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).

Connacht have been boosted by the return of a host of players ahead of the Champions Cup clash with Toulouse on Saturday (Kick off 3:15pm). Bundee Aki and Jack Carty are available for selection following a two week rest period, as is Ultan Dillane who was rested last week.

Finlay Bealham has returned to full training and is available for selection after completing his return to play protocols. He was involved in a collision in the game against Ulster.

In addition, Rory Burke (neck), Jarrad Butler (illness), Colby Fainga’a (knee), Matt Healy (thigh) and Peter Robb (head) are all reintegrating into training this week following their respective injuries.

The news is also very positive on Conor Fitzgerald following a scan on his ankle. He will return to full training next week. Peter McCabe (ankle) and Tom Farrell (shoulder) are progressing well with their injuries and they will also look to return to training next week.

Conor Kenny (head) sustained a head injury in the Leinster game and will follow graduated return to play protocols. Stephen Fitzgerald sustained a knee injury in the same game and is awaiting scan results to determine the extent of his injuries.

Meanwhile, Matthew Burke (thigh), Cillian Gallagher (shoulder), Darragh Leader (calf), Sean O’Brien (shoulder) and Quinn Roux (hand) remain on the medium to long term injured list.

Tickets for the clash with the French Top 14 Champions are available to purchase here.

Connacht Scrum Half Caolin Blade is set to captain Connacht as they travel to Kingspan Stadium to take on Ulster in the Pro14 on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
Blade has been a central figure for Connacht of late having taken part in all of the province’s 12 games of the current campaign. The 25 year old Monivea man will continue his half back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald for the trip to Belfast.
 
Elsewhere in the back line, Peter Robb has returned from injury to partner Tom Daly in midfield while Tiernan O’Halloran starts at full back in a back three that includes John Porch and Matt Healy on the wings.
 
Up front, Paddy McAllister is another to return from injury in time for the interpro clash. The loosehead prop joins a front row with hooker Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.
 
With Quinn Roux picking up a hand injury against Munster that will likely keep him out of action until the end of January, Andy Friend has been forced to make a change to his second row. Ultan Dillane will line up with Joe Maksymiw who came off the bench last weekend with 20 year old Roscommon man Niall Murray named among the replacements.
 
In the back row, Robin Copeland comes into the starting team at number 8. He will be flanked by Eoin McKeon and Paul Boyle at blindside and openside respectively.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We have had a short turnaround from the Munster game, and with Christmas in the middle of that, there isn’t a huge volume of training the squad can get through. We are boosted by the return of Paddy McAllister, Matt Healy and Peter Robb, and those fresh legs are important as we head into the tenth weekend in a row of Pro14 and Champions Cup action”.
 
“Ulster have a fantastic record at home and are unbeaten in Kingspan since we defeated them some 14 months ago. So, we’re looking forward to another competitive interpro game in front of a passionate home crowd.”

 
Connacht Matchday Squad V Ulster (Fri 27 Dec, 7:35pm)
 
(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Tom Daly, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt) (1-8): Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Stephen Kerins, Kyle Godwin, Stephen Fitzgerald.

Ultan Dillane has returned to the Connacht starting team to face Montpellier in the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup in the Sportsground on Sunday (Kick off 1pm).
 
Irish international Bundee Aki is also set for his first start since the World Cup, following his appearance off the bench against Leinster last weekend.
 
The return of Aki and Dillane comes as a boost to Andy Friend and his coaching team as Connacht return to Champions Cup action after a two year absence. Dillane comes into the second row alongside Sligo man and former Ireland Under 20 international Cillian Gallagher.
 
In the front row, the inclusion of Dominic Robertson-McCoy is the only change from last weekend. The tighthead prop lines up alongside experienced hooker Tom McCartney and Denis Buckley at loosehead.
 
In the backrow, Colby Fainga’a comes in at blindside with Jarrad Butler at openside and Paul Boyle in his now familiar number 8 jersey.
 
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade continue their half-back partnership and with Irish international Kieran Marmion on the injured list, Stephen Kerins is named as the replacement scrum-half for the second game in a row.
 
Bundee Aki will partner Kyle Godwin in midfield while the back three is made up of Darragh Leader at full back with Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy on the wings.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We have received a boost this week with Ultan Dillane and Matt Healy returning from injury and Bundee Aki back in the starting side. They bring a huge amount of experience at this level and that will be invaluable to us. We are looking forward to the game on Sunday and we know the importance of getting off to a good start in this competition, especially at home”.
 
