A Conor Fitzgerald try which he duly converted 10 minutes from time gave Connacht a hard-earned win away to Oyonnax in the squad’s opening pre-season game of the 2019/20 season.
 
With all 30 players of the travelling party seeing at least 20 minutes of action, it was clear this was a game in which the focus was on giving players an opportunity to impress after the first month of pre-season.
 
Connacht found chances had to come by in the 1st half against a physical French outfit who are just one week out from the start of their league campaign. They led 7-0 at the break after a converted try after 23 minutes, and that could have been more after they saw two of their penalties hit the post.
 
Mass changes took place at the break with almost an entirely new team taking the field – among them Connacht Academy player Seán O’Brien and summer signing John Porch. The intensity increased almost immediately from the restart and the pressure eventually told after 45 minutes when Colby Fainga’a ran a great line inside the 22 to touch down underneath the posts.
 
Oyonnax responded well to that try and almost immediately regained the lead from a penalty, and that was then stretched to 6 points after a further shot at goal 15 minutes later.
 
However Andy Friend’s side found an extra gear when needed, as a well-worked play released Kyle Godwin out wide who showed good pace before finding Conor Fitzgerald on his inside to score their second try.
 
Fitzgerald’s resulting conversion was no gimme, but he made no mistake to give Connacht the slenderest of leads which they never relinquished.
 
1st half team:
15. Darragh Leader, 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Kyle Godwin, 12. Peter Robb, 11. Matt Healy, 10. David Horwitz, 9. Caolin Blade.
1. Matthew Burke, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 4. Joe Maksymiw, 5. Ultan Dillane, 6. Seán Masterson, 7. Paul Boyle, 8. Robin Copeland.

2nd half team:
15. Tiernan O’Halloran 14. Niyi Adeolokun / Kyle Godwin, 13. Seán O’Brien, 12. Tom Daly, 11. John Porch, 10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Angus Lloyd.
1. Denis Buckley, 2. Dave Heffernan, 3. Finlay Bealham / Rory Burke, 4. Cillian Gallagher, 5. Gavin Thornbury, 6. Eoghan Masterson, 7. Colby Fainga’a, 8. Jarrad Butler (c).
 

Caolin Blade will lead out Connacht as captain for tonight’s pre-season friendly against Oyonnax Rugby at the Stade Charles-Mathon (k/o 7.30pm Irish time).
 
The scrum-half starts the challenge game alongside half-back partner David Horwitz, with Peter Robb and Kyle Godwin paired together at centre. All-time Connacht try scorer Matt Healy is named on the wing with Niyi Adeolokun and Darragh Leader completing the back three.
 
In the pack there’s a start for Connacht Academy player Seán Masterson who is selected at blindside flanker, with Paul Boyle and Robin Copeland also in the back row. Irish international Ultan Dillane partners Joe Maksymiw in the second row, with Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney and Dominic Robertson-McCoy completing the side.
 
A squad of 30 travelled to France on Wednesday with every player expected to see game-time as preparations for the start of the season crank up a gear.
 
Connacht Rugby will have live updates of the game on our Twitter account @ConnachtRugby.
 
CONNACHT RUGBY TEAM VS OYONNAX RUGBY
(15-9): Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, Caolin Blade (c).

(1-8): Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Seán Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

(Replacements): Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Rory Burke, Cillian Gallagher, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler, Angus Lloyd, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly, Seán O’Brien, John Porch, Tiernan O’Halloran.

A squad of 30 players arrived in France yesterday afternoon ahead of Friday’s pre-season friendly against Oyonnax Rugby at the Stade Charles-Mathon (k/o 7.30pm Irish time / 8.30pm local time).
 
The game is Connacht’s first of the 2019/20 campaign as they step up preparations for the start of the Guinness PRO14 against Scarlets on September 28th, with a further friendly against Munster at The Sportsground the previous week.
 
New signings John Porch and Rory Burke are included in the travelling party, as are academy players Seán O’Brien and Seán Masterson.
 
