Connacht body blow as flanker Heenan to head away

Flanker Jake Heenan who will be leaving Connacht at the end of the season. The Westerners resume Guinness Pro14 action away to Cardiff tonight (Friday).
Flanker Jake Heenan who will be leaving Connacht at the end of the season. The Westerners resume Guinness Pro14 action away to Cardiff tonight (Friday).

CONNACHT have been hit by the news that flanker Jake Heenan is to end his five-year relationship with the province and will leave for pastures unknown at the end of the season.

The Branch released a statement outlining Heenan’s intent yesterday (Thursday), which was an unusual step given the 25-year-old has been named in Connacht’s starting side in their PRO14 clash away to Cardiff Blues this evening, Friday (7:35pm).

New Zealand native Heenan, who captained the Baby Blacks to a runner-up finish at the 2012 Junior World Championship, joined Connacht in 2013 and has made over 50 appearances since he arrived in the Sportsground.

He becomes the fourth player from Connacht’s starting fifteen that won the PRO12 in May 2016 to depart the set-up after Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), AJ MacGinty (Sale Sharks) and Aly Muldowney (FC Grenoble) left to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

Commenting on Heenan’s impact at the province, Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane said: “Jake has made a huge contribution to Connacht both on and off the field since he signed for us in 2013. Aside from his excellent performances on the pitch, he has also been an outstanding role model off it.”

Despite Heenan’s decision to leave the province, it has not coloured Head Coach Kieran Keane’s selection ahead of their conference game against Cardiff Blues this evening as Heenan is included in the starting line-up.

He has been named in the back row alongside flanker Eoin McKeon with captain John Muldoon taking up the No. 8 berth. Dave Heffernan starts at hooker with Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham in at loose head and tighthead respectively.

Jack Carty and Caolin Blade form the half-back pairing. Niyi Adeolokun, who scored a decisive try in his first start of the season against the Cheetahs, starts again on the wing. Matt Healy on the opposite wing and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran make up the back three.

Eoin Griffin and Tom Farrell comprise of the centre pairing and while there is no starting position for new signing Pita Ahki, he is named among the replacements.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.