“We have had incredible support so far this season in the Sportsground and we are expecting a huge occasion again on Sunday afternoon. Everyone associated with Connacht Rugby is excited about our return to the Champions Cup and our focus now is on delivering a win against Montpellier”,
Friend added.
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE
Connacht Matchday Squad V Montpellier (SUN 17 NOV, 1PM)

(15-9): Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (1-8): Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Cillian Gallagher, Ultan Dillane, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (C), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke, Conor Kenny, Eoghan Masterson, Robin Copeland, Stephen Kerins, Tom Daly, John Porch
 

MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO THE EPCR
 
Connacht Rugby scored five tries as they gave their Challenge Cup Pool 3 qualification hopes a boost with an away bonus point victory over Perpignan.
 
Julien Farnoux opened the scoring for the home side with an early try, while Paddy Jackson kicked a penalty to put the French side 8-0 up.
 
But that was as good as it got for them, with a brace from Sean O’Brien and a sole score from David Heffernan pushing the Irish province 22-8 up at the interval.
 
Two quick fire tries from Manu Leiataua and Tima Fainga’anuku gave Perpignan hope at the start of the second half, but that was extinguished when Adrea Cocagi was sent off for the home side on 58 minutes.
 
From then, Connacht dominated and added further tries through Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher to put the gloss on a terrific away performance.
 
Perpignan host Bordeaux-Begles in Round 5, while Connacht take on Sale Sharks in what could prove to be a Pool 3 decider at The Sportsground.

Connacht secured a bonus point win over the Southern kings in Port Elizabeth on the first leg of their tour to South Africa.
 
With two converted tries, a penalty try and a penalty from the boot of Man of the Match Jack Carty, Connacht looked likely to overcome their hosts by the 40 minute mark.
 
Carty opened the scoring with a straightforward penalty after six minutes and his cross field kick four minutes later was collected by Cian Kelleher in the corner before improving the angle and touching down. Carty’s conversion left Connacht 10 point to no score up after 10 minutes.
 
The Kings were next to score when the broke through the defensive line and went in under the posts against the run of play. After this Connacht were completely dominant up front and were rewarded on twenty seven minutes with a penalty try. Kings also had a man in the bin at this stage after Luphumlo Mguca was penalised.
 
On the stroke of half time, Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy got in in the corner for the best try of the game. With Connacht leading 24 points to 7 at the break, an upset looked unlikely.
 
The second half was a tough affair with the Kings giving themselves some hope with a try from Ntabeni Dukisa on 50 minutes but credit to Connacht they held the South Africans out for the remainder.
Ten minutes later Caolinn Blade slipped a beautiful pass to Paul Boyle who got in under the posts to put the game beyond doubt. David Horwitz’s conversion on sixty one minutes was to prove the final score of the game as Connacht ran out 17 point winners.
 
It’s onto Bloemfontein for the winners and another tough assignment against the Cheetahs.
 
Connacht scorers:

Tries: Cian Kelleher, Penalty try, Matt Healy, Paul Boyle
Conversions: Jack Carty [2 from 2], David Horwitz [1 from 1]
Penalties: Jack Carty [1 from 1]
 
Southern Kings scorers:

Tries: Masixole Banda, Ntabeni Dukisa
Conversions: Masixole Banda [2 from 2]

Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy has recovered from injury to take his place on the wing against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Sunday (kick-off 1pm Irish time).
 
Connacht have been based in Cape Town for the past week ahead of the game and are on a tour that will include a visit to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs next weekend.
 
Healy returns to a back three that includes Cian Kelleher on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back. With Bundee Aki unavailable through his involvement in the November internationals, Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell form the midfield while the half back pairing sees out half Jack Carty and Caolin Blade renew their partnership.
 
Loosehead Denis Buckley, tighthead Conor Carey and hooker with Shane Delahunt make up the front row trio. In the second row Ultan Dillane and James Cannon are named in the starting XV while Gavin Thornbury has returned from injury and is named among the replacements.
 
The back row includes Sean O’Brien and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively while Captain Jarrad Butler starts again at number 8.
 
