By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht finished their season with a 26-19 bonus point victory over the Ospreys in The GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup at the Sportsground tonight. 

 

Tries from Shane Delahunt — who marked his 100th appearance in style — Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane, and Peter Sullivan, with Jack Carty tagging on six points from the kicking tee, sealed a deserved win for the Westerners.

 

The Ospreys, meanwhile, scored three tries of their own — via Morgan Morris, Tom Botha, and Sam Parry — in a game they needed to win to keep their Rainbow Cup hopes alive.

 

The victory also provided the ideal send-off to coaches Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy — two loyal servants to the province, both on and off the pitch — who will depart the province before the start of the season.

 

Both teams looked to feel each other out early with the opening five minutes seeing a lot of kicking. Connacht — with Ben O’Donnell and Alex Wootton especially impressive in the air — were safe under the high ball and they used this security to build their way into the game. 

 

After a searing break involving O’Donnell, who burst an initial tackle in his 22, Tom Daly and Caolin Blade, the home team went from their own 22 to the Ospreys’. From there, they won a penalty and, after kicking to the corner, a powerful maul rumbled towards the line. Delahunt then picked and dove over the line. Carty slotted the extras and the home team established a deserved lead. 

 

To their credit, the Welshmen — who needed a win to qualify for the latter stages of the competition — responded in kind. Flanker Morgan Morris dove over after picking off the back of a maul. The conversion was wide so the home team still help their lead after a high octane opening to the game.

 

Connacht dusted themselves off and, from the subsequent kick-off, they scored their second. With Carty hanging the kick in the air, O’Donnell expertly won the possession by tapping it back onto the home team’s side. 

 

After establishing field position, the Westerners went on the attack. Aki and Jordan Duggan carried powerfully, allowing Blade the room to grubber kick through to find Aki to touch down. Carty nailed a difficult conversion and the hosts stretched their lead to 14-5. 

 

With their tails up, the home team went in search for more scores and their ambitious approach yielded another score in a try sodden opening twenty minutes. A huge Cian Prendergast carry punctured through the Ospreys defence and gave Connacht front foot ball in their 22. From there, the forwards carried hard before Dillane eventually touched down from close range. Carty made no mistake once again the Westerners were 21-5 to the good. 

 

The scoring was tit for tat and Ospreys registered their second try when Botha went over from minimal distance to reduce the deficit to 21-12.

 

The Westerners wrapped up a first-half bonus point when Carty’s beautiful pass found Sullivan and the winger raced home for the try in the right corner. It was the away team who the final say of the half, though, when Sam Parry — taking advantage of the extra man after Dominic Robertson McCoy was sin-binned —  barged over from close distance for a converted try that left the half time score at 26-19.

If the first half was marked by so many tries, the second period proved to be entirely different. 

 

Defence was the name of the game and with the Ospreys needing the win, the Welsh team continued to turn the screw in search of scores. 

 

However, Connacht — with Aki particularly strong in his tackling — resisted all their attempts, both in the set-piece and in open play, held out to end their season with a win and provide the perfect going away present for coaches Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy.

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Alex Wootton 

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Bundee Aki 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Ben O’Donnell 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Eoghan Masterson 

7: Jarrad Butler 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Niall Murray 

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

Replacements: Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Matthew Burke for Duggan, Jack Aungier for Robertson McCoy, Oisin Dowling for Murray, Sean Masterson for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sammy Arnold for Daly.

Hooker Shane Delahunt will become the latest centurion after he was selected in the starting XV for Connacht’s final Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup clash with Ospreys at The Sportsground tomorrow (k/o 6.00pm)
 
Delahunt joined the Connacht Academy in the summer of 2014, and made his debut off the bench against Glasgow that September. Following a string of appearances he was handed his first Pro contract ahead of the 2016-17 season and has been a mainstay in the squad since then.
 
Delahunt starts in a new look front row with props Jordan Duggan and Dominic Robertson-McCoy, while Niall Murray and Ultan Dillane continue their second row partnership. There’s one change in the back row where Eoghan Masterson starts at number 8, with flankers Cian Prendergast and captain Jarrad Butler retained.
 
