Connacht set for victory over Newcastle despite 12 changes to team

Connacht set for victory over Newcastle despite 12 changes to team

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European rugby is back this weekend at the Sportsgrounds. Admittedly it is not the competition both players and fans wanted to be in, but it is European rugby, nonetheless. Connacht host the Newcastle Falcons on Saturday evening and trying to predict this result is incredibly difficult for a few reasons.


The starting team named this week is completely different from last week bar Diarmuid Kilgallen, Niall Murray and Paul Boyle.

That is a big call by Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins ahead of a big European game.

A lot of the calls were obviously taken out of their hands by player welfare with the international players but still, to name this team is brave. It shows a lot of belief in the squad they have built and the youth that has come up through the ranks.


It shows the kind of squad they have built when you can see how many big names are missing and yet I still see a very competent team named. Some Connacht fans won’t be happy to see this side named but sometimes its not possible and here is why.


The problem is how tough and compacted the season is. Connacht are playing every weekend now until the 28th of January. In a game as physically demanding as rugby and with the squad size Connacht have, it’s a tough job trying to keep everyone fresh. Rotation is vital and I believe in most areas Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins have done a great job of this so far. There are no easy games in the URC anymore and there are some really tough teams in the challenge cup also. Connacht could go all out for these two European games but then be faced with two InterPro’s against Ulster and Leinster and be depleted with injuries or fatigue and get destroyed in both. Keeping a squad competitive and fresh is the ultimate art of plate spinning. Connacht do not have the luxuries of the likes of a Leinster who are three and four deep at every position.


Connacht Depth:

Let’s talk about Connacht’s depth. I believe its as good as it has been for some time.

There is a lovely blend of experience and youth in positions, and they all believe they can contribute in a big way.

I always highlight Dylan Tierney-Martin for this. DTM has the perfect attitude for rugby. He walks onto the pitch and couldn’t care less who the opposition is. He is ready to battle and ready to empty the tank. He is by no means the biggest hooker in the world, but he plays much bigger than he is. A young talent like that coming into any squad is going to energize everyone around him. Diarmuid Kilgallen played last weekend and slotted straight in. He has only nine caps but always seems to produce when he does get the chance. I trust in Connacht’s youth to go and get a job done.


Niall Murray has emerged has one of Irelands great young talents and seems to be going from strength to strength each week. He has really put his hand up for the biggest games that Connacht will play. Also, the additions of Peter Dooley, Josh Murphy and David Hawkshaw has added calm heads who know how to win. All three will play a huge part this weekend if Connacht are to emerge victorious. Jack Aungier is in a rich vein of form and gets rewarded with a start here. Can he keep his try scoring habit going this weekend? I wouldn’t bet against it.


Connacht fans will be equally relieved as they are excited to see Adam Byrne start this weekend.

Having only featured once so far for Connacht, some fans were beginning to wonder was it going to be one of those seasons where we just don’t see a certain player for whatever reason. Everyone knows how good Adam Byrne is so seeing him on a pitch for Connacht is only a good thing.


The Opposition:

Cully Tucker was on media duty this week and highlighted Newcastle’s set piece as a real strength of theirs. Like all English teams, they pride themselves on a very solid set piece. The scrum in particular is an area where Newcastle will look to gain an advantage. This will be a fantastic test for Connacht. As we all know Connacht’s scrum and line out has become immensely better, they will hopefully be licking their lips at the battle up front. The question is without the likes of Bealham and Heffernan in that scrum, will it be as solid?


Newcastle are 9th in the Premiership with only three wins. On paper they don’t look like the most challenging team. However, with all the uncertainty and mess that has been ongoing in the Premiership the past few months, it is very hard to properly gauge what team will be showing up on Saturday. With temperatures set to be in the low single digits, it might not be too appealing for Newcastle to come and bring their best stuff.

On the other side of that coin, however, is with no relegation in the Premiership this year, English teams are not as likely to rest or save players for away trips in Europe.


coaches have taken a big risk but i still expect Connacht to grind out a win on Saturday.

Even with a more inexperienced side out I still think they should have enough to get this across the line. Starting a European campaign with a win is such a huge momentum builder for the rest of the competition. It takes away a lot of the stress and worry about making it to the next round. A win this Saturday can be the start of a great few weeks for Connacht. It will be a cold one at the Sportsgrounds on Saturday but a great atmosphere and a great performance, I’m sure will warm everybody up.


Team News

Adam Byrne is handed his first Connacht start on the wing, in a back three that also contains Diarmuid Kilgallen and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.

There’s a new-look centre pairing of Cathal Forde and Tom Daly, while David Hawkshaw is handed a start at out-half with Caolin Blade for company to complete the backs.


There’s a new front row of Peter Dooley, Dylan Tierney-Martin and Jack Aungier, while Josh Murphy and Niall Murray are paired together in the second row. Paul Boyle keeps his place at number 8 after his Player of the Match performance against Benetton, with captain Jarrad Butler and Shamus Hurley-Langton named on the flanks.


On the bench there’s a potential debut for Ballinasloe flanker Oisín McCormack, who has come through the ranks with Garbally College, Ballinsloe RFC and Buccaneers RFC.


Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:


“Challenge Cup rugby is a different challenge but one we’re really looking forward to. We’ve been clear from the start that we’ll be using these games to give some players a chance to impress, so this is a great opportunity to test our increasing depth across the squad.