Naming his side, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “The squad has travelled well. We left Dublin on Sunday morning and have been based out of Cape Town all week. The facilities have been top class and so too has the attitude of the players so that has allowed us to get a lot of work done. We have a squad of 25 in South Africa for the two weeks so that gives us some flexibility for the two games”, Friend said.
“Matt Healy has returned after missing a couple of games and he is fully fit and ready to start on the wing. The other good news on the injury front is the return of Gavin Thornbury who had a more long term injury but is back now and reading to go also. We will start Gavin on the bench but no doubt he will feature during the 80 minutes”, he added.
On the challenge that the Southern Kings present, Friend says that Connacht cannot afford to take them lightly; “The Kings have been really impressive this season especially when they are at home in Port Elizabeth. They put 31 points on Leinster and 34 points on Scarlets and were unlucky to lose both games. They put 38 points on Glasgow and won that game so their form against three of the top teams in the Pro14 has been really impressive and we know how dangerous they can be. If they get space out wide, they will punish any team and we will need a big performance to overcome them”.
 
#KINvCON
 
CONNACHT TEAM & REPLACEMENTS v SOUTHERN KINGS
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Darragh Leader.

Connacht captain Jarrad Butler has returned from injury to take his place in the Connacht starting team to face Ulster on Friday in Kingspan Stadium (Kick off 7:35pm).

Butler is one of four changes to the Connacht side that started against Leinster last weekend. Academy player Paul Boyle also comes into the back row where he is named at number 8.

There is one change in the front row as Tom McCartney starts at hooker in place of the injured Dave Heffernan who captained the team against Leinster. The remainder of the front 5 is unchanged with props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham both included as is Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux in the second row.

Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion continue their half back partnership as do Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell in the midfield.

Matt Healy’s return from injury on the wing sees him included in a back three that includes Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.

 

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend says that both sides have a challenge after a six-day turnaround from respective interpros last weekend; “Both sides had tough games last weekend, us against Leinster and Ulster against Munster. Both sides will be trying to recover from the six day turnaround and that is the challenge in these big games”, Friend said.

 

“This week involved reviewing the game last week and fine tuning things from last weekend so we are ready to go for Friday. It is great to have our captain Jarrad back and one or two other guys who were returning from small knocks. We are expecting a massive challenge from a real quality Ulster side”, he added.

 

#ULSvCON

Kick-off 7:35pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8)Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Kyle Godwin, Cian Kelleher.

Connacht’s impressive pre-season campaign continued at a warm Dubarry Park on Saturday as the side secured a seven-try victory over Wasps.

Andy Friend’s squad were looking to build on their win over Brive in France last weekend, and they did just that with a display that will no doubt please the new head coach.

With the squad continue an attacking, free-flowing running game of the last 12 months, both the scoreline and manner in which the tries were scored will surely give the team plenty of cause for optimism ahead of their opening Guinness PRO14 game against Glasgow in two weeks time.

The first of those came on the 12th minute mark when a clever move from scrum-half Caolin Blade released Matt Healy down the left-wing, and with the Wasps defence stretched Jack Carty found Tom Farrell who touched down underneath the posts.

Wasps got off the mark with a penalty moments later, but that turned out to be their only score until the last few minutes as Connacht began to dominate.

They gained a deserved 11 point lead at the break when the Farrell and Healy combo struck again – this time Farrell turning creator as broke through the middle and found Connacht’s all-time try scorer waiting on the wing.

The impressive Jack Carty almost made it try number three with the last play of the half, just stepping into touch in the corner as he attempted to gather his own grubber kick.

However that third try was to arrive shortly after the restart when Caolin Blade’s quick tap penalty brought them up to the Wasps 22, and Niyi Adeolokun acted as scrum-half to find Cian Kelleher to score his fourth try in two pre-season games.

The win was all but secured with try number four which was arguably the best of the bunch. Replacement out-half Craig Ronaldson released Adeolokun with a brilliant no-look pass, allowing the winger to use his pace down the middle to score.

Two more tries were to follow in the next 10 minutes – firstly through Rory Scholes out wide and James Mitchell down the centre after good work from the Connacht maul.

Wasps bagged a consolation in the closing minutes, but it was Connacht who had the final say when substitute Conor Carey powered over.

With two wins from two and 76 points on the board it’s been a great start to the Andy Friend era, while there were also impressive performances from new signings Kyle Godwin and Joe Maksymiw.

They’ll be hoping that run of form continues when the squad travel to Bristol for their final pre-season game on Friday night.

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