Connacht Rugby

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Connacht Rugby
Connacht Rugby Logo
Nickname(s) The Devil's Own
Founded 1885; 133 years ago (1885)
Location Galway, Ireland
Ground(s) Galway Sportsgrounds (Capacity: 8,100)
CEO Willie Ruane
Coach(es) Andy Friend
Captain(s) Jarrad Butler
Most caps John Muldoon (327)
Top scorer Ian Keatley (688)
Most tries Matt Healy (45)
League(s) Pro14
2017–18 6th, Conference A
1st kit
2nd kit
Official website
www.connachtrugby.ie
Rugby football current event.svg Current season
Rugby Provincial Teams Ireland.svg

Connacht Rugby (Irish: Rugbaí Connachta) is one of the four professional provincial rugby teams from the island of Ireland. Connacht competes in the Pro14 and the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The team represents the IRFU Connacht Branch, which is one of four primary branches of the IRFU, and is responsible for rugby union throughout the geographical Irish province of Connacht.

Connacht plays its home games at the Galway Sportsgrounds, which holds 8,100 spectators.[1] Connacht play in a predominantly green jersey, shorts and socks. The second kit is predominantly blue, one of the traditional colours of the province. The Connacht Rugby crest is a modified version of the provincial flag of Connacht and consists of a dimidiated eagle and an arm wielding a sword.

With the province containing just over 8% of the total Irish population, Connacht has a much smaller base of rugby union players to choose from than the other three provinces. This player base is also affected by the relative popularity of Gaelic Athletic Association sports such as hurling and Gaelic football.[2] However, rugby union in Connacht has expanded, with increased ticket sales,[3] in particular since its first season competing in the Heineken Cup. Through the efforts of the Connacht Branch and the support of the IRFU, the province has experienced growth, increasing its underage and schools participation through initiatives such as the Grassroots to Greenshirts campaign.[4] The province also has a developmental side, which plays in the Celtic Cup. Before the creation of the Celtic Cup, the Connacht Eagles competed in the British and Irish Cup.

History[edit]

Foundation and amateur era (1885–1995)[edit]

The Connacht Branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union was founded on 8 December 1885, and along with it the provincial team. The branch was formed to compete with the Leinster, Munster and Ulster branches, which were founded in 1879, and whose teams had been formed in 1875. There were six teams represented at the meeting in Dublin that founded the Connacht Branch. These were Ballinasloe, Castlebar, Galway Town, Galway Grammar School, Queen's College Galway and Ranelagh School Athlone. Galway Grammar and Ranelagh have both closed since, while Galwegians was formed out of Galway Town in 1922.[5] Ballinasloe merged with Athlone to form Buccaneers in 1994,[6] but has since been reestablished as an independent club.[7] Castlebar and Queen's College (now NUI Galway) are the only two founding clubs to have remained active without interruption since the branch was founded.[8] The province is currently made up of 25 senior clubs.[9]

Cape Town-born Henry Anderson was the first Connacht player to receive an Ireland cap, making his debut against England on 14 February 1903.[10][11] Anderson later went on to be one of the founders of Galwegians, and became the first Connacht branch representative to serve as President of the IRFU.[5][12] Sligo-born Aengus McMorrow followed in his footsteps to become the first Connacht native player to represent Ireland in 1951.[10][13] Ballinasloe man Ray McLoughlin was the first Connacht player to captain Ireland, when he led the team in the 1965 Five Nations Championship.[14] McLoughlin also became the first Connacht representative for the Lions when he took part in the 1966 tour to Australia and New Zealand,[15] though he was playing his club rugby for Gosforth in England at the time.[16] Ciaran Fitzgerald became the first Connacht man to captain the Lions when he was chosen by Jim Telfer to lead the 1983 tour to New Zealand.[15]