Speaking after the squad’s arrival, Head Coach Andy Friend said:
 
“This game is our first opportunity to put into action what we’ve been working on since the start of pre-season training at the beginning of July. I’ve been very impressed with the squad in that time and I’m excited to see what the players can offer”.
 
“We have brought over a squad of 30 players and it is our intention to give every player a run-out and an opportunity to impress. Oyonnax are a good side so this is the ideal game for us as we get closer to the new season”.

 
Connacht Rugby Squad vs Oyonnax Rugby
 
Forwards (17): Finlay Bealham, Paul Boyle, Denis Buckley, Matthew Burke, Rory Burke, Jarrad Butler, Robin Copeland, Colby Fainga’a, Cillian Gallagher, Dave Heffernan, Tom McCartney, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Eoghan Masterson, Sean Masterson (acad), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury.

Backs (13): Niyi Adeolokun, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Conor Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, Darragh Leader, Angus Lloyd, Seán O’Brien (acad), Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Peter Robb.

Oyonnax 15

Connacht 43

Connacht got their European Challenge Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a bonus point win against French Top14 side Oyonnax in the 30,000 seater Stade de Geneve in Switzerland. Buoyed on by a noisy travelling support Connacht ran in five tries in an exciting, attacking performance.

Leading 22 points to 15 at the break Connacht never looked like loosing this game despite a purple patch for the French side when they pegged back a 16 point deficit to bring it back to 19 points to 15 in Connacht’s favour with 35 minutes gone. From there on it was all Connacht though as Oyonnax failed to score for the remainder of the game.

Oyonnax opened the scoring with a penalty inside two minutes from out-half Christopher Ruiz. Connacht responded immediately with Matt Healy getting over for a try after 5 minutes and Cian Kelleher doing likewise a few minutes later. Connacht continued to apply the pressure and kicked to the corner after 20 minutes. From the resulting lineout Eoin McKeon got over for Connacht’s third try.

Oyonnax responded with their best period of the game with tries from centre Ulupano Seuteni and winger Axel Muller crossing to cut the gap to 19-15 after half an hour.

After the break Andrew kicked a straight forward penalty to keep the score board ticking over and the bonus point was secured when Matt Healy got over for his second try on 53 minutes. From there on Connacht defended resolutely to make sure Oyonnax had no opportunity to get back into the game.

With two minutes Darragh Leader got over in the corner for a well worked try – Connacht’s fifth of the evening. A perfect start to Kieran Keane and Connacht’s Challenge Cup campaign.

Connacht: Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher (Rory Scholes 69), Eoin Griffin, Tom Farrell (Craig Ronaldson 58), Matt Healy, Andrew Deegan, Caolin Blade, Denis Coulson (Peter McCabe 76), Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt 65), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey 76), Ultan Dillane (Quinn Roux 65), James Cannon; Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon (James Connolly 70).

We’re back at home in the Sportsground for more European action next Saturday. Tickets are still available here.

 

With preparations well underway for Saturday night’s European Challenge Cup opener away to Top14 side Oyonnax, our medical team have issued the following squad update.

Lock:

Andrew Browne is rehabilitating from an Achilles tendon injury and is due to return in early November.

Back Row:

Naulia Dawai trained fully with the squad last week following his hamstring injury.

Jake Heenan injured his knee in the game versus Scarlets and will be out of action until December.

Sean O’Brien is recovering following shoulder surgery and will be out of action until early 2018.

Scrum-half:

James Mitchell will train fully with the squad this week following his shoulder injury.

Out-half:

Steve Crosbie sustained an ankle injury in the game versus Ulster and is awaiting the results of a scan to determine the extent of the injury.

Centre:

Peter Robb is rehabilitating from recent hip surgery and will be out of action until December.

Back Three:

Niyi Adeolokun is continuing his integration into squad training this week and is due to be available for selection next week.

Tiernan O’Halloran sustained a hip injury in the game versus Ulster and will be monitored by the medical and performance staff this week.

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On the road this Saturday night (see fixture details here), we return to the Sportsground the following weekend for a triple-header against Worcester Warriors, Munster & Cheetahs – buy tickets here.

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