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Rugby

Connacht’s big chance

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SATURDAY’S Rabo Direct Pro12 home tie with Treviso (5pm) offers Connacht a chance to match last season’s return during the Six Nations period. Once again they are on course for three wins from four. Certainly a sign that the Westerners are making hay while other sides are disrupted. 

After the bonus point 27-19 win over an understrenght Zebre and the home win over Edinburgh a week before that, Connacht will want to complete a run of three straight wins against a Treviso side that will have some fringe Italian squad members back, but will be still short of what is required to really challenge.

For Pat Lam’s men, the wins have come at the right time and two crucial away games at the Scarlets and Dragons in Wales in late March loom large on the horizon. Win those and they could find themselves in the top half of the table after spending most of the season up to now at the very bottom.

Those are lofty aspirations, of course, but the main thing to remember is that this season could still have a dramatic twist with details of a new European rugby competition format likely to be finalised midway through March.

There is a possibility that a new format for qualification will be implemented immediately and Connacht might find themselves with something real to play for by the time they reach west Wales for that game in Llanelli.

For now at least, their scrum remains a huge weapon and was key to their win in Parma last Sunday. Even without Nathan White and Brett Wilkinson, they were able to dominate with Denis Buckley and Rodney Ah You continuing their tremendous progress this season. The glum outlook in mid January has changed into a little bit of hope in spring. 

Ulster Bank League

There are two more Ulster Bank League games to look forward to in Galway on Saturday as Corinthians and Galwegians look to maintain their impressive runs with home wins. In Division 1b, Corinthians take on struggling Dungannon and will look to build on an  impressive display in their bonus point win over Blackrock two weeks ago.

Galwegians can technically secure promotion back to Division 1b with three games to spare if they win at home to CIty of Derry and results elsewhere go their way, but they’ll probably have to wait one more weekend in that regard.

A 12 point lead with four rounds remaining makes them champions elect and their promotion chasing Ulster opponents on Saturday are likely to struggle to match the sky blues. Elsewhere, Buccaneers have a difficult test away to Shannon in Division 1b, while in Division 2b, Sligo have a must win tie away to Suttonians.

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

 

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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