By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht 31-14 Benetton Rugby

 

Connacht made it consecutive Guinness PRO14 wins after they defeated Benetton Rugby 31-14 at the Sportsground.

 

It was a special night for Paul Boyle, who not only lead the team out for the first time as captain but also scored a hat-trick of tries in a man of the match performance. Peter Sullivan and Alex Wootton also crossed for tries in a performance of equals parts physicality and attacking efficiency. Conor Fitzgerald also added three conversions to the scoreline.

 

Despite difficult weather conditions, it was apparent from the kick-off that the hosts intended on attacking. After the front row won three scrum penalties on the bounce, Connacht were dominant at the set-piece. They made it count when Boyle — picking from the back of a powerful scrum — powered through some would-be tacklers to open the try scoring account for the evening. Fitzgerald, showing composure in swirling wind, slotted the extras to give the home team a lead they fully merited.

 

The scrum was going well, but so was the line out and it was through that avenue that the Westerners scored their second try. A powerful rolling maul surged towards the line and winger Sullivan was the benefactor as he put the finishing touches on the well constructed forward effort. The conversion was wide from a difficult angle.

 

To their credit, the visitors reacted well to the concession of two tries and they scored one of their own when tight-head prop Filippo Alongi burrowed over from close range for the third try — which former Connacht player Ian Keatley converted — in an entertaining opening half an hour.

 

Benetton were reduced to 14 men in the aftermath of their try and the hosts took advantage of their man advantage almost straight away when Wootton showed a great turn of pace to touch down. Fitzgerald’s arching pass found Sullivan on a looping line and one winger fed another when the former academy player passed to the number 11 to touch down. The conversion fell narrowly wide, but the move was an excellent exhibition of the class of Connacht’s backs.

 

The Sportsground men closed out the half in style when Boyle intelligently exploited a virtually unmanned blindside by picking from the base of a solid scrum and stepping an attempted tackle to touch down. From a hugely difficult angle, Fitzgerald bisected the posts with the conversion and the home team went into the interval 24-7 to the good.

 

Connacht started the second half with a similar physical and ambitious mindset and they had their fifth try of the evening ten minutes after the restart. Boyle, once again showing a huge degree of physicality, burst over for this hattrick try from close range. Fitzgerald made no mistake in adding the extra points and the hosts found themselves 31-7 up.

 

After a host of changes, including centre Sean O’Brien making his debut after replacing Sammy Arnold, the Westerners pushed for more tries but Benetton’s defence held firm as the weather conditions deteriorated. And it was the Italians who had the last score when their captain Dewaldt Otto Duvenage went over for a try — which he converted from himself — from short range.

 

Connacht team: 

 

(8-1)  

8: Paul Boyle(C)

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Jarrad Butler 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Eoghan Masterson 

3: Jack Aungier 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

Replacements; Jonny Murphy for Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Aungier, Paddy McAllister, Ultan Dillane for Gavin Thornbury, Cian Prendergast for Jarrad Butler, Matt Healy for Peter Sullivan, Sean O’Brien for Sammy Arnold, Colm Reilly for Caolin Blade.

Paul Boyle will lead out Connacht as captain for the first time on Saturday after he was named as skipper for the Guinness PRO14 clash with Ospreys at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The 23 year old has enjoyed a brilliant rise through the Connacht ranks, making his debut as a Year 1 Academy player against Munster in January 2018. He was then rewarded with his first professional contract midway through the 2018/19 season and has gone on to play 44 times for the province.
 
Boyle captains the side from the number 8 position and will be flanked by Sean O’Brien and Conor Oliver at the back of the scrum.
 
