By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to stick to their own game plan and processes in Saturday’s European Challenge Cup last 16 clash away to Leicester Tigers. 

 

The Tigers are known for their physical approach and boast a massive set of forwards and — with former England forwards coach Steve Borthwick at their coaching helm — possess a strong and consistent set-piece. 

 

Friend, however, is confident that playing with their trademark speed and creativity is the Westerners’ best course of tactical action while warning that the team will need to be disciplined in order to limit the hosts attacking options. 

 

“Work rate is going to be really important, we’re going to have to put move them,” the Australian said of Connacht’s game plan.

 

“Not too dissimilar to what you saw when we beat Leinster at the RDS, we outworked them and we outworked them early and we got some scores on the board and then they had to chase.

 

“Our intent, both with and without the football, we’ll be able to see that. If we don’t have the footy, our desire is to go up and shut down their time and space. When we do have the ball, we’ll have to win those collisions, but if we do we’ll have to be brave enough to play as well. 

 

Friend maintains that the Challenge Cup, which he describes as chapter two of the Westerners campaign, provides Connacht with the opportunity to win silverware this season and fulfill their ambition of winning a trophy, a goal they set at the beginning of the rugby year. 

 

“This is chapter two of our season, chapter one is finished,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“We didn’t make that final(PRO14), and it was disappointing. We keep talking about it as a squad, winning silverware, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re in the top 16 and if you win five games you win silverware. That would be the intention — certainly, it is my intention — and I know as a group of coaches and players that is our collective intention. We want to go and win it. 

 

“So, there is pressure on the game. We know that Connacht’s form against English sides hasn’t been great over the course of history, so we get an opportunity to go and correct that. We know we’re up against a very formidable side, so it’s no mean feat but we’re going there — and I want us to put pressure on ourselves — to perform because this is the mark of sides that can show the growth that I believe is taking place here.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that Connacht have put a huge focus on their defence heading into the European showdown against Leicester. 

 

In the Westerners last outing — a 41-36 defeat at the Scarlets — Boyle felt their defence let the team down, but the former Irish international said that the players are keen to apply the lessons they’ve learned from that game at Welford Road at 8 pm on Saturday evening. 

 

“I would be very confident to say it’s not going to happen again,” the Gorey native said of Connacht’s defensive prospects against the Premiership team. 

 

“We put a huge focus on it this week and we have trained really well. We’re looking forward to going after them this week defensively.”

 

Boyle — who represented Ireland at under 20’s level — said that the remaining games, both in Europe and the Rainbow Cup, will be a shop window for Connacht players to put their hands up for international selection.

 

“That is obviously one of my main goals at the moment(earning Irish selection),” the 24-year-old said. 

 

“It comes off the back of playing well enough and I am always a big advocate of ‘if you’re playing well enough for your province you’re going to get picked’. I’m working hard and I’m just trying to play my best every week and those games are a good showpiece for yourself and a good showpiece for the team to try and get those international honours.”

 

Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler — two of the Westerners’ most experienced players — will miss the Tigers fixture through suspension, but Boyle says that their presence in training is beneficial to the team. 

 

“Those guys have been brilliant in training. Those guys have been on team two and they’re brilliant players when they’re defending and when they’re attacking and they’re really challenging us. Even in the chats we’ve had, they’re giving us really good insight and they’re really helping us this week. 

 

“They have been brilliant since they’ve come back. Obviously they’re disappointed that they can’t play but they have been really good for the team.”

Connacht Rugby can confirm Nigel Carolan will leave the province when his contract expires at the end of the season.
 
The Galway native has held the role of Attack Coach at the club since 2017, having spent 14 years as Connacht Academy Manager and before that as a player in the late 1990s. He was also Head Coach of the Ireland U20s from 2014-2017, leading them to the final of the 2016 U20 World Championship.
 
Carolan made the following statement following today’s news:
 
“When I signed my most recent contract over two years ago, I made it clear to Connacht that it would be my last before embarking on a new challenge. I have been involved with Connacht Rugby for most of the last 26 years of my life. While I have loved every day of it and I cannot speak highly enough of the people I’ve worked with, the time has come for a new experience in rugby.
 
I’m at the stage of my coaching career where I need to challenge myself in a new environment and gain new perspectives, so I’m excited by what the future holds for Siobhan, Milly, Ben and myself.
 
Andy Friend and Willie Ruane have known of my plans for a long time and have been 100% supportive of me every step of the way. I’d like to sincerely thank them for their support these past few years while I came to this decision, and I’d like to wish them and all the players and coaches every success in the years ahead.”

