The Connacht management team have as expected named a new-look side to face Munster at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (k/o 15:00). 

There are 14 changes from the side that impressively saw off Ulster last weekend, with Andy Friend keen to give game-time to more players after a long absence due to COVID-19.

Among those starting is Sammy Arnold who makes his first Connacht appearance at outside-centre. The Irish international arrived in the summer and his debut comes against the side he joined from.

There’s also an inaugural start for powerful number 8 Abraham Papali’i. The New Zealander was signed from the Bay of Plenty and he forms a back row with Conor Oliver and Eoghan Masterson who is the only player retained from last week.

Quinn Roux captains the side having recovered from injury to take his place in the second row alongside Niall Murray, with Paddy McAllister, Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson-McCoy completing the pack.

Sunday’s half-back pairing consists of Caolin Blade and Conor Fitzgerald, while Arnold will be partnered in the centre by Tom Daly.

The experienced Tiernan O’Halloran and Matt Healy are included in the back three, while there’s also a first appearance for Colm de Buitléar since January 2019. The winger from Carraroe played four times during 2018/19 while in the Connacht Academy, but hasn’t featured since suffering a serious achilles injury in the 2019/20 pre-season.

Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“Our key objective in these two games has always been to give players some much needed game-time while putting in two positive performances which reflects the work they’ve put in as a squad these past few months. Thankfully we’ve so far managed to do that after last week’s excellent result. Now is an opportunity for a new group of players to impress so I’m looking forward to seeing them in action.”

Regarding the game itself, Friend added:

“Interpros against our neighbours Munster are always keenly contested and Sunday will be no different. They have a Guinness PRO14 semi-final to clinch but we’ll be looking to end our 2019/20 campaign on a high. We’ve also got two players making their Connacht debuts in Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i so it’ll be a special occasion for them.”

 

CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 V MUNSTER RUGBY

15:00, Sunday 30th August @ Aviva Stadium

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Colm de Buitléar
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Tom Daly
11. Matt Healy
10. Conor Fitzgerald
9. Caolin Blade
1. Paddy McAllister
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Niall Murray
5. Quinn Roux (C)
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Conor Oliver
8. Abraham Papali’i

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Conor Kenny
18. Matthew Burke
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Sean Masterson
21. Stephen Kerins
22. Peter Robb
23. Conor Dean

 

With 13 new faces to the Connacht Rugby pro squad for 2020-21 season, there are plenty players for the supporters to look forward to seeing in action in the months ahead.
 
Starting today for the next 13 days, we’ll introduce you to our newest arrivals and allow you to learn a bit about each of them.
 
First up? Irish international centre Sammy Arnold who joins from Munster Rugby!
 

How have your first few weeks been as a Connacht Rugby player?

It has been really enjoyable, I moved into my house in Barna with Conor and Alex a couple of weeks ago. It’s good to be back training again, throwing the rugby ball around and going back to normal life.

It must have been a strange first week going in and being in such a small group and not even being able to shake hands?

It was strange only meeting a handful of the lads but I ended up getting to know them very well which was one benefit. It integrated me into the group a bit slower which was nice and got to know those lads a lot more personally. We are back into a big group now and I am getting my head around the brand of rugby that Connacht wants to play.

The training has increased as the weeks have gone on, are you now at a stage where you have met all the players and all the coaches?

Training has ramped up this week so I have met all the coaches and players at this stage. We are back doing full 15 stuff on the pitch. For me, that is the most exciting thing because you can get a feel for the team. You can now throw the ball around and have a bit of fun whereas in the smaller groups there would be more gym or skills sessions.

Was it tough waiting for pre-season to start knowing you’re joining a new club but at the same time going through lock-down and everything?

The season finished very abruptly which happened to everyone who was moving club. I switched over to Connacht during the lock-down knowing that I would be playing with them in August if the games were restarting and luckily they will. It was a quick change and I said my goodbyes over Zoom and was ready to move forward.

How have you found working with the coaches and S&C teams?

