Munster 20

Connacht 18

 

Connacht were narrowly defeated by Munster in the United Rugby Championship tonight in a keenly fought contest at Thomond Park. 

 

Despite a converted try and two penalties from Jack Carty and a Paul Boyle touchdown, the visitors were ultimately pipped by the hosts who had two Joey Carbery penalties and conversions and tries from Chris Cloete and Diarmuid Barron to thank for their points. 

 

Connacht started the game with breakneck tempo and they had a score to show for their efforts after barely a minute of play. 

 

A well-orchestrated set-piece routine saw Mack Hansen speed through a gap and offload to Bundee Aki, who, in turn, found Conor Oliver with a pass. Munster infringed and the away team were awarded a penalty that Carty slotted with ease to open the scoring at 3-0.

 

After absorbing pressure from the hosts, the Westerners launched an attack of their own and this yielded a penalty which Carty — showing composure — slotted to make it 6-0 for the away team in what was proving to be a profitable opening ten minutes. 

 

Munster were in the ascendancy, in terms of possession and territory, but Connacht — with Aki, Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver especially prominent — were resolute in defence, be it at the breakdown, maul or in open play. 

 

The Westerners — who were reduced to 14 men temporarily when Sammy Arnold was unfortunate to slip into a high tackle — held the hosts at bay until the stroke of half time but Cloete, diving on a deflected kick through, pounced on a ball in the 22 to score the games first try. Carbery converted and Connacht went into the interval trailing by a point at 7-6. 

 

The home team began the second half in a similar manner to the way they ended the first and they capitalised on this when Carbery scored the first points of the second period with a penalty to take the score to 10-6 in favour of Munster. 

 

Connacht weren’t deterred, however, and they wrestled their way back into the game and earned a number of penalties deep in the Munster 22 with enterprising attacks. Showing quick thinking, number eight Boyle chose to take a quick tap penalty and he dove in for the Westerners’ first try of the evening and the away team took the lead at 11-10.

 

The leads swapped hands again when Carbery kicked Munster back into the lead with a penalty to set up a tense final twenty-minutes. 

 

Connacht kept in the fight, however, and they were rewarded for their doggedness when Carty — showing determination — charged down a kick from Carbery before collecting the ricochet to touch down for a try that he converted to give the away team an 18-13 lead. 

 

In what was a topsy turvy encounter, Munster were next to take the lead when Barron barged over from short range for a try that Carbery converted to take the score to 20-18 to the home team.

 

That’s the way the contest ended and the home team narrowly took the intepro, 20-18.

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Mack Hansen 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Niall Murray 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Matthew Burke.

 

Replacements: 

 

Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Greg McGrath for Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier for Finlay Bealhan, Eoghan Masterson for Ultan Dillane, Abraham Papali’i for Boyle, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Jarrad Butler for Prendergast, Tom Daly.

Matthew Burke, Paul Boyle and Ben O’Donnell have been drafted into the starting XV for Saturday’s URC meeting with the Dragons at The Sportsground (k/o 5.15pm).
 
It’s a first appearance of the season for O’Donnell, who forms an exciting back three with winger Mack Hansen and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.
 
The remaining backs are unchanged for the third straight game, with Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty at 9 and 10 respectively and Tom Daly and Tom Farrell pairing together at centre.
 
Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke comes into the front row with Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while locks Oisin Dowling and Ultan Dillane also start together for the third week in a row.
 
The side is completed by flankers Cian Prendergast and captain Jarrad Butler, with Boyle wearing the number 8 shirt.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“Last week was very pleasing not just because of the result, but the performance gave everyone the confidence that we’re heading in the right direction. We know more than anyone that we now need to replicate that level consistently. Dragons are a tough team to play against and showed that against Leinster last week, so we’ll need to be at the top of our game.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS DRAGONS RUGBY
Saturday 9th October, The Sportsground @ 17:15
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (192)
14. Ben O’Donnell (6)
13. Tom Farrell (64)
12. Tom Daly (51)
11. Mack Hansen (2)
10. Jack Carty (161)
9. Kieran Marmion (189)
1. Matthew Burke (25)
2. Dave Heffernan (146)
3. Finlay Bealham (161)
4. Oisin Dowling (9)
5. Ultan Dillane (116)
6. Cian Prendergast (12)
7. Jarrad Butler (75) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (59)

16. Shane Delahunt (102)
17. Jordan Duggan (15)
18. Jack Aungier (15)
19. Leva Fifita (1)
20. Conor Oliver (22)
21. Caolin Blade (132)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (37)
23. Sammy Arnold (18)

Caolin Blade and Paul Boyle could make their senior international debuts on Saturday after they were named in the matchday 23 for Saturday’s Summer Series clash with USA at the Aviva Stadium (k/o 7.15pm).
 