During the amateur era Irish players primarily played for their respective clubs, with provincial games effectively treated as Irish trial matches.[17] The provincial teams were also used to provide competitive club opposition for touring international sides. Beginning in the 1946–47 season, the provinces played against each other in the annual IRFU Interprovincial Rugby Championship. This was a round-robin tournament which, during the amateur era, consisted of one game against each opponent. In the 1980s, to compensate for Connacht's smaller playing base, the IRFU decreed that any English-born Irish international players must represent Connacht in the Championship.[18] However, towards the end of the amateur era in the 1990s, this edict was reversed with the Championship also contested by the Irish Exiles team, consisting of Irish-qualified players in Britain and France. Connacht won the tournament on three occasions, in 1956, 1957 and 1965, although on each occasion the title was shared.[19][20][21]

Early professional years (1995–2003)[edit]

On 26 August 1995 the International Rugby Board declared rugby union an "open" game, removing all restrictions on payments or benefits to those connected with the game. this was done due to a committee conclusion having an open game was the only way to end the hypocrisy of shamateurism, and keep control of the sport. The threat to amateur rugby union mostly prevalent in the Southern hemisphere, particularly in Australia where Super League was threatening to entice players to rugby league with large salaries.[22] In Ireland, the four provincial teams were the only teams to go professional, while their constituent clubs remained amateur.

The 1995–96 season saw the first ever Heineken Cup, a new tournament set up for European clubs. The Irish were allocated three places in the competition, with these places going to Leinster, Munster and Ulster. The following season saw the launch of a secondary European competition, the European Challenge Cup. Connacht were coached that season by former All Black Warren Gatland, who had previously coached Galwegians. The inaugural Challenge Cup, then also known as the European Shield, saw Connacht finish fourth from six teams in their group, which also contained Toulon and the Northampton Saints.

The 1997–98 Challenge Cup proved far more successful for Connacht. The team, still coached by Gatland, finished top of their group; the number of teams in each group having been reduced to four. Connacht won five of their six matches including beating Northampton both at home and away. The win in Northampton and victory over Bordeaux-Bègles in Stade André Moga made Connacht the first professional Irish team to beat an English team in England and a French team in France respectively. In the quarter-final they played SU Agen away in the Stade Armandie, but lost 40–27. Gatland left his position as Connacht coach at the end of the season, taking over as Ireland coach.

Another New Zealander, Glenn Ross, took over from Gatland. In his two seasons, Connacht failed to make it out of the pool stages of the Challenge Cup, and Ross resigned at the end of the 1999–2000 season. He was replaced by South African coach Steph Nel.[23] Nel's initial two seasons also saw Connacht knocked out of the Challenge Cup during the group stages. 2001 saw the formation of a new competition called the Celtic League, which was created to serve as a championship for Irish, Scottish and Welsh clubs. Connacht made it to the quarter-finals in the inaugural season, where they were beaten by Scotland's Glasgow Warriors, by a final score of 29–34. In the 2002–03 season the team again reached the quarters. This time, however, they were beaten by a much greater margin, losing to Irish rivals Munster by a score of 33–3.[24] Meanwhile, in the 2002–03 European Challenge Cup, they reached the quarter-finals, being knocked out by a margin of 8 points over two legs, against Welsh team Pontypridd.

Off the field, however, the province's future was under threat. The IRFU proposed shutting down Connacht Rugby as a professional team in 2003 to cut costs, in light of the IRFU's annual deficit of €4 million. This was averted when a public protest with 2,000 fans marching on the IRFU headquarters in Dublin, coupled with the possibility of a strike by the Irish Rugby Union Players Association, forced the IRFU to reverse course and maintain the team.[25][26]

Michael Bradley era (2003–2010)[edit]

