Connacht’s European Challenge Cup campaign came to an end last night after the squad fell to a 20-10 quarter-final defeat to Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
First half tries from wing duo Byron McGuigan and Denny Solomona did the damage while fly-half AJ MacGinty contributed with ten points from the kicking tee.
It was Connacht fly-half Jack Carty who nearly grabbed the first try after a delightful intercept and sprint towards the try line but Denny Solomona reeled him in five metres short.
The Irish province – playing in their dark blue alternate strip – would win the first penalty in kickable range and Carty made no mistake from 33 metres out, putting Connacht ahead for the only time in the match.
The Connacht lead didn’t last long as McGuigan exploited the overlap from an attacking Sale scrum, darting towards the corner after a decent set of passes wide left. Against his former side, MacGinty booted over the tricky conversion.
MacGinty then set up a second Sale try as his floated pass found Solomona who walked over the try line in the opposite corner to the opening score.
Connacht continued to struggle to get back onside with every quick phase initiated by Sale scrum-half and Man of the Match Faf de Klerk. That meant MacGinty could add to his growing tally with two penalty goals from in front of the posts before the interval.
It took 27 minutes before the visitors managed to score the first points of the second half despite dominating territory and possession. That came through centre Godwin who jinked past the the final Sale defender after a powerful Connacht scrum inside the opposition 22.
Stand-in kicker Darragh Leader slotted the conversion but they would be the final points of the match as Sale held firm despite several waves of Connacht attack.

Bundee Aki has returned to the Connacht starting team for their European Challenge Cup Quarter Final against Sale Sharks on Friday night (Kick Off 7:45pm – Live BT Sports 2). This will be Aki’s first start for Connacht since featuring in all of Ireland’s games in the recent Six Nations Championship.
The Connacht side will be captained by hooker Tom McCartney, who makes his 100th appearance for the province. Carty also returns to the starting line-up, having come off the bench in the home win over Benetton last weekend. Alongside Carty will be fellow international Kieran Marmion who also featured off the bench last time out.
In the back three, Darragh Leader is named at full back with Cian Kelleher and Niyi Adeolokun on the wings. Adeolokun makes his first start since November, when he picked up an arm injury against the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Aki’s inclusion in the midfield sees him form a partnership with the versatile Kyle Godwin.
Up front, props Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy join McCartney in the front row. While in the second row Gavin Thornbury continues his return from injury alongside James Cannon.
In the back row Eoghan Masterson and James Connolly are named at blindside and openside respectively, with 22 year old Paul Boyle at number 8.
Commenting ahead of the game, Head Coach Andy Friend says he has picked a side that he feels can progress to a semi-final of the competition; “We said at the start of the season that we wanted to be in the business end of both the Challenge Cup and the Pro14. We face a tough challenge away to Sale in the Quarter Final on Friday night, but this is knock out rugby and we have picked a side to go and win the game”, Friend said.
“I am happy with how the squad has been performing over the past few weeks. We are seeing strong competition for places. There is a real intensity to our training, and we are seeing that in our performances on the pitch. We have played Sale twice this season, with both teams winning a game apiece, so I expect Friday night to be another tight affair”, he added.
(15-9) Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Cian Kelleher, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Peter McCabe, Tom McCartney (Capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, Paul Boyle.
Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald.

A place in the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup is at stake on Friday night when Connacht travel to Sale for the second time this season.
Two months after a dramatic win over Bordeaux to secure qualification to the knock-out stages, Andy Friend’s side head to England knowing they are just two wins away from an appearance in the Challenge Cup final at St. James’ Park Newcastle on Friday May 10th.
Here’s all you need to know about the clash.
When’s the game?

Kick-off at the AJ Bell Stadium is at 7.45pm this Friday 29th March.

What do I need to know about our opponents?

Sale Sharks currently sit in 6th place in the English Premiership after 8 wins and a draw from 17 games. Like Connacht they also won 5 games from 6 in the Challenge Cup pool stages. Among their standout players include South African international scrum-half Faf de Klerk, and England internationals Chris Ashton and Tom Curry.

