. Tom Farrell (64)
12. Tom Daly (51)
11. Mack Hansen (2)
10. Jack Carty (161)
9. Kieran Marmion (189)
1. Matthew Burke (25)
2. Dave Heffernan (146)
3. Finlay Bealham (161)
4. Oisin Dowling (9)
5. Ultan Dillane (116)
6. Cian Prendergast (12)
7. Jarrad Butler (75) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (59)

16. Shane Delahunt (102)
17. Jordan Duggan (15)
18. Jack Aungier (15)
19. Leva Fifita (1)
20. Conor Oliver (22)
21. Caolin Blade (132)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (37)
23. Sammy Arnold (18)

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

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.

Connacht Academy out-half Conor Dean is set to make his debut for the province in the Guinness PRO14 clash with Munster in Thomond Park on Saturday (Kick off 7:35pm). 21 year old Dean is in his first year in the Academy and becomes the seventh player from Connacht’s Academy to be handed a start this season by Head Coach Andy Friend.
 
Dean will form a half back partnership with Irish international scrum half Kieran Marmion. The back line has further international experience with the midfield partnership of Bundee Aki and former Ireland 7s Captain Tom Daly.
 
In the back three, Stephen Fitzgerald returns to Thomond Park to face his former team mates as he is named on the wing, with Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing and the experienced Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Up front, there is good news for Connacht, as tighthead Finlay Bealham has returned from a hand injury to take his place alongside hooker Tom McCartney and Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke at loosehead.
 
In the second row, James Cannon starts alongside Joe Maksymiw, while in the back row Captain Jarrad Butler is named at openside, with Eoin McKeon at blindside and another former Munster man Robin Copeland at number 8.
 
With Connacht already qualified for a PRO14 Quarter Final against Ulster next weekend, Head Coach Andy Friend says there is still much to play for: “Munster are an outstanding side. We saw that when we played them at home earlier in the season and they have been even better since. There is still a huge incentive for our players. We know that these interpro fixtures always bring out the best in our boys and we know that going to Thomond Park is a massive challenge”.
 
“With a quarter final next weekend, we have huge competition in the squad and that is exactly what we need at this stage of the season. This is a big opportunity for everyone involved”, Friend added.
 
 
Kick-off 7:35pm:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, Conor Dean, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copleand.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader.
 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that three players from the NUIG sponsored Connacht Academy have signed their first professional contracts. Matthew Burke, Conor Fitzgerald and Conor Kenny have signed contracts with the province for the 2019/20 season. These latest signings follow Paul Boyle’s graduation to the senior squad earlier this season.
 
Matthew Burke has made eight appearances for the senior team so far this season having made his debut away to Sale in the Challenge Cup back in October. The 22 year old prop is a native of Ballinrobe and plays his club rugby with Corinthians.
 
Having joined the Connacht Academy at the start of the season, Conor Fitzgerald is another player who has already made a significant contribution to the senior side. The out-half made four appearances in the European Challenge Cup and a further two in the PRO14.
 
Prop Conor Kenny has come up through the underage structures in Buccaneers before going on to represent the senior side in the All Ireland League. He also represented Garbally College in Ballinasloe prior to joining the Connacht Academy three years ago.
 
Announcing the contract signings, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “I have been very impressed with the talent I have seen coming through the club and academy structures in the province. Earlier in the season, Paul Boyle signed his first professional contract and we are delighted to announce that Conor Fitzgerald, Matthew Burke and Conor Kenny will be added to our professional squad for next season. We have used Academy players throughout the season and my message to the next crop of players is that there will be opportunities for them to show what they can do. Our announcement today is great news for the players involved but the door is still open for others to make that step up. The recent Grand Slam success for the Ireland U20s, and the involvement of Connacht representatives Dylan Tierney-Martin, Niall Murray, Colm Reilly, and Ryan Lomas, is a further example of the further depth in our academy ranks.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has named Academy players Conor Fitzgerald and Kieran Joyce in his starting team and Matthew Burke on the bench for the trip to Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup on Friday (k/o 7pm Irish time).
 
