Connacht Juniors left it late to beat Munster 19-17 down in Killarney RFC on Saturday.

 

Marty Conneelly went over for the match winning try in the 82nd minute after being 17-14 down with the last play of the game.

 

Tries from Marty Conneelly 2, Aodha Hession 1 and Shane Purcell with 2 conversions.

 

Next game is this Saturday at home v Leinster in Buccaneers RFC at 2:30pm

 

Head Coach Barry Ruane and his management team have released their squad for this weekends opening Interpro fixture vs Munster Rugby, Saturday April 23rd, at Killarney RFC (k/o 2.30pm)

 

There are 9 Connacht Clubs represented in this weekends squad; we would like to wish the players & management the very best of luck for Interpro Series, a great honour to all. Creggs Rfc’s Brian Diffley will Captain the side.

 

Number/Name/Club
15. Henry O’Toole – Connemara RFC
14. Marty Connelly – Connemara RFC
13. Mark Purcell * – Creggs RFC
12. Stephen Loftus * – Westport RFC
11. Ross Murphy Sweeney * – Buccaneers RFC
10. Shane Purcell * – Creggs RFC
9. Sam Walsh * – Westport RFC
1. A.Leech – Creggs RFC
2. Hiram Wood Hennessy * – Corinthians RFC
3. Craig Hansberry * – Ballinrobe RFC
4. Marty Cummins – Dunmore RFC
5. Niall Staunton – Connemara RFC
6. Brian Diffley – Creggs RFC
7. Brian Ruane * – Tuam RFC
8. TJ Berry – Connemara RFC

Replacements
16. Niall Carney * – Tuam RFC
17. Sean Tonra * – Castlebar RFC
18. Sean O’Connell – Buccaneers RFC
19. Fergus Galvin * – Buccaneers RFC
20. Alan Finnerty – Tuam RFC
21. Paul Lee * – Connemara RFC
22. Aodha Hession * – Creggs RFC
23. Ian Heanue – Connemara RFC

*first cap

 

Head coach Andy Friend said that the recent postponement of games has only made his squad of players more hungry for Saturday’s 5:15 PM Interprovincial clash against Munster at the Sportsground. 

 

Connacht were due to play Ulster in Belfast on St.Stephens’ Day, but the game was postponed due to positive COVID cases in the Northern provinces squad. 

 

But now the focus shifts to Munster – a team who the Westerners only narrowly last out to, 20-18, in their last meeting at Thomond Park in October – on New Years Day in a game which Friend expects to be physical. 

 

“It wasn’t overly disruptive, it was just more disappointing,” the Australian said of the Ulster postponement. 

 

 

“We all understand it, we understand that people’s wellbeing is at stake here, so we all need to respect that and we do respect that. The hard bit is and the disappointing bit is that you work really hard during the week to get a team and all the detail in the team.”

 

Friend expects the contrast in the style of play between his side and Munster to make for fascinating viewing come 5:15 PM on Saturday. 

 

For Connacht to win, they need to play their own style of Rugby but also match up to the physical credentials of their Southern rivals, he said. 

 

“Yeah, most people that watch the games closely can see the difference between the two styles. That’s our intention, is to try and play our style of Rugby. I have no doubt that Munster will try and play their style of Rugby. 

 

“As Alex(Wootton) says and I agree with him, it’s a great style to play. It does ask a lot of you but at the same time, it gives you a lot of freedom and a lot of opportunities to express yourself. Our intention is to try and continue to play in our way.”

 

Meanwhile, winger Alex Wootton is relishing a run of games for the first team after battling through a spate of injuries this season. 

 

The 27-year-old was a key figure for Connacht last season, running in eleven tries in all competitions and impressing with his all round play. 

 

However, injuries have limited the former Munster player’s involvement to just four games – and one try – this season, and Wootton, who also missed a chunk of pre-season,  is keen to make up for lost time towards the tail end of this campaign and fully acclimate to the on-field strategies brought by the new coaches, Mossy Lawler, Deawald Senekal and Cullie Tucker. 