There are further changes at #9 and #10 with Caolin Blade and Jack Carty both starting, while Tom Daly and Bundee Aki continue to pair up at centre. The final change is in the back three where Ben O’Donnell comes onto the wing, with Peter Sullivan on the opposite side and Alex Wootton moving to full-back.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“I’m delighted for Shane Delahunt who becomes the latest centurion in the squad. Shane always gives us huge energy and he’s had a big increase in game-time this season which is a testament to him and how he’s performed. He’s a great character and a popular member of the dressing room too.
 
“We’d obviously prefer to be in the chasing pack for the Final but it’s still important we finish the season on a high. It’s been such a strange and long 12 months for all the players and staff, but we owe it to ourselves, the supporters and our departing players and staff that we do everything to win this one.”

 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS OSPREYS
Friday 4th June, The Sportsground, kick-off 6.00pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. Alex Wootton (21)
14. Peter Sullivan (16)
13. Bundee Aki (110)
12. Tom Daly (48)
11. Ben O’Donnell (5)
10. Jack Carty (158)
9. Caolin Blade (131)
1. Jordan Duggan (12)
2. Shane Delahunt (99)
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (67)
4. Niall Murray (17)
5. Ultan Dillane (113)
6. Cian Prendergast
7. Jarrad Butler (72) (C)
8. Eoghan Masterson (110)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (15)
17. Matthew Burke (22)
18. Jack Aungier (13)
19. Oisin Dowling (6)
20. Sean Masterson (12)
21. Kieran Marmion (186)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (36)
23. Sammy Arnold (15)

Benetton Rugby 20

Connacht 12

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht were defeated 20-12 by Benetton Rugby in a physical GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup affair at Stadio Comunale di Monigo tonight. 

 

Despite scoring more tries than the hosts, thanks to Shane Delahunt and Paul Boyle dotting down, one of which Tom Daly converted, the Westerners couldn’t eke out the win. 

 

The hosts scored a try of their own — through centre Juan Ignacio Brex —  and the boot of Paolo Garbisi slotted five penalties to give the Italians the win, their fourth victory in succession. 

 

It was a momentous occasion for Denis Buckley, meanwhile, who made his 200th appearance for the province at the same stadium in which he made his debut in 2011.

 

With a dry track, both teams were intent to attack early on and it was Connacht who struck first blood. A powerful rolling maul surged its way towards the line and it was Delahunt who put the finishing touches on the move by diving over the line. Daly slotted the extras and the away team lead 7-0 inside the opening five minutes. 

 

To their credit, Benetton responded well and Brex — the former Argentinian age-grade centre — ran an arching line and collected a pass to run in a try. Garbisi was wide with his conversion attempt, but the home team — who knew a win would keep them in touch for a final berth — would have been content to be on the scoreboard. 

 

The game became more physical and broken after the exciting open ten minutes and it was the Italians who scored next with Garbisi — the Italian international fly half — twice kicking penalties to give the home team the lead at the break at 11-7.

 

Connacht immediately set about wrestling the momentum back in their favour and they were rewarded for their attitude when a second rolling maul bore try-scoring fruit. This time it was Boyle — who was transferred the ball by Delahunt — who touched down and the away team lead by the narrowest of margins, 12-11. 

 

It would be the Westerners last score, however, as the excellent Garbisi brought the Italian team back into the lead with a three pointer from the kicking tee and he added two more penalties late on — when Connacht were reduced to fourteen men after replacement Abraham Papali’i was sent off — to seal the win for the hosts. 

 

Connacht will entertain the Ospreys next weekend with a 6 pm kick-off on Friday evening. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: John Porch 

14: Peter Sullivan 

13: Bundee Aki 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Niall Murray 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: 

 Dave Heffernan for Delahunt  Paddy McAllister for Buckley Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Oising Dowling for Murray, Abraham Papali’i for Prendergast,  Caolin Blade for Marmion, Jack Carty for Fitzgerald,  Sammy Arnold for Porch.

