By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht Rugby and Total Health – Prozone – The Inside Track Series continues on Monday next the 29th of March at 7 PM.

 

This series is aimed at all youth club & school players – boys and girls.

 

Connacht Rugbys’ Caolin Blade and Mary Healy will give an insight into the role of a scrum-half in both attack and defence, as well as tips around skills development.

 

This is a fantastic opportunity for your players to get position-specific and inside knowledge from two elite players.

 

This event is free to attend, simply click on the link to register.

 

Please note pre-registration is a must and places limited.

 

*** CLICK HERE TO REGISTER ***

By John O’Sullivan

 

Munster 20-17 Connacht

 

Connacht fell to a narrow 20-17 defeat to Munster in a physically draining interprovincial encounter at Thomond Park. 

 

The Westerners crossed the line twice, with Matt Healy and Paul Boyle touching down, with Jack Carty also adding seven points with the boot. But it was the hosts who edged the victory, thanks to a late Joey Carbery penalty, which added to two tries via James Cronin and Mike Haley,

 

Gavin Thornbury won a richly deserved man of the match award and the away team pushed the hosts — who top the conference — all the way with a physical performance, both on and off the ball.

 

Connacht started the game with intent and looked to pressure Munster on and off the ball. 

 

Thornbury stole an early line out which allowed the away team to kick for territory. Inside the Munster 22, the lock then charged down an attempted clearance kick and gave the Westerners the chance to feed a five-metre scrum. 

 

From the set-piece platform, the ball was worked to Carty who floated a beautiful pass into the path of Healy, and the winger, with trademark evasion, skipped the attention of a Munster defender to touch down. The Roscommon man then added the conversion to give Connacht an early 7-0 lead. 

 

Munster pushed forward in order to bring themselves back into the game, but their attempts were met with stubborn green resistance, especially in the set-piece where Thornbury and Ultan Dillane, in particular, were proving strong. Paul Boyle and John Porch also provided key interventions in holding the home team up twice over the line. 

 

Eventually, though, their pressure told and Cronin barged his way over from short range and Ben Healy added the extras to tie the teams up at 7-7. 

 

It didn’t take Connacht long to wrestle back the lead, however, as Carty — whose game management was generating attacking momentum for the visitors — sweetly struck a penalty to give the visitors the 10-7 lead they held going into the interval.

 

The home team began the second half in a strong fashion and they leveled the score up only three minutes after the interval when Healy slotted a penalty. 

 

A yellow card for Bundee Aki meant Connacht were reduced to 14 men, but, despite the deficit in men, they were defensively strong and didn’t concede in the period. Thornbury was effective in defence in both the line out — where he stole Munster throws — and at the breakdown where he won two penalties. 

 

With the Westerners so strong in defence, it would take something special to prize them open and that’s exactly what Haley provided when he brilliantly collected his own chip kick and touched down for a try that Joey Carbery converted to give the hosts a 17-10 lead. 

 

Connacht dusted themselves down and went on the offensive, with Carty orchestrating their attack with authority. The Roscommon man’s grubber kick through found Healy, whose acceleration brought him through a gap and deep into the hosts territory. 

 

More carries, from Carty and Caolin Blade, established field position in the Munster 22 and the hosts infringed when slowing down Connacht ball. Chris Cloete was sin-binned and the Westerners opted to take a scrum. 

 

Building phases close to the line, the ball was worked to the right-hand side where Boyle noticed a slight gap and powered through it to touch down. Carty made no mistake with the conversion and the away team leveled the game once again at 17-17. 

 

Connacht pushed and probed for the game-winning score, but it was Munster — with a Carbery penalty — who took the spoils late on and edged an extremely physical encounter. 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Jarrad Butler © 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien, Alex Wootton.

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 30-20, bonus-point win away to the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

 

Tries from Matt Healy, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, and Tom Daly accounted for the visitors’ tries, while Jack Carty added two conversions a penalty, and a dropkick to the final tally.

 

The Dragons’, meanwhile, registered three tries of their own — with Richard Hibbard claiming a hattrick — but it was the Westerners who deservedly claimed all five points with a physical performance, underpinned by efficiency in attack, particularly at the line out.

 

It was also a special night for Finlay Bealham and Carty, both of whom made their 150th appearance for the province. Oisin Dowling, meanwhile, made his debut as a second half replacement.