Joyce is retained in the midfield following his debut in the win over Perpignan last weekend while Fitzgerald is also set for his second start having been previously handed the number 10 jersey against Sale Sharks in October.
Joyce and Fitzgerald come into a back line that shows a blend of youth and experience. Joyce will partner David Horwitz in the midfield as the Australian makes a positional switch from out-half where he played last week.
 
In the back three, Darragh Leader is retained at full back, as are wingers Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher.
 
In the pack, hooker Dave Heffernan captains the side again with the Ballina native joined by props Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy in the front row. In the second row, James Cannon comes into the side as does the impressive Gavin Thornbury
In the back row, Robin Copeland returns from injury to start at number 8, alongside Sean O’Brien and James Connolly who played the full 80 minutes in the win in the Sportsground last week.
 
Connacht go into the game against Perpignan with four wins in a row in all competitions, and Head Coach Andy Friend says it is important to keep that momentum as Connacht face into the Christmas interpro series; “We have gained some real momentum with four wins in a row that included our back to back victories in South Africa. It was important to get the win over Perpignan last weekend to keep our interest alive in this competition, but we know that the return fixture will be a completely different game. Perpignan are in search of a win and the longer they go without that win, the more dangerous they are. They are a different proposition when they are playing at home and we will need a huge performance to challenge them”, Friend said.
 
Commenting on his team selection Friend added: “We have selected a blend of youth and experience in our side. We are seeing strong competition within the squad and that is hugely important as we head into the second half of the season. There are a few academy players in our match day squad again this weekend and that has been a feature of our selections this season. Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Joyce and Matthew Burke have performed well when called on so far and that is why we have selected them again”.
 
#PERvCON
 
Kick-off 7pm (Irish Time):
(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Kieran Joyce, David Horwitz, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, James Mitchell, (1-8) Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan (Capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Gavin Thornbury, Sean O’Brien, James Connolly, Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, Joe Maksymiw, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Kyle Godwin.

Scrum-half Caolin Blade is set to captain Connacht for the first time as his side take on Sale in the European Challenge Cup on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).

 

With Jack Carty rested after playing seven games in a row, Blade will form a half back partnership with Academy player Conor Fitzgerald who made his debut off the bench in the win over Bordeaux-Begles last weekend. Connemara man Colm De Buitléar is named on the wing in what will also be his first competitive start for his province.

 

The back line is also boosted by the return of centre Tom Farrell who forms a midfield partnership with Kyle Godwin. The versatile Godwin scored two tries in a Man of the Match performance on the wing in the opening round.

 

Tiernan O’Halloran also returns from injury to take his place at full back. He is part of a back three that includes twenty year old De Buitlear and Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing.

 

In the forwards, the experienced Denis Buckley returns at loosehead alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey at tighthead. Behind them will be Irish international Ultan Dillane and James Cannon.

 

In the back row, Paul Boyle moves to blindside while openside Colby Fainga’a and Robin Copeland at number 8 are both retained.

 

Two more players are in line to make their Connacht debuts off the bench. Academy prop Matthew Burke is included in the matchday 23 while summer arrival David Horwitz is also in the squad for the first time, after the out-half made an appearance for the Connacht Eagles last weekend. The bench also includes scrum-half former Sale player James Mitchell, who could make an appearance against his former club.

 

 

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend feels he has picked the right blend of youth and experience to challenge Sale: “Sale are an impressive side and they are top of the pool after the bonus point win away to Perpignan last weekend. We have picked a strong side. We have a few new players coming in who are there on merit and then we have a few more experienced guys coming back from injury. We have picked a side that we think can win the game and that is our intention going over to Sale”, Friend said.

 

“With ourselves and Sale both winning in the opening round, this game will have a big say in the final standings”, he added.

 

#SALvCON

 

Kick-off 3:00pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Kyle Godwin, Colm De Buitléar, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt), (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, James Connolly, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Eoin Griffin.

 

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