The pair are among four Connacht players on the replacements bench for the game, alongside Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham.
 
James Ryan wears the captain’s armband and will is partnered in the second row by Ryan Baird. In the backrow Caelan Doris switches to the blindside flank to accommodate Gavin Coombes at No.8 with the uncapped Nick Timoney at openside.
 
In the front row Tom O’Toole is set to make his international debut alongside Ronan Kelleher
and Dave Kilcoyne.
 
At half-back Craig Casey will make his first start for Ireland and will partner his provincial colleague Joey Carbery. Stuart McCloskey retains the inside centre berth and is joined by fellow Ulsterman debutant James Hume. Hugo Keenan starts his 13th consecutive game at fullback with Andrew Conway and the uncapped Robert Baloucoune on the wings.
 
Vodafone Summer Series 2021
Ireland team to play USA – 10th July 2021, Aviva Stadium

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 12 caps
14. Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) uncapped
13. James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) uncapped
12. Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 5 caps
11. Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 24 caps
10. Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 23 caps
9. Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 2 caps

1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 44 caps
2. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 12 caps
3. Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) uncapped
4. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 4 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 36 caps captain
6. Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 8 caps
7. Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) uncapped
8. Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 1 cap

Replacements
16. Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 5 caps
17. Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 5 caps
18. Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 15 caps
19. Fineen Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped
20. Paul Boyle (Connacht/Buccaneers) uncapped
21. Caolin Blade (Connacht/Galwegians) uncapped
22. Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
23. Will Addison (Ulster/Enniskillen) 4 caps

Andy Farrell and the coaching team have named a 37 man squad for the Vodafone Summer Series which features two Tests in July against Japan and the USA at the Aviva Stadium.
 
The match against Japan on Saturday 3rd July will kick off at 1.00pm and the fixture against the USA on Saturday 10th July will kick off at 7.15pm. Both fixtures are part of the government’s outdoor pilot sport event programme which will see limited supporters back in the Aviva Stadium.
 
James Ryan will captain the squad during the Vodafone Summer Series and there are 11 uncapped players named – Robert Baloucoune, Tom O’Toole, Nick Timoney (Ulster), Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Paul Boyle, (Connacht), Harry Byrne, Peter Dooley, Ross Molony (Leinster), Gavin Coombes, Fineen Wycherley (Munster).
 
Andy Farrell, Ireland head coach, said, “We now have two games at home to focus on which will be a good challenge for the group. Japan played the Sunwolves at the weekend and will play the Lions the week before we play at the Aviva Stadium and we know the quality of their squad from the World Cup. We will assemble as a squad on the 22nd June and begin our preparations for the two games.
 
I know the players will come in eager to make the most of this opportunity to pull on the green jersey and play in front of supporters for at the Aviva Stadium for the first time in 18 months.
 
Johnny (Sexton), Cian (Healy) and Keith (Earls) will not be involved in this window as we grow the experience of other players. It will be a great opportunity to see can this group perform at this level.”
 
Both games will be broadcast live by RTE (ROI) and Channel 4 (NI).
 
Ireland Vodafone Summer Series Squad 2021
 
Backs (17)
Will Addison (Ulster/Enniskillen) 4 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) uncapped
Caolin Blade (Connacht/Galwegians) uncapped
Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 22 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 1 cap
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 24 caps
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution) 1 cap
Tom Daly (Connacht/Lansdowne) uncapped
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 14 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 9 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 11 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 29 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 4 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 34 caps

Forwards (20)
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 3 caps
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 14 caps
Paul Boyle (Connacht/Lansdowne) uncapped
Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 4 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped
Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 18 caps
Peter Dooley (Leinster/Lansdowne) uncapped
Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD) 7 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 5 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 21 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 11 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 43 caps
Ross Molony (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 75 caps
Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) uncapped
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 35 caps
John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 23 caps
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) uncapped
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 31 caps
Fineen Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster) uncapped

Selected for British & Irish Lions Tour:
Bundee Aki, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Andrew Porter (inj)

Ireland Summer Test Fixtures:

IRELAND v Japan
Saturday 3rd July, 2021
Aviva Stadium
KO: 13.00hrs
Broadcaster: RTE & Channel 4

IRELAND v USA
Saturday 10th July, 2021
Aviva Stadium
KO: 19.15hrs
Broadcaster: RTE & Channel 4

Benetton Rugby 20

Connacht 12

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht were defeated 20-12 by Benetton Rugby in a physical GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup affair at Stadio Comunale di Monigo tonight. 