The front five is unchanged from the side that defeat Zebre last Sunday, with Shane Delahunt starting at hooker alongside props Denis Buckley and Jack Aungier, and Eoghan Masterson pairing up with Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
 
At half-back Ballinasloe native Colm Reilly continues at scrum-half, while Conor Fitzgerald comes in for his second start of the season at out-half. The in-form Tom Daly remains at inside-centre with Sammy Arnold alongside him, and Peter Sullivan returns to the starting XV in a back three which features Alex Wootton on the opposite wing and John Porch at full-back.
 
Meanwhile Academy player Sean O’Brien is in line to make his professional debut. The centre has been named among the replacements and could feature for the province for the first time if called upon.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“Paul Boyle is a natural born leader and fully deserves the opportunity to lead out the squad for the first time. He’s been in tremendous form for us again this season and I’d like to congratulate him on the honour. We’ve also got Academy player Sean O’Brien potentially making his debut so it’s a big day for him too if called upon.”
 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“It was really pleasing to see us bounce back like we did in Zebre, but now the focus is on backing that up with a similar display again this week. Ospreys are a very good side who have come on a lot since last season, so it’s crucial we get a good start and build from there.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS OSPREYS RUGBY
Saturday 28th November, The Sportsground, Kick-Off 7.35pm

Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (23)
14. Peter Sullivan (4)
13. Sammy Arnold (6)
12. Tom Daly (30)
11. Alex Wootton (6)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (27)
9. Colm Reilly (3)
1. Denis Buckley (184)
2. Shane Delahunt (82)
3. Jack Aungier (6)
4. Eoghan Masterson (96)
5. Gavin Thornbury (44)
6. Sean O’Brien (58)
7. Conor Oliver (6)
8. Paul Boyle (C) (44)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (9)
17. Paddy McAllister (14)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (56)
19. Cian Prendergast (1)
20. Jarrad Butler (61)
21. Stephen Kerins (11)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) *
23. Colm de Buitlear (5)

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht defence coach Pete Wilkins says that the Westerners will need to show a high level of game management to win their Saturday 5:15 PM kick off away to the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14.

 

In Connacht’s last game, they left the Scottish capital with a bonus point 37-26 victory over Edinburgh. The win was underpinned by the Sportsground teams excellent exit strategy and efficiency in attack, with scrum-half Caolin Blade and out halves Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly expertly pulling the strings. 

 

Against a mobile and skilful Dragons pack, marshalled by their quality half-back pairing of Rhodri Williams and Sam Davies, Wilkins believes that Connacht will need to show the same qualities that saw them take all five points at Murrayfield on their trip to Rodney Parade.

 

“I thought in that Edinburgh game, it was one of the best examples of game management that this team has produced, certainly in my time here,” the former Queensland Reds coach said. 

 

“The way our 9’s(Caolin Blade) and 10’s(Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Daly) controlled the game, with their kicking from our half of the field and their kick selection — of when to go long, when to go for touch, when to go for contestable kicks in the attacking half of the pitch — I thought they managed it really effectively. 

 

“I think their 9 and 10 are really important for them,” Wilkins said of the Dragons’ game plan. 

 

“Rhodri Williams at 9 and Sam Davies at 10, I think both of them have effective kicking games, whether that’s contestable kicks or clearing kicks. It’s not often you see 9’s consistently hitting the half-way line when they’re kicking for touch from rucks or from mauls and Rhodri Williams brings that ability for them to clear their lines really effectively. 

 

“How we can pressure those kicking games will be important. Under their new coaching staff, they’ve got, there’s an organisation about them, an intent to play and if you give them front foot ball they will offload. 

 

“You’ll get show and goes from Sam Davies, you’ll get quick throws and you’ll get offloads from the forwards and little tip ons. Things that will really test our ability to be cohesive in our defence, in terms of being really well spaced and watching the ball really well to make sure that we’re applying pressure. 

 

“The kicking game, the tempo and the improvement in their organisation are the things we will be wary of going into this game,” The Englishman said. 

 

Abraham Papalii’i made his first start of the season in Edinburgh. The New Zealander number 8 made a big impact, carrying for 24 metres from five carries and beating two defenders. Wilkins is excited by the former Rugby League player’s potential and has backed him to continue improving. 