 

“Yeah, last season was great,” the English-born speedster said. 

 

“A lot has changed since then, I moved up here. Pre-season was fairly tricky with a niggle in my calf and competition for the back three has really stepped up this season. I’m finding it tough to hit my straps or tough to get back to where I was last season, maybe with some of the new stuff that has been put in and just trying to find grips into that. 

 

“I’m doing all I can to get back up there, but normally with a good pre-season you can get back up there fairly easily, but obviously that was a bit tricky, so I’m just putting the effort in, seeing if I can get back up there.”

 

The Westerners have continued to play an expensive, quick brand of attacking rugby this season and Wootton – a former Sevens player – admits it is extremely enjoyable for the players to operate in such a system of play.

 

However, the winger admits that the tweaked game plan is still a work in progress and the players will need to work hard – both in training and in games – to further master it. 

 

The key, he believes, is that the Connacht squad have a common purpose and vision of where they want to go in the future. 

 

“Yeah, it’s one of those game plans that when it’s working, it’s really working,” he said. 

 

“When we’re humming it’s fantastic to watch and it’s about getting that consistency in games and in training where we’re all on the same page and it’s working. 

 

“It’s still a work in progress and we all know where we need to go and that’s something we’ve lacked in the past, not necessarily knowing where we needed to go. We’ve got a clear vision and we’re really happy and we’re all going in the same direction.”

 

Fly-half Jack Carty says that Connacht will take learnings from last weekend’s home defeat to The Dragons and will apply them to the rest of their season, starting with Saturday’s United Rugby Championship Interpro versus Munster at Thomond Park. 

 

Despite leading at halftime, the Westerners eventually lost 35-22 to the Welshmen in last Saturday’s 5:15 PM kick-off at the Sportsground. 

 

However, the Irish international is confident that Connacht can bounce back at a venue where they won last season, but admits it will be an arduous task against their 100% winning record boasting southern rivals. 

 

“We spoke about backing up a big performance with another one after last week(The Bulls game), but unfortunately we didn’t do that,” the Roscommon native said. 

 

“It was bitterly disappointing and I think there was a couple of things there like if we scored Bladey’s try we go in at halftime with a bigger lead and I think it changes the dynamic a small bit. 

 

‘We were a bit flat throughout the game and it was a bit disappointing because we had a good week, and again we didn’t back it up how we wanted to.”

 

“It usually comes down to an error, or a piece of brilliance, if you think about the game last year,” Carty said of the generally tight encounters between Munster and Connacht. 

 

“Mike Haley, with a piece of brilliance from him, fielded a high ball and ended up scoring. We ended up getting a yellow card at a pivotal point and that was the turning of the game. 

 

“And down there in Thomond, we kind of grinded it out and held them out in the end. Usually, they’re one score games and it comes down to those finer things, like discipline, staying in the fight and sticking to what our game will be. When we play against Munster, it’s always a dog fight and always those one or two little pivotal things that are the making or the breaking of the game.”

 

Carty, 29, referenced Connacht’s win against The Bulls — a team with a similar size and athletic profile to Munster — as the kind of standard the Westerners will need to hit once again if they are to win the upcoming interprovincial. 

 

“Yeah, I think so. That’s the benchmark, defensively and in an attack sense, that everything from that point on would be that or more. Munster have totally changed the way they have played in certain facets of the game as well. 

 

“It will be a bit different from how they’ve been previously. They are obviously incredibly good in the air, and they have changed in how they look to shift the ball into the wider edges and in terms of where their players are going in terms of kick receipts. 

 

“It should be really interesting and it’s always a tight game when you go down there and it’s going to come down to the top two inches.”

 

Meanwhile, senior attack coach Pete Wilkins says Connacht are on track to improve, despite last weekend’s reversal to the Dragons. 

 

The Englishman, who moved from his defensive coaching berth to senior attack coach role this summer, said that there are positives for the Westerners to take — even in defeat — and that progress towards an enhanced style of play is clear for the coaching staff to see. 

 

And Wilkins is confident that squad will move forwards and adapt further to their new style of play and overall strategy. 

