Gavin Thornbury will captain Connacht for the first time in tomorrow’s BKT URC opener against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The lock will make his 64th appearance for the province in a squad that includes three debutants and a possible two more off the bench.
 
Peter Dooley, Josh Murphy and Byron Ralston have all been handed their first Connacht cap, with Shamus Hurley-Langton and David Hawkshaw also potential debutants off the bench.
 
Dooley is named in a front row with Jack Aungier and hooker Dave Heffernan, while Leva Fifita partners Thornbury in the second row. The pack is completed by flanker Conor Oliver and number 8 Paul Boyle.
 
Kieran Marmion and Conor Fitzgerald are paired together at 9 and 10, while the two Toms – Daly and Farrell – start at centre. Ralston’s first game will be on the right wing, with John Porch on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had a very positive pre-season and there’s now a huge sense of excitement among the group. There’s a genuine belief and optimism about what we can achieve in this first block of games, which all starts in Belfast tomorrow night.
 
Ulster are a quality side and our battles against them are always hard fought. We’re really looking forward going head-to-head with them in what should be a great season opener for us both.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY SQUAD VS ULSTER RUGBY
Saturday 17th September 2022, 19:35 @ Kingspan Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (206)
14. Byron Ralston *
13. Tom Farrell (79)
12. Tom Daly (61)
11. John Porch (59)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (53)
9. Kieran Marmion (209)
1. Peter Dooley *
2. Dave Heffernan (165)
3. Jack Aungier (31)
4. Gavin Thornbury (63) (C)
5. Leva Fifita (15)
6. Josh Murphy *
7. Conor Oliver (41)
8. Paul Boyle (73)

16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (6)
17. Denis Buckley (208)
18. Sam Illo (2)
19. Niall Murray (35)
20. Shamus Hurley-Langton *
21. Caolin Blade (150)
22. David Hawkshaw *
23. Oran McNulty (9)

An entirely new line-up will take to the Dubarry Park pitch for tomorrow’s pre-season friendly with Sale Sharks in Athlone (k/o 7pm).
 
After last night’s clash with Castres, a separate starting XV remained in Ireland in preparation for the game and they will line out as below.
 
There are starts for new arrivals Peter Dooley and Josh Murphy, while Jarrad Butler captains the side from the back row alongside Conor Oliver and Paul Boyle. Gavin Thornbury partners Murphy in the second row, while Dooley has Dylan Tierney-Martin and Jack Aungier for company in the front row.
 
Kieran Marmion and Conor Fitzgerald make up the 9/10 combo, while Shayne Bolton and Tom Farrell make up the centre partnership. The team is completed by a back three of wingers John Porch and Diarmuid Kilgallen, and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.
 
Among the 11 replacements there is just one change from the players that travelled to France, with Jordan Duggan coming in as replacement loose-head.
 
Tickets are on sale now HERE.
 
CONNACHT RUGBY SQUAD V SALE SHARKS
Friday 26th August @ Dubarry Park, Athlone (k/o 19:00)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Diarmuid Kilgallen
13. Tom Farrell
12. Shayne Bolton
11. John Porch
10. Conor Fitzgerald
9. Kieran Marmion
1. Peter Dooley
2. Dylan Tierney-Martin
3. Jack Aungier
4. Josh Murphy
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Jarrad Butler (c)
7. Conor Oliver
8. Paul Boyle

16. Eoin de Buitléar
17. Jordan Duggan
18. Sam Illo
19. Darragh Murray
20. Oisín McCormack
21. Colm Reilly
22. Shane Jennings
23. Josh O’Connor
24. Charlie Ward
25. Bart Vermeulen
26. Donnacha Byrne

Connacht Rugby are very pleased to announce the signing of Leinster prop Peter Dooley.
 
The 27-year old Birr native has been a mainstay in the Leinster squad since his debut in October 2014, and made his 100th appearance for the province away to Benetton last weekend.
 
Dooley has also featured on the international scene – he was called up to Ireland’s 2021 Summer Series squad and featured 18 times with the Ireland U20s.
 
The prop says he’s looking forward to staking his claim for a place in the team:
 
“It has been a time of reflection and assessing where and how I would like to progress in the coming seasons and I feel that in order to kick on, I need to be playing rugby regularly and hopefully I will get that opportunity with Connacht Rugby from next season.
 
I am still highly motivated to do well and to improve as a player and having that opportunity to challenge for selection on a more consistent basis with Andy Friend is what I need and I look forward to putting my best foot forward.
 
Playing for Leinster Rugby has been brilliant but you only get one chance to make the most of your career in sport, and this is my chance.”

 
Head Coach Andy Friend says Dooley’s arrival is another positive boost for the club:
 
“We’re really pleased that Peter has chosen to continue his career with Connacht. He has the type of profile we look for in a prop and comes with a wealth of experience as a Leinster centurion. His signing adds further depth at loosehead and will put us in a strong position heading into next season.”

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