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht 14-15 Edinburgh.

 

An Edinburgh try in the last play of the game condemned Connacht to a 14-15 defeat at a rain-sodden Sportsground. 

 

Tries from Sean O’Brien — who marked his first start in style — and Shane Delahunt — both of which Jack Carty converted — saw the hosts establish a 14-5 half time lead, with Edinburgh’s score coming from lock Magnus Bradbury.

 

However, the Westerners were reduced to 14 men early in the second half when captain Jarrad Butler was red-carded for a high tackle and the visitors took advantage, scoring eight unanswered points — via a try, conversion and penalty from out-half Nathan Chamberlain — to seal the win with a touch down in the last play of the game.

 

It was a big night for O’Brien and Cian Prendergast, who both had positive performances in their first starts, as well as Oran McNulty, who made his professional debut as a second-half replacement.

 

With the pre-match rain subsiding, Connacht looked to attack early on and run the ball. Their efforts were rewarded when O’Brien — in his first senior start for the province — ran a powerful, cutting line to meet Kieran Marmion’s pass and power over the line after the Westerners quickly recycled the ball when Edinburgh tackled Alex Wootton close to the line. Carty made no mistake in adding the extras and the hosts had a deserved 7-0 lead.

 

Connacht were intent on adding to their early try and enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession and territory for the majority of the opening half. The Scots were resolute in defence, though, and held out before launching a rare attack and scoring. 

 

Eventually, after a series of hard carries in the 22, lock Magnus Bradbury stooped over the line to touch down for an unconverted try, which brought the score to 7-5 in favour of the hosts. 

 

The Westerners — with second-row Niall Murray particularly impressive —  reacted well to the concession of this try and closed out the half with a score of their own.

 

Turning down the opportunity to kick at goal on the brink of half time, Connacht instead kicked to the line. Their ambition paid dividends when Delahunt, at the tail of a powerful, marching maul, touched down and Carty, despite the difficult angle, accurately slotted the extras to make the half time score 14-5.

 

The second half began in a similar fashion with Connacht looking to add to their two tries. Edinburgh, however, were sturdy in defence and held firm. 

 

After a red card for Butler reduced the Westerners to 14, the Scotsmen seized the initiative in attack. 

 

Chamberlain brought the score back to 14-8 with a penalty and then, in the last play of the game — after Connacht, with replacements Jordan Duggan and Conor Kenny especially impressive in defence, had remained airtight in defence — the out half ran in a try under the posts, which he converted, to give the away team the win.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15:Alex Wootton

14:Ben O’Donnell

13: Sean O’Brien

12: Tom Daly

11: Matt Healy

10: Jack Carty

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(1-8)

  1. Denis Buckley
  2. Shane Delahunt
  3. Jack Aungier
  4. Niall Murray
  5. Gavin Thornbury
  6. Cian Prendergast
  7. Jarrad Butler (C)
  8. Eoghan Masterson

 

Replacements: Jonny Murphy f0r Delahunt, Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Conor Kenny for Aungier, Abraham Papali’i for Prendergast, Caolin Blade for Marmion, Oran McNulty for O’Donnell.

 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that 21 players have re-signed for the province ahead of the 2021-22 season.

In all 19 players from the existing Professional squad have renewed deals for next season while a further two players, Oran McNulty and Cian Prendergast, have been promoted from the Connacht Academy.

Today’s announcement includes four Irish internationals – Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan – while joint-leading Guinness PRO14 try scorer Alex Wootton has signed on a permanent contract having joined on loan from Munster last summer.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“I am delighted to see so many of our current crop of players sign on for another season. This is still a very challenging time for everyone in Irish Rugby so to have them commit to Connacht Rugby again says it all about the belief we have as a group to continue the progress we’re making.

17 of the 21 players were once part of the Connacht Academy, and in that group we have a mix of established Irish internationals, experienced players within the province and plenty of young players still in the early stages of their careers.