 

“He’s been a great addition to the squad,” the defence coach said. 

 

“The power and physicality — especially around the ball carries — is clear for all to see, even in those few minutes he had in the unfortunate Munster game. With that comes an ability to offload and to get others involved in the game. Certainly that’s something I think we’ll see more and more of as he gets more game time. 

 

“Defensively, very similar to his carrying, he loves to hit hard. He loves to be in the game, to be around the ball and to be contributing. That physicality and that power of the tackle technique is something that, if we can continue to work on the accuracy and consistency of that,  allied with his natural power we can get someone who is a really effective defender. The more he plays the better, from all aspects.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that seven of his Connacht teammates being called into the Irish squad for the Six Nations gives him an extra motivation to eventually follow them to international selection. 

 

Bundee Aki, Dave Heffernan, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Ultane Dillane and Finlay Bealham were all part of Andy Farrell’s squad for the recently finished Six Nations.

 

The 23-year-old has been an integral part of the Westerners squad since his debut in January 2018 and the Gorey native is confident that — provided he continues to play to a high standard — he can win a place in future Ireland squads. 

 

“If you play well enough, you’re going to be picked,” Boyle said of the path to winning Irish caps. 

 

“I know that if I play well enough here and put in outstanding performances week in and week out that I’m going to get picked. As you can see with the seven guys that we got selected for Ireland, if you’re playing well enough you’re going to get picked.

 

“I just use that as motivation to try and get better every day. It sounds simple, but I try to improve every day and improve every game and hopefully try to force my way into selection.”

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made three changes to the Connacht starting team for the visit of Benetton to the Sportsground on Saturday (Kick Off 7:35pm).
 
Darragh Leader, Peter Robb and Paul Boyle all come into the side as Connacht hope to bounce back from a defeat away to Scarlets on the opening day of the season.
 
Leader’s inclusion on the wing sees him come into a back three with Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back, while Robb will form a midfield partnership with Kyle Godwin.
 
Conor Fitzgerald and Caolin Blade will continue their half-back partnership with Kieran Marmion named among the replacements.
 
Paul Boyle at number 8 is the only change among the forwards with Captain Jarrad Butler named at openside and Eoghan Masterson at blindside. Masterson’s brother Sean is named among the replacements, with the 21 year old Academy player set for his senior debut having impressed for the Connacht Eagles in their five wins so far in the Celtic Cup.
 
The front five remains unchanged with Paddy McAllister retained after his debut against Scarlets in a front row that includes hooker Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham at tighthead. The side is completed with locks Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux.
 
Speaking ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “While we were disappointed with the result last weekend, there is huge anticipation among the squad for our first home game of the season. We have set some really ambitious targets for the season ahead, particularly around our home form. A packed Sportsground is a very difficult place for away teams to come and I expect a great atmosphere when we face Benetton on Saturday evening”.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Friend added: “We have made three changes to our starting team from last weekend. Some of those were down to one or two injuries we picked up and some are down to the depth we have in the squad. We are prepared for a long season where we will need a large squad of players to compete in the Pro14 and European competitions. This week we have named Sean Masterson among the replacements. He is an excellent young back row who has impressed already for the Connacht Eagles side. I’m confident that he is ready for that step up to Pro14 rugby this weekend”.
 
 
Connacht Matchday Squad:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Sean Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell, Stephen Fitzgerald.

Russia 14-42 Connacht
 
Two almost identical tries from winger Stephen Fitzgerald set up a comfortable win over a Russian side playing their final World Cup warm up game before departing for Japan next week.
 
Russia were competitive for large parts of the game and found themselves within one converted try of Connacht with 68 minutes on the clock.
 
When Stephen Fitzgerald latched onto a Niyi Adeolokun kick ahead to touch down it looked like Connacht would pull away and when he repeated the trick four minutes later, the result was never in doubt.
 
