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Heineken Cup bonanza for Connacht as Blues come to rescue again



Dara Bradley

 They may have been cursing them earlier this year for poaching one of the club’s best players, Mike McCarthy, but Connacht is once again indebted to neighbours Leinster for ensuring Heineken Cup rugby returns to the Sportsground this coming season.

For the third year in a row, Connacht Rugby has Leinster to thank for qualifying for Europe’s premier club rugby competition. Since the 2009/2010 season the winners of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup automatically qualify for the following season’s Heineken Cup and earns an extra place for their country.

By winning the 2011 and 2012 Heineken Cup finals, Leinster ensured the western province ate at the top table of club rugby for the past two years; and again on Friday night at the RDS in Dublin, the Blues defeated Stade Francais in the Amlin Challenge Cup final, making it a third Heineken Cup season on the trot for Connacht in 2013/2014.

Connacht CEO Tom Sears said Connacht would obviously like to qualify for the competition off their own bat, and will strive to achieve that next year, but he is delighted that Leinster has done the province a favour again.

“Hopefully we can build on our performances in the Heineken Cup from last year where we had a 50% win record,” Sears told Tribune Sport.

He confirmed that already there has been a spike in demand for season tickets, following on from Leinster’s 34-13 victory, and he said that having three home games in the Heineken Cup should be of huge benefit to Galway City, and the wider province as well as the club.

“We want to contribute to the local economy and to the city and province as a whole and we are looking forward to working with all of the stakeholders to ensure that the potential benefits of the Heineken Cup is fully realised.”

Sears said, as of yet, the combinations and permutations of who Connacht – who will once again be in the third pool of seeds – can be drawn against in next season’s group stages is “very complicated” but Connacht is guaranteed to play one of the top three French teams in Europe: Toulouse, Toulon or Clermont Auvergne.

There are six teams in each pool of seeds, and as the other three Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster and Ulster – are all top seeds, it means Connacht are guaranteed to be drawn against one of those top French sides.

“There will obviously be huge interest in any one of those teams – they will draw a big crowd like Toulouse and Biarritz did. They were special occasions.”

Pool 2 features the top four sides in the Aviva Premiership – Leicester, Saracens, Harlequins, and Northampton, the side with which new Connacht coach Pat Lam captained to the Heineken Cup in 2000 when they defeated Munster 9-8 at Twickenham in the final. The other sides in Pool 2 are Cardiff and Perpignan.

As well as the three Irish provinces, the other sides Connacht cannot face are Ospreys, Scarlets, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Montpellier, who are fellow pool 3 seeds. Pool 4 is made up of Castres, Gloucester, Exeter, Treviso, Zebre and  Racing Metro, who will have Johnny Sexton on their books next season, as well as Ronan O’Gara as a kicking coach.

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


Bundee Aki to miss European play-off



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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Disaster for Wegians as home loss sees Blues relegated



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



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)


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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