I have been very impressed by Cian Prendergast and Oran McNulty, and their first Professional contracts is the culmination of years of work from grassroots level to where they are now. Congratulations not just to them but their parents, coaches and all the other volunteers who helped them along the way.

We are continuing to shape the squad for next season, with further discussions ongoing, and supporters should expect more positive news in the weeks and months ahead.”

Connacht Rugby’s retention and recruitment remains ongoing and further announcements will be made in due course.

CONFIRMED NEW CONTRACTS FOR 2021-22

Finlay BEALHAM
Paul BOYLE
Denis BUCKLEY
Matthew BURKE
Jack CARTY
Shane DELAHUNT
Ultan DILLANE
Jordan DUGGAN
Conor FITZGERALD
Dave HEFFERNAN
Eoghan MASTERSON
Sean MASTERSON
Oran MCNULTY
Niall MURRAY
Conor OLIVER
John PORCH
Cian PRENDERGAST
Colm REILLY
Peter SULLIVAN
Gavin THORNBURY
Alex WOOTTON

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that the breakdown will be a key area of battle when Connacht entertain The Cardiff Blues this Saturday at 7:35 PM in the Guinness PRO14. 

 

In the reverse fixture — a 29-7 victory for the Welsh team in Newport last October — Friend believes that the Blues got the upper hand at the breakdown and this prevented the Westerners from turning their territory and possession into more tries. 

 

But the Australian is confident that Connacht have learned from the defeat and they can apply those lessons on Saturday evening. 

 

“The big word for us is being clinical, being clinical when it really matters against a side that’s a very good defensive side,” the head coach said. 

 

“I thought their defence was outstanding(in the first game between the teams), so we are going to have to play a really smart game,  as we always have to do. We have to make sure we’re not running into the blue brick wall, especially close to the ruck where they are really dominant. 

 

“They got four or five blokes who love to jackal over the ball. So, when we do carry we have to carry hard and the speed of that support has got to be really good. If we can come out of that game having lost no turnovers, it would be an amazing game. 

 

“We’re normally guilty of about six or seven turnovers at the breakdown against them. If we can come out with anything less than two I would be really happy with that and we would probably be having a win.”

 

In the Westerner’s last game, a 30-20 win away to the Dragons, Shane Delahunt played a prominent role with a hand in three of Connacht’s four tries in the bonus-point victory. 

 

Friend praised the hookers’ skillset and said that having a multifaceted player like the Offaly native, who is able to assume playmaking and creative responsibilities, is a huge boost to the team. 

 

“It’s really helpful,” the former Australian sevens coach said of the 27-year-old’s ability to play make, and facilitate attacks. 

 

“He is a really creative player and a very clever footballer. He’s probably not your traditional style hooker, although his set-piece is excellent. What he gives you around the park is the capacity to create something out of nothing. 

 

“His performance, in two of those tries in particular — the offload to Abraham(Papali’i) and then the break out of the maul and the pop to Caolin Blade — was really, really special. He’s probably one of the only blokes that can deliver that on a consistent basis.”

 

Meanwhile, winger Alex Wootton praised the positive welcome he has received as a Connacht player and said that the environment around the camp has helped him settle quickly and show his best form. 

 

The 26-year-old, who is on loan at the Sportsground from Munster, has scored eight tries in all competitions this season and finds himself second in the PRO14 top try-scorer list, a solitary try behind Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee. 

 

“Yeah, I am,” Wooton said when he was asked whether he was pleased with how his move to the province has panned out so far. 

 

“I think the biggest thing for me is obviously game time. That was the biggest thing coming here, was trying to find a spot in the team and seizing the opportunity. 

 

“But it’s been so much more than I expected, being honest. Everyone here has been so welcoming. I have fitted in relatively well and the guys are second to none. There are definitely no complaints”. 

 

The former Irish sevens player agreed with Friend’s assessment that Connacht need to be efficient in attack against Cardiff, especially given the organisation and strength of the visitors’ defence. 