Connacht had the perfect start to the game when Tom Farrell’s grubber kick was picked up by his midfield partner Tom Daly who ran in under the posts. Darragh Leader added the conversion and went on to convert all of Connacht’s six tries with a one hundred per-cent kicking success off the tee.
 
By half time Connacht had added a second try when Leader scored and converted Connacht’s second try. Russia did respond on the scoreboard when their fullback and captain Vasily Artemyev broke from the Connacht 22. With just seven points between the teams at half time, it seemed that Russia may be capable of causing an upset.
 
Connacht started the second half the way the started the first when Jonny Murphy was on the end of a strong maul. Russia responded again with a try in the 55th minute but it was all one way traffic from there to the finish.
 
Fitzgerald’s brace then ended the game as a contest as Paul Boyle scored Connacht’s sixth and final try with two minutes remaining.
 
Connacht Team (Replacements in brackets)
(15-9) Darragh Leader, John Porch (Niyi Adeolokun), Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, David Horwitz (Conor Fitzgerald), Angus Lloyd (Stephen Kerins), (1-8) Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke), Jonny Murphy (Tom McCartney), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (Conor Kenny), Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (Ultan Dillane), Eoin McKeon (Eoghan Masterson), Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland (Jarrad Butler).
 

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made two changes to his starting team for the vital Guinness PRO14 clash with Cardiff Blues in a sold out Sportsground on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
 
Centre Bundee Aki replaces Peter Robb while flanker Paul Boyle comes in for Eoin McKeon as Connacht target a win that will send them through to the playoffs of the Guinness PRO14 and guarantee a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
 
Aki will form a midfield partnership with Tom Farrell who was withdrawn early as a precaution against Zebre but is fit and available to take on Connacht’s Welsh rivals. There is a familiar look to the back three with Tiernan O’Halloran named at full back while Darragh Leader and Matt Healy are selected on the wings.
 
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade will also continue their half back partnership.
 
Paul Boyle’s selection at blindside sees him come into a back row with openside Colby Fainga’a and Captain Jarrad Butler at number 8.
 
The front five is unchanged with props Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson-McCoy lining up in the front row alongside hooker Dave Heffernan. In the second row Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury continue their partnership.
 
Ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend says he knows what is at stake against conference rivals Cardiff: “The stakes are really high but our destiny remains in our own hands. If we perform on Saturday and can win the game we can secure that play-off on Saturday and ensure a Champions Cup spot, which would be brilliant.”
 
“We know what we need to do to get a result. We must make sure we are nice and direct, that we control the football when we have it, and when we don’t, we don’t give them easy yardage”, Friend added.
 
Commenting on his team selection he added: “We have made just two changes from the side that played last weekend, so we have consistency which is important going into a big game like this. We welcome Bundee Aki back into the side and as always he is rearing to go and get out there in front of the Sportsground crowd. Paul Boyle also comes back into the back row where we have the luxury of being able to rotate players due to our depth. We also have some great options off the bench”.
 
Connacht Matchday Squad:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher.

Glasgow Warriors 44
Connacht 17
 
Match Report courtesy of pro14.org
 
George Horne took less than a minute to score Glasgow Warriors’ first try as they ran out 43-17 winners over Connacht in the Guinness PRO14 on Friday night.
 
Dave Rennie’s side went on to score six tries in total as they moved back to within a point of Conference A leaders Munster.
 
Robbie Nairn and Grant Stewart also both bagged doubles in the win while the visitors did manage three scores of their own through Stephen Fitzgerald, Paul Boyle and Tom Daly.
 
Horne opened the scoring with 45 seconds on the clock after some great work by Kyle Steyn to dance through the onrushing defenders and find Horne on his inside who finished the job. Brandon Thomson added the extra two from a tight angle.
 
