Connacht Rugby are delighted to confirm that six players have signed professional contracts with the province having come through the Connacht Academy.
 
Niall Murray, Colm Reilly, Seán Masterson, Conor Dean, Jordan Duggan and Peter Sullivan will all be integrated into the professional squad ahead of the new season.
 
Niall Murray has come through the Connacht grassroots system having played for Buccaneers RFC. The lock made his professional debut in December – coming off the bench in the victory over Gloucester in the Heineken Champions Cup – before his first start against Leinster during the Christmas interpros. Murray was also a member of the Ireland U20s squad for the 2019 Six Nations and World Championships.
 
Colm Reilly is another product of the Connacht clubs. The scrum-half has represented Ballinasloe RFC and won a Top Oil Connacht Senior Schools Cup with Garbally College. He also featured for the Ireland U20s team of 2019, scoring the crucial Grand Slam-winning try in the final game away to Wales.
 
Like Murray, Seán Masterson also has experience in the professional squad. The back-rower made his debut in the Guinness PRO14 victory over Treviso, replacing his brother Eoghan. The 22-year-old then featured during the Christmas interpros, coming off the bench against Leinster.
 
Out-half Conor Dean has already been capped for Connacht, starting in Thomond Park against Munster in the final game of the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 regular season. He also impressed for the Connacht Eagles in the most recent Celtic Cup campaign when the squad won 5 of their 7 games.
 
Prop Jordan Duggan has been capped at Ireland U19 and U20 level, and played for Ireland at the U20 World Championship which also featured Connacht teammates Paul Boyle, Seán Masterson, Oisin Dowling and Conor Dean.
 
Peter Sullivan joined the Connacht Academy last season having impressed in the Energia All-Ireland League. The winger also stood out for the Connacht Eagles in the 2019/20 Celtic Cup campaign.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says today’s announcement confirms the belief the coaching staff have in the Connacht Academy system.
 
“We are delighted to confirm today’s news as we build for the future. I am a firm believer that a club’s lifeline is its Academy structure, and this exciting group of young players proves that the Connacht Academy is extremely healthy, and will continue to have a positive impact on our squad going forward”.
 
I would like to say congratulations to the six men named, as well as a special thank you to all the people who have helped them get to their point of their careers – particularly the Academy department led by Eric Elwood, their respective clubs and schools, and most importantly their family and friends”.

 
Connacht Academy Manager Eric Elwood says today is a proud day for the players.
 
“I would like to congratulate the six players on their first professional contracts and joining up with the pro squad for next season. It has been a pleasure to watch the players develop and grow over the years and we wish them well on the next step of their journey in their rugby careers.
 
It’s particularly pleasing to see two more local lads come through the grassroots programme, which is a testament to the great work being done at all levels at Connacht Rugby.”

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made four changes to his starting team to face Edinburgh in the Guinness PRO14 at Murrayfield on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
With Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane unavailable due to international duty and Gavin Thornbury picking up an injury last weekend, all four changes come in the forward pack that dominated Cardiff last time out.
 
In the front row, prop Denis Buckley and hooker Shane Delahunt are the two new faces with tighthead Finlay Bealham retained from the Cardiff game, while in the second row, Joe Maksymiw and Niall Murray both come into the starting team.
 
The back row does remain unchanged with Paul Boyle and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively and captain Jarrad Butler at number 8.
 
There are no changes in the backs which means that Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion continue their half-back partnership, while in midfield Kyle Godwin and Peter Robb will hope to make a big impact against the conference rivals.
 
The side is completed by a back three that includes Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We put in a good performance against Cardiff, but we know there are still areas for improvement and Edinburgh in Murrayfield are a different prospect this week. They have set the pace in our conference and are sitting top of the table. We know that results against them at home and away between now and the end of the season will have a huge bearing on our qualification prospects”.
 
“We have made four changes to our starting team from last weekend but there is still a familiar look to it. We have selected a team that we feel will challenge Edinburgh and we are looking forward to the challenge on Friday evening”, Friend added.
 
Connacht Matchday Squad V Edinburgh (Fri 21 Feb, 7:35pm)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, John Porch, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Paddy McAllister, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

Second row Niall Murray is set to make his first start for Connacht as they face Leinster in the Pro14 in the RDS on Saturday (Kick off 5:30pm). The 20 year old Roscommon man came off the bench in Connacht’s recent Champions Cup win over Gloucester, but this will be a first start for his home province.

In a boost to Connacht, Gavin Thornbury has returned from injury to partner Murray in the second row. Thornbury has been out of action since he picked up an arm injury against the Cheetahs at the end of October.

In the front row, prop Denis Buckley also returns to the starting team where he lines up alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson McCoy at tighthead. While in the backrow, Eoghan Masterson is included at blindside with his brother and Academy player Sean, named among the replacements.

Scrum half Caolin Blade captains the side in the absence of Jarrad Butler through injury. Blade continues his half back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald.

There is a new look back three for Connacht with Stephen Fitzgerald named at full back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings. While Tom Daly and the versatile Kyle Godwin make up the midfield.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We are fully aware of the challenge we face away to Leinster in the RDS. They have been impressing week in week out in the Pro14 and the Champions Cup and have set the standard so far this season. We really challenged them in the corresponding fixture last season and the lesson from that game is that to beat them you need to deliver a top class performance over eighty minutes, or they will punish you. That is exactly what we are asking of our boys, a consistent performance over the eighty minutes”.