 

The speedster is sure that Connacht can prize the away team’s stubborn rearguard open and says that any home win will be dependent on their ability to take the try-scoring chances that are presented to them.

 

“Defences are so good nowadays, especially in their own half,” the winger said.

 

“You get one or two opportunities, especially as a back three player, and you have to take those opportunities while you can. That’s really the way the game has gone, whichever opposition you’re playing. But these guys especially, they like to defend. 

 

“There will be a few opportunities like there is in every game, and it will depend on whether or not we take them.”

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 30-20, bonus-point win away to the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

 

Tries from Matt Healy, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, and Tom Daly accounted for the visitors’ tries, while Jack Carty added two conversions a penalty, and a dropkick to the final tally.

 

The Dragons’, meanwhile, registered three tries of their own — with Richard Hibbard claiming a hattrick — but it was the Westerners who deservedly claimed all five points with a physical performance, underpinned by efficiency in attack, particularly at the line out.

 

It was also a special night for Finlay Bealham and Carty, both of whom made their 150th appearance for the province. Oisin Dowling, meanwhile, made his debut as a second half replacement.

 

It was clear from the outset that both teams were primed to attack and the Dragons’ signalled their intent early with a Sam Davies penalty that gave them a 3-0 lead.

 

Connacht, however, dusted themselves down and began to exert their influence on the game. The line out — where the man of the match Shane Delahunt excelled — was functioning well and it was through this method that the visitors built their first score of the night.

 

After a line out, the Irish team — after great work by both Delahunt and Blade — consolidated possession deep in the hosts’ 22 with a few phases of carries. The ball was then worked to Carty whose sumptuous cross-field kick landed accurately in Healy’s hands and the winger touched down to complete a beautifully worked try.

 

Connacht were confident in the strength of their set-piece and it was through another line out that they added their second try in a profitable six-minute first-half stretch. An intricate move, no doubt forged on the training paddock, saw Delahunt feed a pass to Papali’i and the number 8 ran a powerful line that saw him bludgeon his way through would be Dragons’ tackles to touch down.

 

After that point, though, the momentum swung in the favour of the home team and they made the most of it with two tries of their own, both from rolling mauls where Hibbard — a former British and Irish Lion — touched down at the tail.

 

The Westerners had the last say of the half, however, when Carty accurately kicked. a penalty to tie the game up and see the teams go into the interval 13 points apiece.

 

Connacht began the second half in a similar fashion to which they ended the first and they made their early dominance in the second-period count on the scoreboard just over five minutes into the half.

 

Another line out provided attacking field position and Delahunt carried through the heart of the Dragons’ defence. When the hooker was tackled to the ground, he acrobatically and intelligently offloaded a pass to Blade and the scrum-half — with typical sharpness — read the intention and gathered the pass to score. Carty slotted the extras to give Connacht a 20-13 lead.

 

Dragons responded in strong fashion and they piled the pressure on the visitors’ defence. The pressure eventually told when Hibbard was once again the benefactor of a rolling maul and the hooker touched down at the base for a try which Davies converted to draw the teams level at 20-20.

 

That was as good as it got for the home team, though, as Connacht pulled away in the final 20 minutes. Replacement Kieran Marmion brought fresh impetus from the bench and the Irish international played a prominent role in the Westerners’ bonus point sealing try. The scrum-halves accurate pass found the cutting, against the grain line of Daly and the centre powered his way over the line for a brilliantly constructed try. Carty slotted the extras to take Connacht into a 27-20 lead.

 

The onus was on the Dragons to score the next try, but their efforts were denied by stout defence from the visitors. Carty then made sure of the win a sweetly struck drop kick and Connacht head home with all five match day points.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Tom Daly

12: Peter Robb

11: Matt Healy

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i

7: Conor Oliver

6: Paul Boyle (c)

5: Niall Murray

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Murray, Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Robb, Alex Wootton for Healy.

By John O’Sullivan

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to be clinical in order to return to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 away to the Dragons at 7:35 pM on Friday evening. 

