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.

Connacht Rugby have announced that Tom Daly, Peter Robb, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Shane Delahunt and Conor Kenny have all signed contract extensions with the province.
 
The signings come as a boost to Connacht as they continue to finalise their squad ahead of the 2020/21 season. Daly, Robb and Robertson-McCoy have all signed two-year extensions to keep them at the Sportsground until the end of the 2021/22 season, while Delahunt and Kenny have signed one-year extensions with the province.
 
Tom Daly joined Connacht in December 2018 and made his debut in the interprovincial derby with Munster in January 2019. In the 12 months since he has played over 20 times for Andy Friend’s side. Daly has previously been capped for Ireland at U20 level and is also a former captain of the Ireland Rugby 7s team.
 
Centre Peter Robb featured prominently in Connacht’s Guinness PRO12 winning season when he made 12 appearances throughout that campaign. The 25 year old has recovered from a number of recent injuries and has amassed 10 appearances so far this season.
 
Dominic Robertson-McCoy is now in his fourth season with Connacht. The New Zealand born Irish-qualified tighthead has made 50 appearances in the Connacht jersey – 16 of them coming in the current campaign.
 
Shane Delahunt joined Connacht through the Academy in 2014 and made his debut for the province in September of that year. The 26 year old also featured in Connacht’s Championship winning season in 2015/16 while still an academy player. He has a total of 74 appearances for Connacht.
 
Conor Kenny is another player to have come through the Connacht Academy, playing his club rugby with Buccaneers RFC and Connacht Schools with Garbally College where he won a Senior Cup medal in 2015. He has made 5 appearances in the Connacht senior side so far this season.
 
Commenting on the latest contract extensions, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We are delighted to have Tom Daly, Peter Robb, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Shane Delahunt and Conor Kenny all signing contract extensions with Connacht. During our Champions Cup and PRO14 campaigns we have already seen the depth we need in the squad to perform on two fronts. We expect to have more announcements in the coming weeks as we are working to finalise our squad going into the 2020/21 season”.

Hooker Shane Delahunt and centre Peter Robb have both extended their contracts with Connacht ahead of the 2019/20 season.
 
Delahunt joined Connacht through the academy in 2014 and made his debut for the province in September of that year. The 25 year old also featured in Connacht’s Championship winning season in 2015/16 while still an academy player. He has a total of 62 appearances for Connacht – 19 coming this season under current Head Coach Andy Friend.
 
Peter Robb is another player who featured in that PRO12 winning season when he made twelve appearances in total. The 24 year old has recovered from two long term injuries over the past two seasons and has featured in Connacht’s last four PRO14 games.
 
Announcing the latest contract extensions, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Shane Delahunt and Peter Robb are two players who are very much part of our plans as we finalise our squad for next season. Our ambition is to be regularly competing at the highest level and bring further success to Connacht Rugby. To do this we need real depth in our squad and players putting each other under pressure for places.
 
Eoin Griffin has also announced that he will be retiring from rugby at the end of the current season. Griffin has made over 100 appearances for his native province, but his progress has been hampered by injury this season.
 
Meanwhile Craig Ronaldson, James Mitchell, James Connolly, Conan O’Donnell, Peter McCabe, Peter Claffey, James Cannon and Conor McKeon will all be leaving Connacht at the end of the current season. McKeon has been affected by injury and will be retiring from the game.
 
Commenting on the departures, Head Coach Andy Friend said: “Eoin Griffin has been a fantastic servant of Connacht Rugby with over 100 appearances for his home province and we wish him the very best as he announces his retirement. The nature of professional rugby is that a player’s longevity at a club is finite. To all of those men who are leaving Connacht this season, a sincere thank you for all that you’ve given to the jersey. We wish you every success for the future.

Check out some of the highlights below from last Saturday’s battling interpro win over Ulster in front of a sold out Sportsground.
 

MATCH REPORT WITH THANKS TO THE GUINNESS PRO14
 
Caolin Blade’s second-half try helped Connacht continue their impressive recent form with a hard-fought 21-12 Guinness PRO14 victory over Ulster at the Sportsground.
 
Connacht have now won six of their last seven games in all competitions – and bounced back in style from a heart-breaking last-gasp 33-29 defeat to Leinster a week ago – as scrum-half Blade added to first-half tries from Shane Delahunt and Bundee Aki.
 
Angus Kernohan had narrowed the visitors’ deficit to 14-7 at the break while Jordi Murphy was also mauled over the line in the final quarter, but defeat extends Ulster’s three-year winless streak in away games against fellow Irish provinces that begun on St Stephen’s Day 2015.
 
Victory is the third in a row for Connacht over Ulster – the first time since the 1950s that has happened – and means they jump up to second in Conference A, temporarily at least, behind only Glasgow Warriors.
 