 
Andy Friend says Carolan made a big impression in the three years they’ve worked together:
 
“I first met Nigel shortly after moving to Connacht and I cannot speak highly enough of the three years since then. He is an excellent coach who has all the credentials to succeed elsewhere, and I wish him every success wherever he goes.
 
The Connacht traditions of playing an attractive, exciting brand of attacking rugby continued under Nigel, and that style will continue to be implemented in the years ahead.”

 
CEO of Connacht Rugby Willie Ruane paid tribute to Carolan for his many years of dedication to his home province.
 
“While we are obviously disappointed to see Nigel go, we fully understand and appreciate why he felt the time was right to move on. We’ve been aware of his wish to try something new for some time, and the way he has conducted himself every day since then has been as professional and dedicated as ever.
 
It’s important to also acknowledge Nigel as one of our own, having come through the Connacht pathway both in his playing and coaching careers. He has given his home province a huge amount and on behalf of everyone at Connacht Rugby I’d like to sincerely thank him for the commitment he has shown and for everything he has accomplished during his time here.”

 
A further announcement confirming the Connacht coaching team into next season will be made in due course.

By John O’Sullivan

Backs coach Nigel Carolan says Connacht will need to be at their physical best if they are to win Saturday’s 7:35 PM Guinness PRO14 kick-off at home to Benetton Rugby.

 

The Westerners will look to make it back to back wins after their 52-7 victory away to Zebre last time out and ahead of their European campaign kicking off at Racing 92 on December 13th.

 

Benetton, meanwhile, were defeated 26-19 by the Dragons in their last game, but Carolan says that Connacht will need to be at their best and follow the same game plan that saw them defeat the Italians 41-5 last season.

 

“Last year we played them and we won 41-5, in the second or third game of last year. We referred it to briefly during the week. What won us that game last year was physicality. It was an extremely physical game. Looking back at the end of last season, that was one of the most physical games of the season,” he said.

 

In that game in October 2019, the Sportsground team also kicked intelligently and Carolan says that accuracy — as well as being efficient when presented with try-scoring opportunities — will be the key to victory again on Saturday evening.

 

“We know we’re going to need to match them physically. They have a huge pack and they need to be moved around the pitch,” the former Connacht player said.

 

“We need to match them physically upfront and in the set-piece. That level of accuracy, every time you get a chance you’re going to need to take them. They have a dangerous back three and if you kick loosely to them you’re going to create problems for yourself. We have to make sure that when we kick, we kick accurately and we get contests in the air.”

 

In Connacht’s last home game, a 20-14 loss to the Scarlets, the weather alternated between strong winds and torrential rain. Carolan maintains that his team’s gameplan respects the weather, but they will stick to their principles.

 

“You’ve got to respect it,” the former Ireland under 20’s head coach said of the conditions.

 

“Obviously, the wind has a big influence on how we play the game. It’s just the types of kicks you gotta put in. If you gotta kick the ball into the breeze, it’s a more contestable kick and you set yourselves up quite differently. That’s nearly on a weekly basis and daily basis in training as well. It’s something that comes with the territory here and we have to deal with the weather and we manage that the best we can.”

 

Elsewhere, centre Tom Daly says that he is enjoying covering multiple on-pitch roles for Connacht this season. Already, the 27-year-old — who scored a brace of tries in the victory away to Zebre — has played at centre and fly half and has covered the wings from the bench.

 

Daly — as shown in the win away to Edinburgh — is also comfortable with kicking for goal and he says that he enjoys the responsibility.

 

“Yeah, obviously it’s something(goal kicking) I have done for a long time. I would have kicked for the Irish under 18’s, 19’s and 20’s and throughout my time at Leinster I would have done a lot of goal kicking,” the Carlow native said.

 

“Obviously here, Jack(Carty) and Fitzy(Conor Fitzgerald) have been going really well so maybe the opportunity hasn’t always come to place kick, but I have always been practicing and I knew I was going to be ready when the chance did come. That came pretty early against Edinburgh and that went pretty well, so hopefully, Friendy(Andy Friend) and Nige(Nigel Carolan) will look at that and see it as a viable option for me to goal kick and to cover ten.

 

“I think some people thought I was just thrown in at ten against Edinburgh and it was something I had never done before. But it’s something a practice quite a lot here and it’s something I would have done quite a lot of coming up through the age grades. I feel pretty comfortable there(at ten) and pretty confident. If it means I get more game time and I’m on the pitch more often then I’m happy to play wherever,” the former Irish Sevens player said.

By John O’Sullivan
 
Attack coach Nigel Carolan believes that the breakdown will be a key area of battle in Connacht’s PRO14 trip to the Cardiff Blues on Saturday.
 