 

“I think that any time you’re going to change the way you play the game — particularly in an overall identity — it’s not going to be done in one pre-season, in one or two or three games,” Wilkins said. 

 

“If you can start to see a real semblance of that identity come together in the middle of that first season, I think that’s a good outcome. That said, you need to see key markers along the way. On a game-by-game basis, you want to see those aspects of your identity growing as you go, you don’t just wait six months and be patient, you need to see that building and then see that final product halfway through the season. 

 

“In that sense, I’m happy with how we’re tracking and every game gives us the opportunity to learn where we’re at and how we can fix things.”

 

“Unfortunately, sometimes you have to go through that pain and learn those lessons by reviewing it. But what you don’t want to see is that being repeated week by week, you want to see growth. We’re on track, we’re on the right track. There are some difficult lessons out of a defeat like that but we take the lessons and we will move forwards.”

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to play a “smart” brand of Rugby in order to earn a victory at Thomond Park in Friday evening’s GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup meeting with Munster. 

 

The Westerners were narrowly defeated by the Southern province, 20-17, in the side’s last meeting in March in a keenly contested interprovincial derby. 

 

Despite the loss, Friend says there were plenty positives to take from the performance — which he described as smart — and he says applying those traits to Friday evening’s game will be crucial to any win. 

 

“What we brought in that game at Thomond, more so in the game here(the December meeting of the team’s at the Sportsground), was that we defensively muscled up against them,” the Australian said. 

 

“I thought our line out worked really well against them, in both attack and defence, and I thought we played a smart brand of Rugby, in terms of what we were doing with the ball, whether we were kicking it long or kicking for contestables. They were key areas that I felt worked for us and we have to make sure we replicate that and some on Friday night.”

 

Friend, meanwhile, paid tribute to Quinn Roux after the Irish international announced he will leave the province at the end of the season after seven years in Connacht green. 

 

While the second row will be missed, the head coach wished him the best of luck for the future and thanked him for his service. 

 

“He’s given an enormous amount to this province,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“He leaves with our blessing and our respect. We would love to keep him, of course we would, but at the end of the day, people make decisions. It was a lengthy process we went through and a decision was made at the end.

 

“We have already begun the process of recruiting a new second row and we will obviously make an announcement about that in due course.”

 

Elsewhere, second row Gavin Thornbury says that Friday’s renewal of rivalries with Munster will provide players the opportunity to put their hands up for international selection with the Irish national team. 

 

Ireland recently announced summer tests against the USA and Japan in Dublin and Thornbury says that competing against other players in the fold for national team squad berths will give him — and every other eligible player — the platform to showcase their abilities and further their international ambitions. 

 

“They are always big,” the 27-year-old said of the interprovincial clash. 

 

“Every time an interpro is played, It’s played fully and 100%, no matter who is playing. It’s another chance to put yourself in the shop window. All I can do is make sure I get myself as mentally and physically in as good a position as possible to put in a performance on Friday. I’m looking forward to that.”

 

Irish line out coach Paul O’Connell attended Connacht training last week and Thornbury said it was a great opportunity to show a member of the national team coaching staff their qualities close up. 

 

“It was good to get him down and show him what we’re doing here,” he said. 

 

“He would have always been someone I looked up to, so it was nice to meet him and introduce myself and just have a conversation with him. We had a good conversation and I was pretty happy with that. Hopefully, now I just back it up with performances and that’s probably the biggest thing.”

 

Thornbury, who joined the Westerners in 2017 from Leinster, was superb in the last game between the teams, a 20-17 home win for Munster in March, and he said he is keen to make a similar impression on Friday and help the team go one better and claim a win.

 

“Yeah, it was good,” the Dublin native said when asked how he would assess his performance in his last trip to Thomond Park. 

 

“I think a lot of things probably came off for me that mightn’t have come off on another night. Obviously, I was fully gutted with the result. I thought we put ourselves in a position where we could have won the game and unfortunately it didn’t come through. 

 

“Personally, some stuff came off that I was really happy with but there’s a lot to keep working on.”

 

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