 

Despite scoring more tries than the hosts, thanks to Shane Delahunt and Paul Boyle dotting down, one of which Tom Daly converted, the Westerners couldn’t eke out the win. 

 

The hosts scored a try of their own — through centre Juan Ignacio Brex —  and the boot of Paolo Garbisi slotted five penalties to give the Italians the win, their fourth victory in succession. 

 

It was a momentous occasion for Denis Buckley, meanwhile, who made his 200th appearance for the province at the same stadium in which he made his debut in 2011.

 

With a dry track, both teams were intent to attack early on and it was Connacht who struck first blood. A powerful rolling maul surged its way towards the line and it was Delahunt who put the finishing touches on the move by diving over the line. Daly slotted the extras and the away team lead 7-0 inside the opening five minutes. 

 

To their credit, Benetton responded well and Brex — the former Argentinian age-grade centre — ran an arching line and collected a pass to run in a try. Garbisi was wide with his conversion attempt, but the home team — who knew a win would keep them in touch for a final berth — would have been content to be on the scoreboard. 

 

The game became more physical and broken after the exciting open ten minutes and it was the Italians who scored next with Garbisi — the Italian international fly half — twice kicking penalties to give the home team the lead at the break at 11-7.

 

Connacht immediately set about wrestling the momentum back in their favour and they were rewarded for their attitude when a second rolling maul bore try-scoring fruit. This time it was Boyle — who was transferred the ball by Delahunt — who touched down and the away team lead by the narrowest of margins, 12-11. 

 

It would be the Westerners last score, however, as the excellent Garbisi brought the Italian team back into the lead with a three pointer from the kicking tee and he added two more penalties late on — when Connacht were reduced to fourteen men after replacement Abraham Papali’i was sent off — to seal the win for the hosts. 

 

Connacht will entertain the Ospreys next weekend with a 6 pm kick-off on Friday evening. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: John Porch 

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Bundee Aki 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Niall Murray 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: 

 Dave Heffernan for Delahunt  Paddy McAllister for Buckley Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Oising Dowling for Murray, Abraham Papali’i for Prendergast,  Caolin Blade for Marmion, Jack Carty for Fitzgerald,  Sammy Arnold for Porch.

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Ulster 24

Connacht 26

 

Connacht began their Rainbow Cup campaign with a dramatic 26-24 win over Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

 

A brace of tries from Caolin Blade as well as tries from Paul Boyle and Peter Sullivan secured the away team both the win and the try bonus point in a gutsy attacking performance. 

 

Trailing 24-21 going into the final play of the game, the visitors turned down a shot at goal and the possibility of drawing the game. Instead, they bravely kicked to the corner and — after securing the line out — they worked a move with culminated in Sullivan diving in to win the game with the last play of the game.

 

With the ball quick and track dry, Connacht started the game with an attacking ambition and their efforts were rewarded eight minutes in. 

 

After securing clean line out ball, the visitors launched a patient, probing move. With Boyle, Eoghan Masterson and Ultan Dillane making big incisions into Ulster territory, the Westerners established field position in the 22. 

 

The ball was eventually worked to Boyle and the captain — who recognised a gap in the host’s defensive line — burst through a would be tackle to touch down for a try that Carty converted with aplomb. 

 

Ulster worked their way back into the contest thereafter, however, and — after a period of sustained pressure — Irish international Jacob Stockdale crossed for a try in the corner after a well-constructed move. The conversion went wide, though, and Connacht held onto their lead at 7-5.

 

The home team pressed for more scores, but they found the Connacht defence — with Ben O’Donnell particularly impressive — stubborn and well drilled. 

 

But the Northern province didn’t relent and their pressure did eventually tell, however, when Rob Herring, at the tail of a rolling maul, touched down for a try. John Cooney made no mistake adding the extras and Ulster found themselves in the lead at 12-7, a score they held going into the half time break. 