 

It was clear from the outset that both teams were primed to attack and the Dragons’ signalled their intent early with a Sam Davies penalty that gave them a 3-0 lead.

 

Connacht, however, dusted themselves down and began to exert their influence on the game. The line out — where the man of the match Shane Delahunt excelled — was functioning well and it was through this method that the visitors built their first score of the night.

 

After a line out, the Irish team — after great work by both Delahunt and Blade — consolidated possession deep in the hosts’ 22 with a few phases of carries. The ball was then worked to Carty whose sumptuous cross-field kick landed accurately in Healy’s hands and the winger touched down to complete a beautifully worked try.

 

Connacht were confident in the strength of their set-piece and it was through another line out that they added their second try in a profitable six-minute first-half stretch. An intricate move, no doubt forged on the training paddock, saw Delahunt feed a pass to Papali’i and the number 8 ran a powerful line that saw him bludgeon his way through would be Dragons’ tackles to touch down.

 

After that point, though, the momentum swung in the favour of the home team and they made the most of it with two tries of their own, both from rolling mauls where Hibbard — a former British and Irish Lion — touched down at the tail.

 

The Westerners had the last say of the half, however, when Carty accurately kicked. a penalty to tie the game up and see the teams go into the interval 13 points apiece.

 

Connacht began the second half in a similar fashion to which they ended the first and they made their early dominance in the second-period count on the scoreboard just over five minutes into the half.

 

Another line out provided attacking field position and Delahunt carried through the heart of the Dragons’ defence. When the hooker was tackled to the ground, he acrobatically and intelligently offloaded a pass to Blade and the scrum-half — with typical sharpness — read the intention and gathered the pass to score. Carty slotted the extras to give Connacht a 20-13 lead.

 

Dragons responded in strong fashion and they piled the pressure on the visitors’ defence. The pressure eventually told when Hibbard was once again the benefactor of a rolling maul and the hooker touched down at the base for a try which Davies converted to draw the teams level at 20-20.

 

That was as good as it got for the home team, though, as Connacht pulled away in the final 20 minutes. Replacement Kieran Marmion brought fresh impetus from the bench and the Irish international played a prominent role in the Westerners’ bonus point sealing try. The scrum-halves accurate pass found the cutting, against the grain line of Daly and the centre powered his way over the line for a brilliantly constructed try. Carty slotted the extras to take Connacht into a 27-20 lead.

 

The onus was on the Dragons to score the next try, but their efforts were denied by stout defence from the visitors. Carty then made sure of the win a sweetly struck drop kick and Connacht head home with all five match day points.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Tom Daly

12: Peter Robb

11: Matt Healy

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i

7: Conor Oliver

6: Paul Boyle (c)

5: Niall Murray

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Murray, Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Robb, Alex Wootton for Healy.

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Racing 92 26-22 Connacht

 

Connacht fell to a narrow four-point defeat to Racing 92 in Paris La Défense Arena in the Heineken Champions Cup.

 

In a brilliant exhibition of attacking Rugby, the visitors scored three tries — from Matt Healy, Alex Wootton and Conor Oliver — and collected a losing bonus point while they threatened to inflict the French team’s first-ever European defeat in their new stadium.

 

Racing, last season’s finalists, scored four tries of their own — from Georges Henri Colombe Kurtley Beale, Donovan Taofifénua, and Dominic Bird — but had to see out a nervous last few minutes to complete the bonus-point win.

 

The Westerners started with authority and made an early impression in attack. Both Dave Heffernan and Ultane Dillane made piercing carries early on, but the defence of the three-time finalists held firm and they repelled Connacht’s advances.

 

Slowly, the Parisians grew into the game and they made it count on the scoreboard when Colombe, the tighthead prop, managed to burst over from close range. Racing’s rolling maul was defended stoutly by the visitors, but — after a few phases of carries from close to the line — the hosts pressure eventually told and they opened the scoring. The difficult conversion from Maxime Machenaud landed and the Top 14 side were 7-0 to the good.

 

Connacht reacted well to the concession of the try and they had their own points soon after. Another barrelling run from Heffernan brought the Westerners into the 22 and Racing were penalised at the breakdown. Jack Carty made no mistake from the kicking tee and the visitors deservedly found themselves on the scoreboard, 7-3.

 

With the PRO14 team’s pack carrying hard and winning territory, the home side weren’t having it all their own way but their defence was firm and they were efficient with all of their attacking opportunities, especially in the transition.