 

The Westerners go into the clash at Rodney Parade looking to make amends after a 26-20 reversal at home to the Ospreys two weekends ago.

 

The hosts, meanwhile, were also defeated by the Swansea based team in their last PRO14 game and Friend says that Connacht will need to take the scoring opportunities they create against the Welshmen to seal a win.

 

“For us, it’s going to be about our execution. That’s the area we haven’t been as clinical in as we have needed to be of late. That’s something we have been working to get is to make sure that we nail those opportunities when we get them. That’s going to be paramount,” the Australian said.

 

“It’s about turning up there and when the opportunities we create — which we are creating a lot — and we get into that ‘A zone’ we have to be far more formidable. To win away from home, that’s what you have to do.”

 

Friend recently renewed his contract to stay with the western province for another two years and he said that the decision to extend his deal was easy to make, given his faith in the project at the club.

 

After joining Connacht in the summer of 2018, the former Australian sevens coach said that he is eager to build on the work of the past two and a half years at the Sportsground, especially given the encouraging support from the club and the Irish Rugby Football Union.

 

“I said at the time it was announced that it was a pretty easy decision,” the head coach said.

 

“Once we got our heads around — my wife and I — our family situation and knowing we will be spending time with them soon hopefully.  We’re very keen to see them. That’s not a Connacht issue that’s a world issue.  And also knowing that Connacht were going to give us support — that has been mooted from the IRFU — so once those two things came through, it was a pretty easy decision for us.

 

“I am at a place now where I am very comfortable. It doesn’t mean I have stopped learning, I’m learning all the time. We believe — I say we, my wife and I — we found a place here in Galway, with Connacht, that we really do enjoy and I do believe we’re building something special and I would love to see it through.”

 

Elsewhere, hooker Shane Delahunt says that the mood in the camp is positive ahead of Friday evening’s trip to Wales.

 

After a week off last weekend, the squad, he says, are re-energized and keen to return to winning ways against the Dragons and are looking to bring a consistent performance across the entire 80 minutes.

 

”The mood is good,” the Offaly native noted.

 

“The weather’s obviously not good, we could do with better weather to train in but that’s part and parcel of being here. I think the mood is good. I think the game is a must-win if we have any aspirations of going forward.

 

“Consistency has probably been our problem over the last few weeks. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s probably consistency within games as well. We’ve been really good in parts, but there have been a few minutes here and there where we knocked off and it’s affected us massively in regards to getting a result.

 

“We’re looking forward to this weekend. A week off last week, so we’re happy to get going.”

 

Delahunt, 27, said that Friend’s contract renewal is great news for the club and praised the Australian’s honest man-management style and the impact it has had on his career to date.

 

“It’s great to get some clarity, no matter what way it happened,” the former Lansdowne player said of the head coach’s contract renewal.

 

“It was obviously a no brainer for Connacht to keep him on. His man-management is second to none and he’s a bright person around the place, which is important. What he’s done for me is he’s been honest with me and that’s all I can ask from him because that’s the kind of person I am. I’m straight up and what you see is what you get and I like that in return and that’s the way he’s been with me and I think that’s helped me over the last three years.”

 

 

By John O’Sullivan

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 37-26, bonus-point win away to Edinburgh. 

 

A brace of tries from Alex Wootton, as well as a touchdown apiece from Caolin Blade, Sammy Arnold, and Shane Delahunt —  with Conor Fitzgerald(3) and Tom Daly (9) both adding points from the tee — sealed the win for Andy Friends Westerners in a performance of brilliant attacking execution.

 

Without seven of their Irish contingent, the visitors — who made several changes to their team after the loss to Cardiff Blues two weekends ago — started with intent and they scored the first points of the night when Fitzgerald confidently slotted a penalty.

 

Edinburgh responded well, however, and scored the first try of the night when Nick Groom — the Scots’ captain — sniped over from short range after his pack put significant pressure on the Connacht line. Jaco van der Walt added the extras to make the score 7-3 in favour of the hosts.