 

The home team began the second half in a similar manner to which they ended the first and they only had to wait four minutes to dot down their third try of the evening. Irish international Billy Burns was the benefactor of quick ball and he crossed for the score near the touchline. The conversion was wide, but Connacht found themselves 17-7 down. 

 

With the introduction of Abraham Papali’i, the Westerners wrestled back the momentum. With a huge carry from the base of a scrum, the number 8 punctured through the Ulster defence. Blade, sensing a break was on, then showed a brilliant burst of speed and step to cut through and score a try. Tom Daly — who took over kicking responsibilities after Carty was yellow-carded — slotted the extras and Connacht brought themselves back into an entertaining contest, only trailing by three points at 17-14.

 

With their tails up, Connacht were attacking with pace and power and Papali’i was especially prominent in ensuring go forward ball. Dillane — whose line out prowess and ball carrying was sublime all evening — thought he was over when he burst through the defence and almost touched down. 

 

Once again, Blade was alive to the opportunity and picked from the next phase and crossed for the try. Replacement Conor Fitzgerald converted and Westerners retook the lead at 21-17.

 

In a tit for tat contest, Ulster were the next to score when replacement scrum-half Dave Shananhan showed pace to run in a converted try and the lead swapped hands again with Ulster leading 24-21 with five minutes remaining.

 

But Connacht weren’t to be denied and they showed intelligence and bravery to win the game at the death. Firstly, a captain’s calls saw the Westerners awarded a penalty in the Ulster half for hands on the ground. 

 

Fitzgerald turned down the shot at goal and the draw and kicked the corner. The line out was accurate and the away team established themselves position in the Ulster 22. The ball was worked wide and Marmion stabbed a grubber kick in behind and Sullivan — showing acrobatic skills — touched down for the game-winning score in the last play. 

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Ben O’Donnell 

13: Sean O’Brien 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle © 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt for Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke for Duggan, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray for Gavin Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i for Boyle, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty, Peter Sullivan for Matt Healy.

Leicester Tigers 48

Connacht 32

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht bowed out of the Challenge Cup at the last 16 stage after a 48-32 defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. 

 

Despite the Westerners registering tries through Kieran Marmion, Eoghan Masterson, Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle and twelve points from the boot of Jack Carty, it was the hosts who progressed through to the quarter-final.

 

Connacht began the game looking to play with their trademark ambition and pace and they were rewarded for this approach early on when Marmion touched down. 

 

Sean O’Brien made an incisive break, cutting through Tigers’ defence, and Marmion — running an intelligent trail line — caught the centre’s offload and showed great pace to sprint in for the try close to the left touchline. 

 

To their credit, Leicester responded well to conceding a try and responded with two quickfire scores of their own. First, from a rolling maul — a regular source of tries for the English side — Charlie Clare dotted down. 

 

Then, from a turnover in their own half, the hosts broke quickly and Guy Porter ran in a try down the blindside. This time, the Tigers converted via Zack Henry and — despite Connacht being in the ascendancy in terms of possession — lead 12-5. 

 

In an open game, the Westerners scored next when Carty — showing great accuracy from the tee — confidently slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four points. 

 

Connacht continued to probe in search of scores and their pressure lead to Care — the host’s first try scorer — receiving a yellow card for a high tackle. However, despite being a man in arrears, Leicester scored another rapid brace of tries. 

 

First, Matias Moroni reacted first to a spilled high ball and showed good awareness to swoop in for the try. Then, five minutes later, Henry touched down after another counter-attacking move saw Leicester quickly break and score. 

 

A heavy spell of pressure from the visitors followed and — after four penalties in the 22 — Carty eventually rewarded their patience when he bisected the posts with a penalty that took the half-time score to 24-11 in favour of the home team. 

 

Connacht started the second half with intent and attacked with gusto right from the start. 

 

A bludgeoning carry from Tom Daly established field position deep in Leicester territory. Masterson intelligently spotted a gap at the next ruck and sprinted into the space Ro touch down for a try borne of quick thinking. Carty added the extras to bring by the visitors back within touching distance.

 

Leicester responded by opening their second-half account with a Henry penalty, but Connacht didn’t let that change the course of the momentum and they added their second try of the half not long after.

 

A typically enterprising attack saw substitute Caolin Blade throw a sumptuous, against the grain pass which Wootton — running a sharp line — collected and showed searing pace to burst through and touch down. Carty added the conversion and cut the deficit to two points at 27-25.