“I am delighted for Niall Murray who gets his first start in a Connacht jersey and there is no bigger challenge for him than going to the RDS to face Leinster. He has really developed his game and is an exciting prospect for the future. He has a good group of experienced heads around him so that is always a help when you’re making your first start”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Leinster (Sat 5:30pm)

(15-9): Stephen Fitzgerald, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt) (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Tom McCartney, Paddy McAllister, Conor Kenny, Joe Maksymiw, Sean Masterson, Stephen Kerins, David Horwitz, Tiernan O’Halloran

Carty starts at full back as Connacht prepare for Champions Cup clash with Gloucester

Ireland international Jack Carty is set to start at full back for Connacht in their Heineken Champions Cup clash with Gloucester on Saturday (Kick off 12:45pm). Carty is part of a back three that includes Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings.

Conor Fitzgerald and Caolin Blade also renew their half back partnership while Bundee Aki and Kyle Godwin start in midfield.

In the forwards, Captain Jarrad Butler will make his 50th appearance in a Connacht jersey. The openside is named in a backrow that includes the returning Eoin McKeon at blindside and Paul Boyle at number 8.

Having played all 80 minutes in his last three outings, lock Quinn Roux steps out so Ultan Dillane and Joe Maksymiw are named to start in the second row. 20 year old Academy player Niall Murray is included among the replacements for the first time.

In the front row Dave Heffernan comes back in at hooker with Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy at loosehead and tighthead respectively.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “This is a must win game for us if we are to advance in the Champions Cup this season. We are expecting a big crowd in the Sportsground and we know how difficult it can be to beat us especially when we are at home”.

“We have made a number of changes from last weekend with some positional changes and some fresh legs coming in. We have learned a lot from the away defeat and we have picked a side that we feel can beat Gloucester on Saturday”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Gloucester (Sat 14 Dec, 12:45pm)

(15-9): Jack Carty, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (1-8): Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Stephen Kerins, Tom Daly, Robin Copeland.

Head coach Noel McNamara has announced the Ireland Under-20 team, sponsored by PwC, to face Italy in Rieti on Friday in the third round of the Under-20 Six Nations Championship.
 
The game kicks off at 7pm local time/6pm Irish time and will be streamed live via the Irish Rugby YouTube Channel with thanks to PwC Ireland. There are two changes to the Ireland U-20 side that claimed a 24-5 win away to Scotland last time out.
 
Munster duo Jake Flannery and Jonathan Wren complete the back-three with the centre pairing of captain David Hawkshaw and Liam Turner, the man-of-the-match against Scotland, getting its third successive outing of the tournament.
 
Corinthians hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin, who is chasing his fourth try of the Championship already, features in an unchanged front row with Josh Wycherley and Thomas Clarkson, while Charlie Ryan and Niall Murray, the second Connacht player in the pack, team up again in the engine room.
 
Martin Moloney, Scott Penny and number 8 John Hodnett combine once more in the loose forwards, with back-up provided by Ronan Watters of St. Mary’s College – one of four potential debutants on the bench. Banbridge prop Callum Reid and Munster pair Billy Scannell and Ben Healy are the other players looking to win their first U-20 caps.
 
Speaking ahead of Friday night’s clash with Italy, McNamara said:
 
We’re pleased to have won our opening two games, but the players are ambitious, and they are constantly looking for improvements in their performance, both individually and collectively.
 
“Our previous meetings with Italy have been really challenging encounters, with only one score separating the sides in our past number of games. The down week allowed for the players to get some good recovery in, as well as reviewing the Scotland game and looking ahead to this weekend.
 
“We had a really positive session with the Ireland senior side last Friday at the Aviva Stadium, so the players are now looking forward to getting back into the green jersey on Friday night in Rieti.”

 
IRELAND UNDER-20 Team & Replacements (v Italy Under-20s, 2019 Under-20 Six Nations Championship, Stadio Centro d’Italia, Rieti, Friday, February 22, kick-off 7pm local time/6pm Irish time):
 
15. Jake Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
14. Angus Kernohan (Queen’s University/Ulster)
13. Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster)
12. David Hawkshaw (Clontarf/Leinster) (capt)
11. Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster)
10. Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster)
9. Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
1. Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster)
2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (Corinthians/Connacht)
3. Thomas Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster)
4. Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
5. Niall Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht)
6. Martin Moloney (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
7. Scott Penny (UCD/Leinster)
8. John Hodnett (UCC/Munster)

Replacements:

16. Billy Scannell (Young Munster/Munster) *
17. Callum Reid (Banbridge/Ulster) *
18. Michael Milne (UCD/Leinster)
19. Brian Deeny (Clontarf/Leinster)
20. Ronan Watters (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) *
21. Cormac Foley (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
22. Ben Healy (Garryowen/Munster) *
23. Rob Russell (Dublin University/Leinster)

* Denotes uncapped at Under-20 level

IRELAND UNDER-20 2019 U-20 SIX NATIONS RESULTS/FIXTURES:

Friday, February 1:

IRELAND UNDER-20s 35 ENGLAND UNDER-20s 27, Irish Independent Park, Cork

Friday, February 8:

SCOTLAND UNDER-20s 5 IRELAND UNDER-20s 24, Netherdale, Gala RFC, Galashiels

Friday, February 22:

ITALY UNDER-20s v IRELAND UNDER-20s, Stadio Centro d’Italia – Manlio Scopigno, Rieti, 7pm local time/6pm Irish time (live Irish Rugby YouTube channel)

Friday, March 8:

IRELAND UNDER-20s v FRANCE UNDER-20s, Irish Independent Park, Cork, 7.15pm (live RTÉ Two)
Click here to buy your match ticket(s) from Ticketmaster.ie

Friday, March 15:

WALES UNDER-20s v IRELAND UNDER-20s, Zip World Stadium, Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay, 7.05pm (live RTÉ Two)

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