After a cagey opening, Connacht took advantage of the promising attacking platform provided by turning over an Ulster maul in their own 22 as a number of phases ended with Delahunt burrowing over from close range.
 
The hosts had brought hooker Delahunt and tighthead Conor Carey into the starting line-up from the narrow Leinster defeat a week ago and the new-look front row impressed in the scrum.
 
That dominance in the tight yielded dividends on 20 minutes as Blade fed Aki off the back of a controlled five-metre scrum and the bruising centre powered his way through weak Ulster tackling to stretch out and dot down.
 
At 14-0 down, Ulster finally began to build a foundation and took advantage of a spell in the Connacht 22 when Johnny McPhillips’ 33rd-minute cross-field kick into the in-goal area went through Cian Kelleher’s hands, bounced off his head and Kernohan was able to touch down the loose ball.
 
John Cooney curled his touchline conversion attempt between the posts to narrow the deficit to seven but the hosts restored their two-try advantage almost straight after the break when Kyle Godwin’s dink over the top was collected by Jack Carty and he passed inside to Blade to run in the score.
 
Carty – who was so impressive in a man-of-the-match display against Leinster – missed the opportunity to extend the lead to three scores when his penalty from halfway drifted wide of the left upright but his astute kicking out of hand kept Connacht in the ascendancy as the half progressed.
 
However, persistent infringing in their own 22 saw Connacht reduced to 14 men – Ultan Dillane the man eventually sin-binned just a minute after coming on for taking out the lifter in the lineout – and Ulster took immediate advantage as they drove a maul over in the corner, with Murphy at the bottom of the pile.
 
Cooney couldn’t add a second touchline conversion but his side stayed in the contest with some desperate defence on their own try-line with six minutes remaining, eventually forcing a knock-on from the home side.
 
However, they couldn’t find a score of their own – and Connacht’s attempts to secure a four-try bonus point also failed – as they game ended 21-12 in favour of the hosts.

Lock Quinn Roux and flanker Sean O’Brien have returned to the Connacht starting team for the interprovincial clash at home to Ulster in the Sportsground on Friday (Kick off 7:35pm).
 
They are among four changes to the side which lost narrowly to Leinster in the RDS last weekend with hooker Shane Delahunt and tight head Conor Carey also named in the starting XV.
 
Carey and Delahunt come into a front row that also includes loosehead Denis Buckley while Roux partners Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
 
In the back-row O’Brien comes in at blindside with Captain Jarrad Butler reverting to the number 8 jersey.
 
Man of the Match in the Leinster game Jack Carty, continues his half back pairing with Caolin Blade. In the back three, Darragh Leader starts again at full back with Kyle Godwin, who was a late replacement for the Leinster game and Cian Kelleher retained on the wings.
 
Stephen Fitzgerald who joined Connacht on loan move this week, takes his place among the replacements.
 
Speaking ahead of the game, Head Coach Andy Friend says his side are fully aware of the challenge that an in form Ulster side will present “These interpro fixtures are massive occasions and when they take place over the Christmas period, they bring that increased level of excitement. We know there will be a big home crowd in the Sporstground and we will need to be up for the occasion with Ulster coming to town. This block of fixtures is hugely important in the context of our season, but we are not looking beyond Ulster on Friday evening.”
 
Commenting on his team selection he added: “Quinn Roux and Sean O’Brien are fit and ready to go and they come back into the side. They have been two of our top performers this season, so they will give us increased options. In the front row we also have Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey coming in. These are two other players who have been going really well over the past few weeks. We have some real depth in these positions so it is great for us as coaches to have these options and to bring in fresh legs and know that they are ready to go. Ulster are coming off the back of a great win over Munster and I’m sure they will come to the Sportsground full of confidence.”
 
#CONvULS
 
Kick-off 7:35pm:
 
(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
 
Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Stephen Fitzgerald.

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has named two Academy players on the bench for his side’s opening Challenge Cup game of the season against Bordeaux Bégles at the Sportsground on Saturday (kick off 3pm).

 

Out half Conor Fitzgerald and Connemara man Colm de Buitlear, who has featured across the back three, are named among the Connacht replacements.

 

In the starting XV the front row of props Peter McCabe and Conor Carey along with hooker Shane Delahunt are all set for their first starts of the season. In the second row there is one change from the side that defeated Ulster last weekend, with James Cannon starting alongside Quinn Roux. Captain Jarrad Butler at blindside, Colby Fainga’a at openside and number 8 Robin Copeland complete the pack.

 

Caolin Blade comes back in at scrum-half for the injured Kieran Marmion where he partners Jack Carty, who has been in outstanding form this season. Elsewhere in the back line the experienced Eoin Griffin joins Bundee Aki in midfield. Kyle Godwin is named on the wing with Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing, and Cian Kelleher at full-back making up the back three.