 

A typically classy move from last season’s finalists saw Vakatawa — the France international centre — make a burst and then feed Kurtley Beale, the former Australia full-back, to run in a try which Machenaud slotted to stretch the Parisians lead to 14-3.

 

Another try soon followed when winger Donovan Taofifénua acrobatically flew in for a try in the left-hand corner. The angle was difficult, and the conversion fell wide but the French team lead 19-3.

 

Connacht, though, never lost composure and kept their attacking intensity up. A series of line outs and hard carries — with Dillane especially prominent — brought the visitors close on several occasions and they had a deserved try on the stroke of half time.

 

With an advantage, Carty beautifully executed a cross-field kick that landed flush into the arms of the jumping Healy. The winger caught it perfectly in midair and held his balance to touch down. The conversion was wide, but the visitors went into the break 19-8 down but definitely in the game.

 

Racing started the second half in a strong fashion and had a try ten minutes in when Dominic Bird — the former All Black — was the benefactor of a rolling maul and he touched down at the base. The conversion landed and the hosts found themselves 26-8 to the good.

 

Connacht never relented the pressure and they were game both in defence and attack and they showed this when they turned defence into attack and got themselves back into the game with 20 minutes remaining. Showing a brilliant turn of pace and spatial awareness, Wootton intelligently intercepted a Racing pass in his own 22 and went the length of the pitch to touch down for a try which Carty converted to bring the Westerners to 26-15 and within touching distance of the Top14 men.

 

With the wind in their sails, Connacht — where Paul Boyle and Dillane were both inspired in the ball carrying stakes — kept probing and pushing for a score. With five minutes remaining, they had the score their pressure merited when Oliver powered his way over from close range. The conversion was good from Carty and Andy Friend’s men found themselves only four points behind with as many minutes remaining.

 

The Westerners almost snatched what would have been a famous win when Tiernan O’Halloran kicked through a ball in the dying moments, but the ball beat everyone and went dead. The hosts saw it out and claimed the win.

 

Ultimately, it was a defeat but Connacht can be happy with their losing bonus point and performance in Paris.

 

Connacht team:

15-9
15: John Porch
14: Alex Wootton
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Tom Daly
11: Matt Healy
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion

8-1
8: Paul Boyle
7: Jarrad Butler
6: Sean Masterson
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Eoghan Masterson
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Shane Delahunt for Dave Heffernan, Jack Aungier for Bealham, Cian Prendergast for Sean Masterson, Conor Oliver for Butler, Caolin Blade for Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki for Arnold, Tiernan O’Halloran for Porch.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

There has been a significant growth in the number of schools playing girls Rugby in Connacht over the course of the last two years. 

 

In the 2019/20 school year, 21 girls schools teams from across the province played competitively, an increase of nine from 12 the previous year. From these teams, who competed in ten a side games, there were over 200 players, almost double the amount of participants from 2018/2019.

 

In total, 12 schools -- across both junior and senior age grades -- played girls schools Rugby in the last school year, which represents a growth of three schools from the preceding year. There were no girls schools teams in 2018, highlighting the rapid growth of the sport in a short space of time.

 

Emer O’Dowd, Connacht Rugby Women's Development Officer for North Connacht, has hailed the huge increase of participation in girls schools Rugby, and said that the aim is to eventually establish a 15 a side league and cup competition. 

 

“The school's game has grown massively and it’s brilliant,” the Mayo native said.

 

“In another couple of years,  we will hopefully have a full-on 15 a side schools league and cup competition. We have one now,  but it’s 10 a side. Numbers are growing and more and more schools are getting involved. It’s great and it’s grown massively this year.”

 

As head coach of the Club Force Emerging Talent Programme, a stepping stone between underage Rugby and adult competition for 18 to 24-year-olds, O’Dowd has been impressed by the levels of talent in the province.

 

She says that the success of the likes of Beibhinn Parsons and Nicole Fowley -- two players who came through the system from clubs in Connacht and played for Ireland -- has proved to young players that there is a pathway to the highest levels of Rugby west of the Shannon. The aim of the programme is to build the confidence and increase the skill levels of young players before they transition to adult level.

 

“There’s a lot of Beibhinn’s coming through, we can see it all over the province and it’s exciting”, the former Galwegians player,  who has worked with Connacht in various capacities since 2008, said.