 

Fitzgerald, making his first start of the campaign, was running the Westerners backline with authority and with a massive penalty kick for touch gave the visitors a line out in the Edinburgh 22.

 

Blade, after the line-out gave Connacht possession close to the hosts line, then scored the Irish teams first try of the game when he, in a move of sheer ingenuity,  — tight to the touchline on the blindside — cleverly grubber kicked ahead, before catching his own kick to touch down.  The conversion was wide, but the score was deserved for the Westerners after a strong start.

 

One try soon became two when Fitzgerald, who was given territory by the powerful carries of the pack — with Abraham Papali’i especially prominent in the carrying stakes — stabbed a grubber kick through that Arnold caught to give Connacht their second try.

 

The Westerners were playing with a huge degree of pace and confidence and they scored their third try of a highly entertaining half when Wootton — whose intelligent trail line saw him collect an offload  — touched down after brilliant run from John Porch down the left-hand touchline.  Daly, who had moved to out-half to replace the injured Fitzgerald, slotted the conversion and Connacht found themselves 20-7 to the good.

 

There were further scores in a highly engaging half when Daly accurately kicked a penalty at goal and Mike Willemse — touching down at the tail of a rolling maul — powered over for the hosts to take the half time score to 23-14 in favour of Connacht.

 

Chasing the victory, Edinburgh started the second period in strong fashion and had their third try when Willemse — once again the benefactor of a strong rolling maul — crossed the whitewash. The conversion was wide, but at 23-19 the game was delicately poised.

 

Blade was managing the game excellently for the Westerners — with his accurate box kicks a great source of territorial gains — and he applied this influence again when his grubber kick through in the Edinburgh 22 found Wootton to touch down for his second try. Daly slotted the extras to take the score to 30-19.

 

With confidence coursing through the team, Connacht completed the win with their fifth try. A sharp and incisive line from Delahunt gave the Irishmen territory in the home teams 22. Then, after some hard carries from the pack, the hooker smashed his way over for a try that Daly, whose kicking was peerless throughout, converted.

 

Edinburgh would have the final score when Andrew Davidson powered over from close range, but it was Connacht’s night and they held out to secure a brilliant win, 26-37.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Sammy Arnold

13: Tom Farrell

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Conor Fitzgerald

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i i

7: Jarrad Butler

6: Paul Boyle

5: Gavin Thornbury

4: Eoghan Masterson

3: Jack Aungier

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Paddy McAllister for  Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Aungier, Johnny Murphy for Delahunt, Tiernan O’Halloran for Arnold, Peter Robb for Fitzgerald, Colm Reilly for Blade, Cian Prendergast for Masterson, Oliver for Papali’ii

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made four changes to his starting team to face Edinburgh in the Guinness PRO14 at Murrayfield on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
With Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane unavailable due to international duty and Gavin Thornbury picking up an injury last weekend, all four changes come in the forward pack that dominated Cardiff last time out.
 
In the front row, prop Denis Buckley and hooker Shane Delahunt are the two new faces with tighthead Finlay Bealham retained from the Cardiff game, while in the second row, Joe Maksymiw and Niall Murray both come into the starting team.
 
The back row does remain unchanged with Paul Boyle and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively and captain Jarrad Butler at number 8.
 
There are no changes in the backs which means that Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion continue their half-back partnership, while in midfield Kyle Godwin and Peter Robb will hope to make a big impact against the conference rivals.
 
The side is completed by a back three that includes Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We put in a good performance against Cardiff, but we know there are still areas for improvement and Edinburgh in Murrayfield are a different prospect this week. They have set the pace in our conference and are sitting top of the table. We know that results against them at home and away between now and the end of the season will have a huge bearing on our qualification prospects”.
 
“We have made four changes to our starting team from last weekend but there is still a familiar look to it. We have selected a team that we feel will challenge Edinburgh and we are looking forward to the challenge on Friday evening”, Friend added.
 
Connacht Matchday Squad V Edinburgh (Fri 21 Feb, 7:35pm)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, John Porch, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Paddy McAllister, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

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