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Rugby

Connacht get fourth captain in five games

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If Pat Lam wasn’t fully aware of the scarcity of players at his disposal before taking over as Connacht head coach, this week he’s getting a crash course in the rough and tumble of daily life at the helm of the poor relation of Irish rugby.

Low-budgets, a skimpy squad devoid of strength in depth, and a growing injury list: It was ever thus. Connacht’s perennial injury woe – it really does occur every year – seems to have arrived a little earlier this season. Just to heap more pressure on the new coach. And it’s not that Lam needs any more pressure.

Lam needs time to bed-in but his competitive win record of 25% is lamentable so early in the season and unless Connacht carves out a few victories – and pronto – his first season in charge at College Road will be written off fairly quickly.

The under-pressure coach has made eight changes in personnel to the side that were heavily defeated by Ospreys at the weekend. Some changes were enforced and others appear to be made so that players are rested ahead of the start of the Heineken Cup competition the following week.

Leaving aside that half the team has changed, the most bizarre decision taken by Lam is to name Craig Clarke as captain for the trip to Italy to face Benetton Treviso at Stadio Monigo (7.30pm Irish time) later this Friday evening.

It’s not that, Clarke, the ‘super’ summer signing from New Zealand, can’t lead; his leadership credentials were well flagged and that’s one of the reasons he was poached.

The issue is, at the start of the season, in an apparent attempt to please everyone, Lam selected not one but three captains – John Muldoon, Gavin Duffy and Michael Swift. Yet for this game, he’s named Clarke as captain. What’s that about?

Okay, Swift is injured and is not in the team, Muldoon is on the bench, but Duffy, who is named at full-back, must be wondering why, after being named one third of a captain at the start of the season, he’s being snubbed and won’t be wearing the captain’s armband for this Treviso tie. 

Clarke is an obvious choice for captain but why wasn’t he named as such at the start of the season? It may be a bold move – time will tell – but it smacks of indecision initially, and now backtracking, on Lam’s part.

Elsewhere, the backs have been re-jigged. Duffy at full-back and Eoin Griffin in the centre are the only constants from the Osprey’s game – Tiernan O’Halloran and Fionn Carr are named on the wings in place of the injured Matt Healy and Danie Poolman who moves to centre. Robbie Henshaw is on Ireland duty.

Out-half Dan Parks, dropped for last week’s game, returns for the injured Craig Ronaldson and that means young academy star Jack Carty is promoted to the bench and is line for his debut appearance. Kieran Marmion is named on the bench and makes way for Paul O’Donoghue.

Up front, props Brett Wilkinson and Nathan White move to the replacements bench and make way for Rodney Ah You and Ronan Loughney. Lock Aly Muldowney, who made quite an impression from the bench last week, replaces the injured Swift. Muldowney partners Craig Clarke who captains the side this week. George Naoupu starts at number eight.

The match is televised live on TG4.

Connacht: G Duffy; T O’Halloran, D Poolman, E Griffin, F Carr; D Parks, P O’Donohue; R Ah You, S Henry, R Loughney, A Muldowney, C Clarke, A Browne, J Heenan, G Naoupu.

Replacements: J Rael, B Wilkinson, N White, J Muldoon, M Fifita, K Marmion, J Carty, M Healy. 

Rugby

Bundee Aki to miss European play-off

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Connacht centre Bundee Aki received a three game ban which rules him out of Connacht's European Cup qualifier

Connacht centre Bundee Aki received a three match ban for misconduct this week which means he will miss Connacht’s final two league games and the European play-off game most probably against a French side.

Aki faced a Disciplinary Panel via video link after a Misconduct Complaint was made against him by the Disciplinary Officer of PRO12 Rugby.

The complaint referred to Aki’s behaviour to and remarks directed toward, referee Ian Davies, during and immediately after the Round 20 fixture between Connacht and Leinster.

Aki admitted to the charge of misconduct and the Panel gave him a sanction of a three-match suspension.

That means he will also miss Connacht’s final home fixture against Scarlets tomorrow or in the last game of the regular season against Munster in Thomond Park next week.

The player can return to play on Monday, May 22 which means he would be available to play in a final European qualifier should Connacht win the first one.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Disaster for Wegians as home loss sees Blues relegated

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Galwegians’ Anthony Ryan whose team’s defeat last Saturday saw the Blues relegated to Division 2A.

GALWEGIANS’ hugely disappointing All-Ireland League campaign came to a rather ignominious end when they were soundly beaten by their visitors Naas, who in the process secured second place with this victory and earn themselves a home semi-final in the promotion play-offs.