The Westerners started their domestic campaign with a 28-24 victory over The Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground last weekend, a win built on a combination of sturdy defence and efficient attacking.
 
The Blues, meanwhile, opened their season with a 16-6 win away to Zebre in Italy and Carolan anticipates a big challenge from the Welshmen, especially at the breakdown, and wants to see Connacht improve their discipline.
 
“Looking back at the last game, what we learned from that game was the discipline, the ill discipline and how that can pressure our game; how it puts so much pressure onto our defence and how it inhibits our attack. It doesn’t give us the opportunities that we would like,” the former Irish U20’s coach said.
 
“They’re a big threat over the breakdown. You have got Ollie Robinson and (Josh) Navidi and, traditionally, Cardiff go hard after the ball so there will be a big focus on the breakdown. And, in some cases, we’ll need to play a little bit more without the ball, so we’re not giving them the life they want by stealing our ball at the breakdown.”
 
In the victory over Glasgow, Connacht scored two tries from quick thinking, transitional plays– attacking as soon as possession was won — and Carolan was pleased to see facets of the game forged on the training paddock pay dividends in a game.
 
“It’s a massive part of our game(transitional plays) and where we see our attack is in the transition game, in what some may term the unstructured part of the game. But for us it’s not really unstructured because we try and create a little bit of structure around that.
 
We focus a lot on playing off turnovers and trying to capitalise on turnovers. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been playing a lot of little games, working from kick transitions and turnover transitions, and trying to go forward on the ball and finding other players’ space is the terms we’re looking to do when we’re in transition.
 
It’s pleasing that that’s starting to pay reward,” the former Connacht centre said.
 
New signing Alex Wootton, meanwhile, says that he is enjoying playing under Andy Friend and is thriving in the attacking style of rugby played at the Sportsground.
 
The former Sevens player — who joined on a season long loan from Munster — feels he has settled in quicker to life with the Westerners because of the emphasis Connacht — with former Australian Seven coach Friend a key factor — place on a quick style of play.
 
With assists for Kieran Marmion and Bundee Aki tries — both with accurate grubber kicks in behind — against Ulster and Glasgow respectively, Wootton has already made a telling contribution.
 
“Absolutely, yeah”, the 26-year-old said when asked whether Connacht’s style suits his skillset as a former Sevens player.
 
“Sevens was a big stepping stone for myself, as well for a few other people as well who have gone on to play professional 15’s. It’s definitely something which was highlighted a good few times, speaking to Andy. That was definitely a tick in the box. We hit it off from that side of things,” Wootton said.
 
On and off the ball, the Sportsground teams back three impressed versus Glasgow. With Irish international’s Matt Healy and Tiernan O’Halloran to return — as well as Peter Sullivan and John Porch in contention — the competition for places for a starting berth at full back or on the wings is huge.
 
With so many quality players vying for position, Connacht are in admirable position and can only benefit and Wootton says that the challenge is exciting and that it is improving each player as an individual
 
“You look at the squad and you’ve got Tiernan — who is a capped international — and you got Matt Healy, who is a capped international, and these are guys who are yet to come back in.
 
By no means, and kudos to the coaches that are building the squad well, is there anything(a preferred back three) set in stone. That might have happened before and you look at other provinces and you can say ‘that’s definitely their starting back three’ but that’s definitely not the case here.
 
That’s bringing the best out of all of us. That goes right down through the squad and into the academy as well,” the former Irish U20 winger said.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that Connacht Attack Coach Nigel Carolan, Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy and Defence Coach Peter Wilkins have all signed two year contract extensions to take them up to the end of the 2020-21 season.
 
Making the announcement Friend said: “One of the first things that struck me when I took up the position of Head Coach of Connacht Rugby was the strength of the coaching team that was already in place. They are an exceptional team and one of the best collective groups I have worked with in my coaching career. Obviously a major priority for us has been to retain the services of these guys into the future and I am delighted that we are now in a position to announce this great news. We can now continue to focus on producing an exciting, attacking and ultimately winning brand of rugby for the seasons ahead.
 
Attack Coach Nigel Carolan was Connacht Academy Manager from 2004 to his appointment with the professional team in 2017. He is also former Head Coach of the Ireland Under 20 squad. Commenting on his contract extension, Carolan said: “We have a very clear focus on where we are going as a team and a province, and we are determined to deliver further success in the seasons ahead. We pride ourselves on our attacking style and I am excited about the contribution I can make to that in the coming years.
 
Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy has held his current role since 2015 and was part of the coaching team that won the PRO12 Championship in 2016. He previously worked as Elite Player Development Officer in the Connacht Academy for a four year period. He has also worked with numerous age grade sides within Connacht as Head and Assistant Coach, along with seven seasons with the Ireland Under 18 side. Following his contract signing, Duffy added: “Connacht Rugby is an exciting place to be, both on and off the field. We have made progress this season on all aspects of our game and are continuing to improve. There is even more potential in the squad and I believe that we can maximise that potential in the coming seasons.
 
Also extending his contract is Defence Coach Peter Wilkins who joined Connacht from Edinburgh ahead of the 2017/18 season. He previously worked in Australia with the Queensland Reds Super Rugby side and as Head Coach of Queensland A. Commenting on his contract extension, Wilkins added: “I am extremely honoured to be part of Connacht Rugby and I am delighted to have extended my contract for another 2 years. I am proud of the progression we have made defensively this season and I look forward to working with all of the coaches and the squad to continue that progression in the seasons ahead.

The Month of Champions continues this weekend as we welcome Zebre to the Sportsground.

Ahead of the game, backs coach Nigel Carolan spoke about the importance of getting the season’s first win and not taking the Italians lightly.

Don’t forget juniors under the age of 16 go FREE when accompanied by an adult! Tickets available here.

Connacht are boosted by the return of Irish international Quinn Roux for their PRO14 clash with Edinburgh in the Sportsground on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm). Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane are all rested after their involvement with Ireland’s Grand Slam winning Six Nations squad.

Flanker Eoin McKeon has also returned to the starting XV having been unavailable through injury since November. McKeon joins a back row that includes openside Jarrad Butler and Sean O’Brien at number 8.

Out-half Jack Carty and scrum half Caolin Blade continue their partnership which has been a regular feature over the past few weeks in Marmion’s absence.

Winger Niyi Adeolokun joins a back three that includes fullback Tiernan O’Halloran and Matt Healy. Healy became Connacht’s record try scorer after scoring twice against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

At the pre game Press Conference, Connacht backs coach Nigel Carolan told reporters that Edinburgh will bring a big challenge on Friday night. “They made life really difficult for Munster last Friday night. They turned them over several times at the breakdown and that’s uncharacteristic for Munster”, said Carolan.

“You can see that there’s a real bite to them, there’s a real high level of fitness and physicality. They’re a tough team to play against. They very direct and confrontational and they’re a tough team to break down. That’s where our biggest focus has been this week, particularly around the breakdown”, he added.

 

#CONvEDI

Kick-off 7.35pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney (Capt), Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, Sean O’Brien.

Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Denis Coulson, Dominic Robertson McCoy, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Mitchell, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.

 

 

 

Following the bonus point win away to Brive last weekend the squad are busy preparing for the return fixture this Saturday in the Sportsground (K.O. at 3pm).

 

Below are some of the best pictures from training this week.

 

 

 

Ahead of our game against Toyota Cheetahs tomorrow in the Sportsground (K.O. 7:35pm) Backs Coach Nigel Carolan and centre Tom Farrell spoke about the challenge of maintaining the momentum from winning the last three games in a row as we face into a two week break of PRO14 action.

 

It’s promises to be an exciting game with two of the most attacking teams in the competition going head to head. This morning KK announced his matchday 23.

 

Tickets are still available online here.

 

 

With only days remaining until the historic first visit of the Toyota Cheetahs to the Sportsground. Preparations are well underway as the players have been put through their paces. There is a confident mood in the camp following our recent run of results but everyone is aware of the threat posed by the Cheetahs.

 

After losing their opening two games, the Cheetahs have gone on a good run which has seen them sitting in third place in Conference A and are one of the top try scoring teams in the championship with 27 tries.

 

This form hasn’t gone unnoticed by backs coach Nigel Carolan who is fully aware of the threat they pose.

“When the lost their first two games some people started writing them off immediately, but I noticed the likes of Rassie Erasmus, who would know them better than most, predicted this improvement. They were well beaten against Ulster and Munster when they fell apart, but they had a great win at home to Leinster and that really kick started their season. They are a really attacking, exciting team and we will need to be at our best to beat them.”

 

Following his match winning try last weekend, Tom Farrell is also conscious of that attacking style and the challenge that will pose from a defensive point of view:

“We have had a good look at them and looked at plenty of footage of them and they are a really attacking team. They love to run with the ball and score tries and they have scored plenty of them so far. We will really need to put in a big defensive display and prevent them getting a foot hold. We did well in defence in the win against Munster, but we also made mistakes, so we were left with plenty to work on”.

 

Tickets for the game are still available with only a handful of spots remaining in the Main Terrace.

 

Check out some of the pictures from preparations at the Sportsground this week.

 

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