 

The scoring was of a tit-for-tat nature and Leicester were next to bare their teeth with another rolling maul try with Clare touching down for his second. Henry converted and the scoreline read 34:25.

 

Connacht, though, kept plugging away and captain Boyle personified this when he — like Masterson beforehand — spotted a gap in a ruck and sped in for a try that Carty converted, leaving the score at 34:32.

 

The Tigers were the next to score when Harry Wells barged over from close range. Henry converted and Leicester broke the forty-point mark and took the game away from the visitors.

 

The hosts finished off in style when Jasper Wiese smashed his way over the line off the back of a scrum to rubber-stamp the win at 48-32. 

 

Connacht team: 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Matt Healy 

13: Sean O’Brien 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle ©

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: Caolin Blade for Marmion, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Abraham Papali’i for Conor Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty

The Connacht management team have picked a fully loaded side as they go in search of a win in tomorrow’s European Challenge Cup Round of 16 clash with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road (k/o 8pm).
 
In the absence of the suspended Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle captains the side in the number 8 jersey where he’s joined by flankers Eoghan Masterson and Conor Oliver.
 
There’s a wealth of experience in the tight five, with a front row of Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Ultan Dillane partners the in-form Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue their long-standing half-back partnership, while Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien start together at centre for the third straight game.
 
Another centurion Matt Healy is named on the wing, forming a back three combo with the exciting Alex Wootton and John Porch.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We had difficult decisions to make across the park with our starting XV. It’s a testament to our squad that we’ve got a really strong bench while others will miss out entirely, and that’s what you want going into knock-out European rugby.
 
“It’s no secret that the Connacht record in Europe needs to improve, but this is a group of players that know how to break hoodoos on the road. Leicester Tigers in Welford Road is one of the great challenges in European rugby and I have full confidence in the squad to get the win and really put us in the mix for silverware at the end of the season”.

 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Saturday 3rd April, Welford Road, kick-off 8.00pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (35)
14. Alex Wootton (18)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (6)
12. Tom Daly (43)
11. Matt Healy (147)
10. Jack Carty (154)
9. Kieran Marmion (181)
1. Denis Buckley (196)
2. Dave Heffernan (139)
3. Finlay Bealham (154)
4. Ultan Dillane (109)
5. Gavin Thornbury (55)
6. Eoghan Masterson (106)
7. Conor Oliver (16)
8. Paul Boyle (54) (C)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (95)
17. Jordan Duggan (10)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (62)
19. Oisin Dowling (4)
20. Abraham Papali’i (9)
21. Caolin Blade (126)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (31)
23. Peter Sullivan (11)

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 are delighted to announce that 21 players have re-signed for the province ahead of the 2021-22 season.

In all 19 players from the existing Professional squad have renewed deals for next season while a further two players, Oran McNulty and Cian Prendergast, have been promoted from the Connacht Academy.

Today’s announcement includes four Irish internationals – Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan – while joint-leading Guinness PRO14 try scorer Alex Wootton has signed on a permanent contract having joined on loan from Munster last summer.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“I am delighted to see so many of our current crop of players sign on for another season. This is still a very challenging time for everyone in Irish Rugby so to have them commit to Connacht Rugby again says it all about the belief we have as a group to continue the progress we’re making.

17 of the 21 players were once part of the Connacht Academy, and in that group we have a mix of established Irish internationals, experienced players within the province and plenty of young players still in the early stages of their careers.

I have been very impressed by Cian Prendergast and Oran McNulty, and their first Professional contracts is the culmination of years of work from grassroots level to where they are now. Congratulations not just to them but their parents, coaches and all the other volunteers who helped them along the way.

We are continuing to shape the squad for next season, with further discussions ongoing, and supporters should expect more positive news in the weeks and months ahead.”

Connacht Rugby’s retention and recruitment remains ongoing and further announcements will be made in due course.

CONFIRMED NEW CONTRACTS FOR 2021-22

Finlay BEALHAM
Paul BOYLE
Denis BUCKLEY
Matthew BURKE
Jack CARTY
Shane DELAHUNT
Ultan DILLANE
Jordan DUGGAN
Conor FITZGERALD
Dave HEFFERNAN
Eoghan MASTERSON
Sean MASTERSON
Oran MCNULTY
Niall MURRAY
Conor OLIVER
John PORCH
Cian PRENDERGAST
Colm REILLY
Peter SULLIVAN
Gavin THORNBURY
Alex WOOTTON

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