And with 15 minutes on the clock Thomson extended the Glasgow lead to 10 points with another accurate kick at goal.
 
Connacht got themselves into the game and on the scoresheet via a Stephen Fitzgerald try after he benefited from a bouncing ball.
 
On the half-hour mark Tim Swinson restored Glasgow’s double figure advantage when he wriggled over the whitewash from two metres out.
 
And Glasgow made it three first-half tries through Stewart after a catch and drive came down over the Connacht try line.
 
To make matters worse for tConnacht, James Cannon received ten minutes in the sin bin for bringing the maul down and Thomson nailed the conversion to make it four from four from the tee.
 
After the break Glasgow secured the bonus point after Stewart pulled off the back of a maul and charged over the line from ten metres out for his second try of the match.
 
With just over an hour played Connacht dug deep and secured their second try of the night when Boyle buried his way over. The missed conversion from Kyle Godwin meant that Connacht still trailed by more than 20 points however.
 
With the final ten minutes approaching the two sides exchanged further tries with Glasgow dotting down first through Robbie Nairn and Connacht responded almost instantly as Daly got another one back.
 
Connacht supporters will have been pleased to see Godwin land their first points from the tee but their joy was cut short when Nairn went down the other end to grab his second of the night leaving Connacht with two much to do with too little time remaining.

The Connacht squad have made the short trip to Scotland this afternoon as they get set to meet the Glasgow Warriors in another important inter-conference clash in the Guinness PRO14.
 
The game is a meeting of 2nd versus 3rd in Conference A after Glasgow and Connacht came away with wins over Cardiff and the Cheetahs respectively last weekend.
 
Ahead of the game we got the quick thoughts of prop Finlay Bealham and back row Paul Boyle about these block of fixtures and the challenge facing the squad in Scotstoun tomorrow night.
 

Andy Friend and Paul Boyle took questions from the media after Saturday’s 31-24 defeat to Munster in the Guinness PRO14.
 
The side came up just short in an entertaining game but managed to secure a losing bonus point in the final quarter.
 

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made five changes to his starting team to face the Cheetahs in the Guinness PRO14 in Bloemfontein on Saturday (kick-off 3pm Irish time).
 
Into the side comes hooker Tom McCartney, lock Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle and Robin Copeland in the back row and winger Niyi Adeolokun. Connacht are aiming to back up their bonus point win over the Southern Kings last week with a second win on their South African tour.
 
The inclusion of the experienced McCartney sees him join a front row alongside props Denis Buckley and Conor Carey. In the second row, Ultan Dillane joins Thornbury who is set to start his first game since returning from a shoulder injury that he picked up in the win over Scarlets earlier in the season.
 
In the back-row Copeland at number 8 and Boyle at blindside will line up alongside skipper Jarrad Butler.
 
Adeolokun is the only change in the backline with his inclusion on the wing. He will be part of a back three that incudes Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Jack Carty, man-of-the-match last week, continues his half-back partnership with Caolin Blade as do the midfield duo of Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell.
 
While Head Coach Andy Friend was satisfied with the bonus point win last weekend, he says they were still left with plenty of areas for improvement this week: “The win against the Kings last week was hugely important for the morale among the group and it sets us up for the challenge of taking on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The players have worked really hard in training over the two weeks. They have been hugely challenged in the intensity and physicality that we have worked on and they have responded really well. Coming over here we set ourselves the target of two wins and that firmly remains our goal.”
 
Friend is not underestimating the challenge that his side face, against the Cheetahs whose home form has been extremely competitive since joining the PRO14 last season: “We will need a step up in intensity and execution from where we were last weekend to challenge the Cheetahs. They are a competitive side who are well able to throw the ball around and open teams up and the boys are well aware of that. But we will continue to focus on our game and constantly improving ourselves and delivering a result”, Friend added.
 
#CHEvCON
 
Kick-off 3pm (Irish Time):
 
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Cian Kelleher.

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