In the initial stages, I had been working closely with Dave Howarth. Since getting back I have met Johnny and Barry, the S&C team are incredible. In terms of getting back on the pitch, Nigel coached me with the Irish U20’s so I would know him well. I have known Jimmy since I was young as well, so it is great being able to work with them both. There is a lot of clarity coming from the coaches on what they want from us. Pete Wilkins is driving the defence hard and it’s something I am excited to be part of it going forward.

There’s a lot of competition for places in your position so I presume you’re all eager to impress ahead of the Interpros?

There is competition no matter where you go, if you are playing the best consistently then you are going to start. It is up to myself when I get the opportunity to consistently perform and whoever is playing the best will get the starting jersey regardless. That is something that really excited me from speaking with Friendy.

If you were selected for the match against Munster how do you think you would find it?

It would be strange, especially if there are no fans in the stadium. I always like to play hard and play with my heart on my sleeve. It would be an exciting game and I would be looking forward to playing against some of the lads for sure.

What would you like to achieve with Connacht?

I am at the age now where I am not a kid anymore, I am 24 now, it’s time to kick on a bit and become a provincial starter. There is a lot of competition in the midfield, but I will aim to perform as best I can.

Have you got to experience much of Connacht and the West of Ireland since you moved?

I have been to some of the beaches like Silverstrand, the drive in from Barna to the Sportsground is amazing. It is great to witness those views on the drive into work in the morning. Maybe in the winter, it will be different, but I am looking forward to more exploring once we get a bit of time off.

Living with the two lads from Munster must be a great help to get you settled into a new club?

It makes it easier; I have played with Conor since I was 16 and he was 17, we have played together for the guts of 8 years, which has been good. I have played with Alex for four years and played with Stephen Fitzgerald since U20’s. They are all guys I know well; it makes the transition easier when you can speak to someone consistently. It is been great having people who are in the club already to rely on them for information.

Finally, it is likely going to be a while before you get to play in a packed house in the Sportsground but I am sure you will be looking forward to that time when it happens and getting to mingle with the fans?

I am massively looking forward to it. From playing at The Sportsground a few times you can tell it is a very personal stadium, the fans are very connected with the players and it is a very close community. It is something I am looking forward to experiencing it and getting to know the supporters and hopefully performing for them on the pitch which is the most important thing.

Connacht Rugby are pleased to confirm the signings of Munster duo Sammy Arnold and Conor Oliver, and Leinster pair Jack Aungier and Oisin Dowling.
 
The quartet will become Connacht Rugby players from July 1st with Arnold, Dowling and Aungier penning two-year deals.
 
Irish international Sammy Arnold has made 44 appearances for Munster since joining the province from Ulster in 2016, scoring 8 tries in the process. The 24-year-old centre has been named both Ulster Academy Player of the Year and Munster Young Player of the Year, and made his International debut against USA in the 2018 Autumn Internationals.
 
Back row Conor Oliver has featured 28 times for Munster since making his debut in February 2016 and was named Munster Academy Player of the Year the following season. The 24-year-old can play on either flanks or as a number 8, expanding the coaching team’s options heading into the new season.
 
Oliver and Arnold both featured for Ireland in the 2015 World Rugby U20 Championship, who were then coached by current Connacht Attack Coach Nigel Carolan.
 
Jack Aungier made his Leinster senior debut last November and has gone on to make 5 appearances for the side in the current Guinness PRO14 season. The prop has also impressed at underage level, featuring for the Ireland U20s and U18 Clubs squad.
 
Oisin Dowling arrives from the Leinster Rugby Academy having played 6 times for the senior squad in the past two seasons. The 6’5’’ lock has also been capped at Irish U20 level.
 
Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says all four players can make significant contributions to the squad ahead of the new season.
 
‘“In Sammy, Conor, Oisin and Jack we have secured the signings of four very talented and promising young Irish rugby players. They each have unique skillsets which will enhance our squad for next season and beyond, and will allow us to continue to grow as a program. We’re all looking forward to welcoming them to The Sportsground and integrating them into our playing squad.”

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