 

On the bench lock Joe Maksymiw looks set to make his Connacht debut while there is also plenty of experience to draw on with Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham also included in the match day 23.

 

Speaking ahead of the first European fixture of the season, Head Coach Andy Friend says he went for a blend of youth and experience in his selection; “We are really looking forward to our opening game of our Challenge Cup campaign. This is a competition that Connacht have a proud tradition in and we hope to make a big impact in this season. We are coming off six tough PRO14 games, so it is only natural that there is some rotation of the squad, but we are have a good blend of youth and experience among the squad. We have included Conor Fitzgerald and Colm De Buitléar, two promising Academy players, among our replacements. We hope that they will get a chance to make their debuts at some stage during the eighty minutes. It is a big opportunity to be involved in a European fixture especially in front of the home fans in the Sportsground. We also have plenty of experience on that bench to call on if needed,” Friend said.

 

“It has been a big week for the club with the announcement of our stadium plans all coming off a good win against Ulster last weekend. We know that Bordeaux will come with a big physical side and we are expecting a massive challenge. But it will be a big occasion in the Sportsground. Our fans have been huge for us this season and they will be on a high again tomorrow I’m sure”, Friend added.

 

#CONvBOR

 

Kick-off 3:00pm:

(15-9) Cian Kelleher, Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Peter McCabe, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Quinn Roux, Jarrad Butler (c), Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Conán O’Donnell, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Connolly, Conor McKeon, Conor Fitzgerald, Colm De Buitléar.

 

 

 

Match Preview from pro14rugby.org

Another crucial Conference A clash. This time we face Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi for the first time this season. We currently sit fifth with Zebre sixth in Conference A.

 

TV: TG4 from 1.10pm.
Twitter: Follow our live commentary from Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Twitter at #ZEBvCON
Match centre:
Follow in game stats through our match centre.

 

What’s at stake? Zebre’s comeback victory over Ulster in Round Five was the highlight in an otherwise tricky season, losing their last four league matches.

But a victory would trim the gap to Connacht who are six points ahead of the Italians in the standings.

Similarly, Connacht’s season has been marred by inconsistency but they have won two of their last three matches including impressive victories over Munster and the Toyota Cheetahs.

A win for Connacht could see them leapfrog Cardiff Blues in the table and trim the gap to third-placed Cheetahs

 

Team news (Zebre): The return of nine internationals to the Zebre squad should give them the boost they need to take on the Irish province.

There is also good news on the injury front with David Sisi and George Biagi return to the squad. Baigi will captain the side against Connacht.

 

Team news (Connacht): Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has included new signing Pita Ahki among his starting XV for the first time.

Keane has also going for a new half back pairing with Steve Crosbie lining up alongside Kieran Marmion at scrum half following his return from international duty. In the pack Shane Delahunt, who scored two tries against Cardiff, starts at hooker where he is flanked by Denis Buckley at loosehead and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.

 

Talking points: Head coach Kieran Keane said: “While we were disappointed not to beat Cardiff last week, I was proud of the boys and the way they battled to take two points from the game. In this competition it is really important to do well against teams in our conference.”
“We will face a big challenge against Zebre on Saturday. They have made it difficult against a lot of teams so far this season particularly when they are at home. We will need to be at our best to beat them.”

 

Key Battle: Giulio Bisegni v Tom Farrell

Giulio Bisegni has been a rock for the Zebre side so far this season and was impressive again in the defeat to Munster.

The centre dotted down in the 35th minute but couldn’t prevent a 36-19 defeat. However with internationals returning around him, Bisegni could be a key cog in the Zebre machine.

Tom Farrell has enjoyed a consistent run in the Connacht line up and has been impressive throughout the season.
The 24-year-old has more offloads than anyone else in the league and has also made 329 metres so far in this campaign.
Did you know? Zebre secured one of only three wins last season when they beat Connacht 25-22 the last time the Irish province travelled to Parma.

 

Key Stat: No player has more offloads in the Guinness PRO14 so far this season than Thomas Farrell (23).

 

Zebre: Matteo Minozzi, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, Giovanb, attista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi, Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani, Dario Chistolini, Leonard Krumov, George Biagi, Maxime Mbandà, Johan Meyer, Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Cruze Ah-Nau, Eduardo Bello, David Sisi, Jacopo Sarto, Guglielmo Palazzani, Serafin Bordoli, Ciaran Gaffney

 

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Steve Crosbie, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, John Muldoon
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Cillian Gallagher, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.

 

Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
AR1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU) AR2: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR) TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)

 

We return to European action next weekend away to Brive followed by a return leg at home in the Sportsground.

 

 

 

 

 

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