How’s our recent record against them?

It was the home sides who reigned supreme when the two sides met during the pool stages earlier in the campaign. Sale secured a deserved 34-13 win when they met last October, before Connacht came out on top in early January with a narrow 20-18 win at The Sportsground. Hanging on to claim the win ultimately proved to be the difference between Connacht crashing out in the pool stages and moving on to the last eight.

How will they line up?

The Connacht management team will announce their squad at 12pm on Thursday when it will be named on and the Connacht Rugby social channels.

How can I watch it?

There will be live TV coverage of the game on BT Sport 2 with coverage beginning at 7pm while Galway Bay FM will have live radio commentary.

Where can I buy tickets?

If you plan on heading over, please note that tickets are on sale directly from Sale Sharks and can be bought HERE.

In less than two months time we head back across the Irish Sea for our third meeting of the season with Sale Sharks in the European Challenge Cup, with the biggest saved til last.
A semi-final place in Europe is up for grabs when the two sides meet at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday 29th March (k/o 7.45pm) and as always the Connacht faithful will be making the trip over to help us across the line.
Sale Sharks have sent us the below document with plenty of useful info for Connacht fans heading to the game. It includes info on local hotels, getting to/from the stadium, and food and drink in the area amongst others.

The EPCR have confirmed the date and kick-off time for the European Challenge Cup quarter-final between Sale Sharks and Conancht Rugby.
The game will take place at the AJ Bell Stadium in Sale on Friday March 29th with kick-off at 7.45pm, and there will be live TV coverage via the eir sport pack.
Sale will release details on how to purchase tickets for the game this coming Monday.

Scrum-half Caolin Blade is set to captain Connacht for the first time as his side take on Sale in the European Challenge Cup on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).


With Jack Carty rested after playing seven games in a row, Blade will form a half back partnership with Academy player Conor Fitzgerald who made his debut off the bench in the win over Bordeaux-Begles last weekend. Connemara man Colm De Buitléar is named on the wing in what will also be his first competitive start for his province.


The back line is also boosted by the return of centre Tom Farrell who forms a midfield partnership with Kyle Godwin. The versatile Godwin scored two tries in a Man of the Match performance on the wing in the opening round.


Tiernan O’Halloran also returns from injury to take his place at full back. He is part of a back three that includes twenty year old De Buitlear and Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing.


In the forwards, the experienced Denis Buckley returns at loosehead alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey at tighthead. Behind them will be Irish international Ultan Dillane and James Cannon.


In the back row, Paul Boyle moves to blindside while openside Colby Fainga’a and Robin Copeland at number 8 are both retained.


Two more players are in line to make their Connacht debuts off the bench. Academy prop Matthew Burke is included in the matchday 23 while summer arrival David Horwitz is also in the squad for the first time, after the out-half made an appearance for the Connacht Eagles last weekend. The bench also includes scrum-half former Sale player James Mitchell, who could make an appearance against his former club.



Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend feels he has picked the right blend of youth and experience to challenge Sale: “Sale are an impressive side and they are top of the pool after the bonus point win away to Perpignan last weekend. We have picked a strong side. We have a few new players coming in who are there on merit and then we have a few more experienced guys coming back from injury. We have picked a side that we think can win the game and that is our intention going over to Sale”, Friend said.


“With ourselves and Sale both winning in the opening round, this game will have a big say in the final standings”, he added.




Kick-off 3:00pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Kyle Godwin, Colm De Buitléar, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt), (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, James Connolly, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Eoin Griffin.



Caolin Blade signs long-term deal with Connacht

Return of Carty among five changes for Munster interpro

Return of Carty among five changes for Munster interpro

4 months ago
Jack Carty named Connacht Rugby captain for 2022-23

Jack Carty named Connacht Rugby captain for 2022-23

5 months ago
Connacht Wrap Up United Rugby Championship Season and Say Goodbye to Stalwarts With Zebre Win

Connacht Wrap Up United Rugby Championship Season and Say Goodbye to Stalwarts With Zebre Win

8 months ago