The Blues came into this game knowing that nothing less than a win would save them from the drop, and they were also counting on UL Bohs to do them a favour against Dolphin, so the motivational stakes could not have been higher.

Wegians started nervously and looked like a side bereft of confidence, and it was the Kildare men who dominated the opening quarter, threatening the Wegians line on several occasions. However for all their dominance, the Blues defence held sway and kept their line intact.

Wegians got a boost when an intercept by centre Rory Parata on his 10m line saw him race clear into opposition territory, and his clever kick ahead just eluded winger Alan McMahon. However Parata was impeded on his run which gave a chance for a shot on goal, and out-half Morgan Codyre made no mistake from in front of the posts to give the hosts a 3-0 lead.

With the aid of a stiff cross-breeze, the visitors kept up the pressure, and they finally managed to breech the Wegians rearguard just on the half-hour mark. It looked like Wegians would initially deal with an attacking threat, but when the ball went loose, Naas hooker Warren Larkin found himself unmarked with the line at his mercy and he dived over for the game’s opening score.

Cillian Dempsey scuffed the simple conversion to leave it at 5-3, and shortly afterwards a great hit by Parata on his opposite number Fionn Carr led to a penalty opportunity. Codyre again took full advantage to restore his side’s lead by the narrowest of margins at 6-5.

Arguably the turning point of the game came right on the stroke of half-time. With Wegians prop Martin Fox in the sin-bin, the ever-threatening Carr went on a sortee down the right flank. The ex-Connacht man easily brushed off three attempted tackles before feeding his winger Ben O’Connor who sauntered over unopposed for the simplest of scores. This time Dempsey converted to give his side a 12-6 lead at the break.

Wegians came out of the traps immediately on the restart, and when they were restored to 15 men and with the slight wind advantage at their backs, there were flickers of hope that they could regain their lead. They desperately needed the next score to keep themselves in contention, however the visitors dealt comfortably with the attacking threat and they soon took a stranglehold on the game, working their way back upfield.

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

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Rugby

Cian Kelleher debuts at full back in Connacht’s season-opener

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Cian Kelleher, seen here scoring against Montpellier in a pre-season game, will make his debut for Connacht on Saturday against Galsgow Warriors. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

New signing Cian Kelleher will make his competitive debut lining out at fullback for Connacht against Galsgow tomorrow (5.15pm). The 22-year-old is named in a back three with Niyi Adeolokun and Irish international Matt Healy.

Eoin Griffin has been handed the number 13 shirt for his return to the Sportsground after two seasons with London Irish. The 25-year-old from Galway will partner last season’s PRO12 Players’ Player Bundee Aki in midfield.

In the pack, Denis Buckley makes a welcome return to the front row after his lengthy lay off recovering from an ankle injury. Internationals Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane are also named and Nepia Fox-Matamua returns to start in the back row with Eoin McKeon and captain John Muldoon.

From the bench, Lewis Stevenson is in line to make his full Connacht debut and Kieran Marmion comes in as the replacement scrum half. 

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Pat Lam said:

“What an exciting game to kick off a new season at home where we have two teams who really like to express themselves. Games against Glasgow are always tough and uncompromising and with their impressive selection of international players, we expect that to be no different tomorrow.

“It’s a new season and a somewhat new-look side with just eight who started at Murrayfield in May lining out tomorrow. Today is the last time all 12 teams will be level on points. With five points on offer now our focus is on the process which will give us the best chance of winning.  

“Starting the championship at home is a huge boost and we’re looking forward to experiencing the magical atmosphere here at the Sportsground once again come 5:15.”

Connacht team to face Glasgow Warriors, Saturday 3rd September, the Sportsground, 5:15pm

15           Cian Kelleher
14           Niyi Adeolokun
13           Eoin Griffin
12           Bundee Aki
11           Matt Healy
10           Jack Carty
9             Caolin Blade

1              Denis Buckley
2              Tom McCartney
3              Finlay Bealham
4              Ultan Dillane
5              Danny Qualter
6              Eoin McKeon
7              Nepia Fox-Matamua
8              John Muldoon (captain)

Replacements:

16           Dave Heffernan

17           Ronan Loughney
18           JP Cooney
19           Lewis Stevenson
20           James Connolly
21           Kieran Marmion
22           Shane O’Leary

23           Peter Robb
For a full preview of the match and Connacht’s season see this week’s 24 page souvenir supplement free with the Tribune 

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