Our target is to reach the knockout stages and see what happens from there. As is always the case in Europe it’s vital you win your home games so with the crowd behind us on Saturday we hope to get another win and keep building momentum.”



Saturday 10th December, 17:30 @ The Sportsground



15. Tiernan O’Halloran (210)

14. Adam Byrne (1)
13. Tom Daly (66)
12. Cathal Forde (3)
11. Diarmuid Kilgallen (9)
10. David Hawkshaw (7)

9. Caolin Blade (156)
1. Peter Dooley (7)

2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (11)
3. Jack Aungier (40)
4. Josh Murphy (6)
5. Niall Murray (42)

6. Jarrad Butler (102) (C)

7. Shamus Hurley-Langton (6)

8. Paul Boyle (81)


16. Shane Delahunt (118)

17. Denis Buckley (217)

18. Sam Illo (4)

19. Leva Fifita (18)

20. Oisín McCormack *

21. Colm Reilly (13)

22. Conor Fitzgerald (58)

23. Tom Farrell (85)

Tom Penny captains Newcastle Falcons on Saturday as they open their EPCR Challenge Cup campaign away to Irish province, Connacht.The 28-year-old features at centre in a side showing ten changes from the one which started at London Irish last weekend – Adam Radwan, Matias Moroni, Greg Peterson, Sebastian de Chaves and Callum Chick all retaining their places.

Conrad Cade, Jamie Blamire and Mark Tampin freshen up the front row, with Matthew Dalton and Tom Marshall added to the back row after coming on from the bench last weekend.

Sam Stuart and Tian Schoeman, another two replacements at London Irish, form the half-back pairing, with Nathan Earle and Alex Tait adding their experience to the back three.

Spanish international Josh Peters, flanker Marcus Tiffen and scrum-half Josh Barton are all primed for their Challenge Cup debuts after being named on the bench, as is centre Ewan Greenlaw, who is studying medicine at Sunderland University.

Newcastle and Connacht are meeting for the first time since the 2015-16 season, which saw the Falcons losing 25-10 in Galway before winning 29-5 a week later on Tyneside, with head coach Dave Walder looking forward to the start of this season’s European journey.

He said: “In some respects there are similarities between ourselves and Connacht from a bigger picture point of view.

“They’re perhaps not resourced to the same extent as the other Irish provinces, they’re a little bit of an outpost geographically, they have to contend with a lot of rough weather and they’re renowned for that real collective grit.

“They’re a very well-coached team with lots of talented players, and like ourselves they now have an artificial pitch. They work really hard for each other as you’d expect, but over the past five or six years they’ve added that real quality and raised themselves quite considerably from where they’d been prior to that.

“They’ve won most of their home games this season and they get energised by playing in Galway, but we’re looking forward to going over there and testing ourselves. We’re going over there with a really positive attitude, looking to play.”

Keen to improve on last weekend’s loss at London Irish following a pair of Gallagher Premiership victories against Gloucester and Exeter, Walder believes the general curve of his team’s performance is an upward one.

“Like I said straight after the game, we just felt it was a bad day at the office,” said the head coach.

“It wasn’t a true reflection of ourselves as a team, and we didn’t show the elements of our game which we’ve been doing better over the past six or seven weeks. But we addressed it on Monday morning, put it to bed and we’ve had a good week as we look to get going in Europe.

“I said from the outset we have a new coaching group, and it’s going to take us a while to get things bedded in. One of the big things I talked about was attitude, both in training and games, and generally the lads have been brilliant with that. Nobody sets out to play badly, but in the Premiership if you take your eye off the ball even for five minutes, you’re made to pay for it.

“There have been some encouraging signs, though. Mark Laycock’s attacking structure is starting to come together, Mark Wilson’s contact work has generally seen an improvement and Micky Ward and Scott MacLeod have done a great job with the forwards. Even in defeat last weekend our line-out defence against London Irish – one of the best line-outs in the league – was right up there, and we’ve seen signs of things coming to fruition.

“We’ve still got more to do, of course, and we’re a long way from where we want to get to, but the work is going in and the results are starting to be seen.”

Expecting a stern test during Saturday’s 5.30pm kick-off in Galway, he added: “Connacht are a good side, and they’ve got the ability to move the ball around as well as having that go-forward.

“They’ve got a hard nose to them, and it’s nice to test ourselves against teams from different leagues. The Gallagher Premiership is great and we love being part of it, but everyone knows everyone there, so this tournament is a great opportunity to freshen things up and be exposed to some different opposition and environments.”

Saturday’s game is being shown live on Viaplay (formerly Premier Sports) which is a subscription channel. Click here for further details on how to access Viaplay.

Newcastle Falcons team v Connacht (Saturday, 5.30pm, Galway Sportsground)

15 Alex Tait, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Tom Penny (captain), 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Sam Stuart; 1 Conrad Cade, 2 Jamie Blamire, 3 Mark Tampin, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 6 Matthew Dalton, 7 Tom Marshall, 8 Callum Chick.

Replacements: 16 Charlie Maddison, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Josh Peters, 20 Marcus Tiffen, 21 Josh Barton, 22 Josh Thomas, 23 Ewan Greenlaw.

Not available for selection: Phil Brantingham, Sam Clark, Connor Collett, Carl Fearns, Gary Graham, Louie Johnson, Conor Kenny, Freddie Lockwood, Pete Lucock, Logovi’i Mulipola, Matias Orlando, Sean Robinson, Oliver Spencer, Philip van der Walt, George Wacokecoke, Will Welch.


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