 

“We formed the team last year and we had about 30 girls training, from 18 to 24-year-olds. We wanted to bring them in and give them some upskilling and training. We had the likes of Mary Healy, the former Ireland international, and Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins coming down to do sessions. We had professional coaches coming in to do sessions on specific areas. We had Craig Hansbury coming in to do work with the forwards and scrummaging, we had Ross Mannion coming in and then Lyndon Jones and myself and Mary(Healy) working on specific things.”

 

Clubforce, a Galway based sports participation management system used by clubs, leagues and governing bodies to fund and drive greater participation in sport, coming on board as sponsors of the Emerging Talent Programme has allowed the team to grow and put plans in place for the future.

 

Pre Covid, the Emerging Talent team -- who have played against their Munster equivalents and touring American College teams since their establishment a year ago --  were due to tour London and play London Irish -- a trip made possible by the sponsorship -- but the pandemic unfortunately caused its postponement. 

 

“They said they’d back us, which gave us a huge opportunity to put this team together and put the money and funding into it,” O’Dowd says of Clubforce’s sponsorship.

 

“It would have culminated into a tour over to London Irish last April, but it didn’t happen. But it will happen, once we get the green flag to start training again and start flying again then we’re going to go. It has been paused and not cancelled. It’s great to have Clubforce there to put the funding into us and have that money ring-fenced for us, it gives us great opportunities.”

Following today’s team announcement, the Connacht medical team have issued the following squad update:
 
Niall Murray (shoulder) underwent surgery earlier this week and will be out action until January 2021.
 
Tom Farrell (thigh), Caolin Blade (ill), Peter Robb (groin) and Matt Healy (calf) will look to integrate into full team training next week.
 
Tiernan O’Halloran (hip) will continue to rehabilitate and will aim to integrate into team training the following week (19.10.20)
 
Cillian Gallagher (shoulder) continues his rehabilitation and aims to return to team training at the end of the month.
 
Sean O’Brien (foot) continues his rehabilitation.
 
Oisin Dowling (back) continues his rehabilitation from a long-term injury.
 
Stephen Fitzgerald (knee) continues to rehabilitate and will look to commence training integration in the coming weeks.
 
Ben O’Donnell (knee) has recently joined the squad and continues his rehabilitation from a long-term knee injury.
 
NOTE: PCR testing this week produced zero positive results amongst Connacht players and staff.

Following today’s squad announcement for tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 opener against Glasgow, the Connacht medical team have requested the following squad update:
 
Peter Robb (groin) and Matt Healy (calf) will both return to team training next week as they progress their rehabilitation from respective injuries.

Tiernan O’Halloran (hip) sustained a hip injury in training this week and will look to return to training next week.

Ultan Dillane (head) sustained a head injury in the Munster ‘A’ game last weekend and is following return to play protocols.

Cillian Gallagher (shoulder) is continuing his rehabilitation from a shoulder injury and will integrate into team training later this month.

Sean O’Brien (foot) is continuing his rehabilitation from a foot injury.

Oisin Dowling (back) is continuing his rehabilitation for a long term back injury.

Stephen Fitzgerald (knee) is continuing his rehabilitation from knee surgery earlier this year and will integrate into team training later this month.

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 Rugby are delighted to announce that scrum-half Caolin Blade and winger Matt Healy have both signed two-year contract extensions that will keep them at the Sportsground until the end of the 2021/22 season.
 
Connacht native Caolin Blade came through the club structures in the province, playing for his local club Monivea RFC and from there went on to join the Connacht Academy. The 25-year-old has now made 109 appearances in the Connacht jersey and is one of only two Connacht players to feature in all 17 of the province’s games so far this season.
 
Winger Matt Healy is Connacht’s record try scorer with a total of 55 in 136 appearances across the Guinness PRO14 and European competitions. Healy joined Connacht from Lansdowne RFC in 2012 and went on to win a PRO12 medal with Connacht in 2016. He made his international debut during the summer tour of South Africa in the same year.
 
Commenting on the latest contract signings, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Caolin Blade and Matt Healy are two important players for us and are central to our ambitions over the coming seasons. Caolin has come through the Connacht pathway and has proven himself to be a top class player who brings huge energy to our attack. Matt Healy is another exciting player who has an excellent try scoring record in the Connacht jersey, and I think there is still more to come from him. We are delighted that both players have committed to the province for the next two seasons”.

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).

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