Connacht 10-16 Munster

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Despite almost completing a sensational late turnaround, Connacht fell to a narrow, 10-16, defeat to Munster at the Sportsground in a keenly-contested Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash.

 

A Peter Sullivan try and a penalty and a conversion from Jack Carty accounted for the hosts’ points after a strong team performance, in both attack and defence.

 

But Munster — who registered their sixteen points via a Chris Farrell try and eleven points from the boot of J.J. Hanrahan — held on and sealed their victory after weathering a late Connacht storm in their 22 while being down to 13 men.

 

 

The visitors, who started the game one place ahead of the Westerners in Conference A of the PRO14, started well and they had their first points when Hanrahan made no mistake in slotting a penalty from just outside the hosts 22. The home team, meanwhile, played with 14 men in the opening period after Shane Delahunt was yellow carded.

 

Connacht reacted well to the concession of the first score and went in search of scores of their own. Munster, though, were solid in defence — especially at the breakdown, where Tadgh Beirne was prominent — and weathered the home teams’ early attacks.

 

At the other end, the Southerners took advantage of their opportunities and they scored the first try of the evening when Farrell crashed over from close range after a line out gave Munster territory in Connacht’s 22. Hanrahan made no mistakes from the tee and the hosts found themselves 10-0 down.

 

An extremely physical encounter was mostly played between both teams’ 22’s and Connacht were giving as good as they got on and off the ball, with Sean Masterson, Tom Daly, and Sean O’Brien all making big hits and denting carries.

 

The home team’s scrum was functioning well and it was via that avenue that Connacht registered their first points of the night. A strong collective push from the pack yielded a scrum penalty and Carty — in the last action of the half — was composed from the kicking tee and the Westerners went into the break trailing 3-10.

 

Munster started the second period in a strong fashion and they stretched their lead even further when Hanrahan successfully kicked his second penalty of the evening.

 

The Connacht scrum — where Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, and Shane Delahunt were impressive — was a source of penalties for the home team. But Munster’s well-orchestrated defence kept the hosts’ attack at bay with the Westerners pushing hard for a try of their own.

 

Against the run of territory and possession, Munster stretched their lead further when Hanrahan continued his 100% kicking rate for the evening with another successfully struck penalty.

 

With 20 minutes remaining, the hosts kept their intensity high and continued to probe. Enjoying the lion’s share of territory and possession, the pressure eventually told.

 

Munster were reduced to 14 men when Rory Scannell was yellow carded with Connacht — with Sammy Arnold and Tom Daly regular and effective ball carriers —  upping the ante. With a man advantage, the hosts spun the ball wide in the visitors 22, and John Porch’s pass fed Sullivan to dive in. Carty, despite the difficulty of the angle of the conversion, slotted the extras to set up a tense finale.

 

The visitors’ task was made even harder when substitute Nick McCarthy was yellow-carded, but Munster withstood Connacht’s late pressure and forced a knock-on to end the game.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Ben O’Donnell

13: Sammy Arnold

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Sean Masterson

7: Conor Oliver

6: Sean O’Brien

5: Quinn Roux(C)

4: Ultan Dillane.

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Matthew Burke for Buckley, Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sullivan for O’Donnell.

 

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.

Irish International Bundee Aki will make his 100th appearance for Connacht on Sunday after he was named to start in the Guinness PRO14 clash with Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (k/o 4.30pm).
 
Aki joined Connacht in 2014 and has gone on to play a central role in the province’s fortunes since then. He was named Guinness PRO12 Player of the Season in 2015/16, the same year he helped the team to their first ever title.
 
His form was rewarded with a first call-up to the Ireland squad in the 2017 Autumn Internationals. He has been an ever-present member of the squad since then, making 26 appearances and starting every game in the Grand Slam victory of 2018.
 
Elsewhere at least two players will make their Connacht Rugby debuts on Sunday with Alex Wootton and Academy graduate Peter Sullivan both named on the wings. They form a back three with John Porch who slots in at full-back.
 
Tom Farrell will partner Aki in the centre with Irish international Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty forming a formidable half-back partnership.
 
In the forwards there’s a return to action for prop Finlay Bealham after sustaining a serious injury against Edinburgh in February, and he makes up an experienced front-row with Denis Buckley and hooker Dave Heffernan.
 
Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury have been named in the second row, and the starting XV is completed by flankers Eoghan Masterson and captain Jarrad Butler, with Paul Boyle named at number 8.
 
Three more players could make their Connacht debuts off the bench, with props Jordan Duggan and Jack Aungier, and back row Conor Oliver all included.
 
The remainder of the replacements is made up of Jonny Murphy, Niall Murray, Stephen Kerins, Conor Dean and Tom Daly.
 
Connacht Rugby Head Coach Andy Friend says there’s huge excitement about returning to action:
 
“It has been almost 6 months since our last game and 2 months since we commenced pre-season training, so we are delighted our return has finally arrived. I have been really impressed with how the squad as a group have reacted to the uncertainty of the last few months, and it’s now our opportunity to show that hard work against an opposing team.”
 
Commenting on his team selection, Friend added:
 
“We have selected a squad of 23 that we believe can win this fixture. We have a neat blend of experience & youth, with the potential of five new debutants for Connacht, along with Bundee making his 100th appearance. It’s therefore a special occasion in many ways, and we intend to put out a performance that warrants that.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
16:30, Sunday 23rd August @ Aviva Stadium

15. John Porch
14. Peter Sullivan
13. Tom Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Alex Wootton
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion
1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Jarrad Butler (c)
8. Paul Boyle

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Jordan Duggan
18. Jack Aungier
19. Niall Murray
20. Conor Oliver
21. Stephen Kerins
22. Conor Dean
23. Tom Daly

Every day we’re shining a light on one of our newest arrivals over the summer, and help you get to know each of them before we return to the field later in the month.

Today we speak to Peter Sullivan, who joined the Academy last year after some stand-out performances in the Energia All-Ireland league.

How have your first few weeks been back at The Sportsground, what has it been like?

It was great to be back, being in small groups at the start was strange, but we are back now fully and it is great to see everyone and get some ball work in. It has been good catching up with the lads after not seeing them in so long.

You are at the stage of Pre-Season where the hard work around S&C is done and dusted and because you are back as a full squad you can now get some clarity on the pitch?

There is a huge focus on our matches coming up in the next couple of weeks, the bulk of the conditioning was done on the first two weeks and then it progressed to rugby conditioning. We have been working with the ball now for the last few weeks and it has been very much rugby focused. The first week was gym and running with no sign of a ball but it is great to be back now as normal.

You joined the academy last season, you were a year in the Academy before singing your first PRO contract. Tell me about what that year was like?

All the Academy staff are brilliant to work with, Mossy and Cully are unbelievable coaches and they work on your game to get you ready for PRO level. They really focus on the details and they are driven to make every player in the Academy better. I cannot thank the Academy staff enough for getting me into this position.

You trained a bit with the Seniors last year, this must have made it easier for you to transition?

I worked with both sets of coaches last year, I got to learn from Andy, Mossy, Nigel and Pete, I was getting as much information as I could and tried to prove myself as much as I could while I had the chance.

In terms of your goals for the next couple of weeks and heading into the Interpros, I am sure you will be looking to play a part in that?

I am hoping to get a starting jersey for the next couple of games and get the head down. There is a lot of quality in the back three this year, that competition is great as it pushes you as a player and as a team to be better. I will put my best foot forward and try my best.

Once the seasons starts in October, there will naturally be more injuries and some international games. Will you be looking at this as an opportunity to claim your spot?

Training is where you prove yourself as being a consistently good player, you would hope to get those opportunities before those games come around and try get as many matches as possible.

You are from Wicklow originally, have you got to experience much of Connacht since you moved here last year?

I really love living on this side of the country, I would holiday in Connemara with my family when I was younger. Not only is the place brilliant but the people are fantastic aswell. You can get a sense of community spirit when you walk around the town. You can see how much Connacht Rugby means to the community.

Whenever we do get supporters in the Sportsground I am sure you would like to be playing in front of your home supporters whenever that may happen?

Hopefully that is not too long away, the atmosphere in the Sportsground is incredible. You can sense how much it means to everyone and you can tell that it drives the team on and it is a big motivation for the team to impress the crowd and the supporters.

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.”

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