Michael Bradley took charge of Connacht in 2003, coming in from the Irish under-age set up to replace Steph Nel.[27] Connacht Rugby's average crowd was 600 supporters and the IRFU allotted a budget which was less than 50% of either of the other three Irish provinces. In Bradley's first Celtic League season, Connacht finished ninth from 12 teams, ahead of only the Scottish sides, but 2003–04 was the most successful season in European competition in the province's history to date. Connacht reached the semi-finals of that year's European Challenge Cup, and came within touching distance of the decider, but a try from the Harlequins centre Will Greenwood, 12 minutes from time in the second leg of their semi-final, denied them a place in the final. Connacht also got to the semi-final of the Celtic Cup. Despite this, Connacht fell further in the Celtic League the following season. The team finished one place from the bottom in 2004–05, in what was now an 11 team competition. Still, the team continued their European form in the 2004–05 European Challenge Cup, reaching the semi-finals a second season. Once again, they were knocked out over two legs by the eventual winners of the competition, this time Sale Sharks.

2006–07 European Challenge Cup tie between Bath and Connacht

With the Union holding a tight grip on the purse strings Connacht continued to struggle in the Celtic League, finishing in tenth place from 11 in both the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons. In these seasons, however their European form could not make up for the domestic performances. Though they reached the quarter-finals of the 2005–06 Challenge Cup, they suffered a 23–3 defeat to Newcastle Falcons, before failing to advance through the pool stages in 2006–07. These seasons, however, saw the beginning of a new dimension to Connacht's player recruitment, whereby the province would bring Irish players back from abroad, to compete for Irish selection. Examples include the transfers of Gavin Duffy from Harlequins, Johnny O'Connor from London Wasps and Frank Murphy from Leicester Tigers.

The 2007–08 Celtic League saw the competition reduced to ten teams, following the exit of Border Reivers, and the season ended with Connacht bottom of the table, having won only five of their 18 matches. They also finished third in their Challenge Cup pool, again being knocked out early. In the 2008–09 season Connacht were able to finish second in their pool and advance to the quarter finals, but were beaten 42–13 by Northampton Saints. Without any meaningful increase in the budget, the management team struggled to improve the quality of the playing squad as a whole and they failed to improve in the Celtic League, finishing last again in 2008–09, this time 13 points from the next team up the table.

Bradley announced early in the 2009–10 season that he intended to step down at the end of the year.[28] His final season followed a similar pattern to his first two seasons as coach, with the team again finishing last in the League, though the gap was narrower than the previous year. As in Bradley's earlier seasons, however, Connacht were able to leave their poor form in the league behind when it came to playing in the Challenge Cup. They topped their pool comfortably, winning all six games with two try bonus points, and proceeded to the quarter-finals as top seeds. For the first time in the club's history the team had achieved the highest points total at the pool stages of any team in either European competition. In the quarters, they faced French Top 14 side Bourjoin, beating them 23–20, with a late Miah Nikora drop goal. Connacht advanced to the semi-finals where, on 30 April 2010, they faced a Toulon team featuring the English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson. Toulon won 19–12 in Galway, with Wilkinson kicking 14 of the French club's points. This season also saw veteran forward Michael Swift break the record for number of Connacht appearances.[29] With crowds of more than 8,000 at both the quarter and semi-final stages of the Challenge Cup, and average gates of 2,600 in the Celtic League, Connacht's structures and support had improved drastically from 2003, when the team's survival was in question. Due to work on and off the pitch there was now a platform for a future for Connacht Rugby to continue and grow as one of Ireland's four professional rugby teams. At the end of the 2010 season Bradley was awarded the Celtic Leagues Chairman's award in recognition for his service to Connacht Rugby throughout his seven years as Director of Rugby in the province.

Eric Elwood as head coach (2010–2013)[edit]

Bradley was succeeded as Connacht boss by former Connacht and Ireland fly-half, Eric Elwood. Elwood had served as an assistant to Bradley since 2005 and had also coached the Ireland Under-20s to a grand slam in 2007's Six Nations Under 20s Championship.[30] His first season in charge saw two teams from Italy introduced to the Celtic League, Aironi and Benetton Treviso, which brought the number of teams back up to twelve. Connacht finished above both of the Italian teams as well as Glasgow Warriors, coming in ninth place. In the Challenge Cup, Connacht were knocked out in the pool stages, finishing second in their group behind the eventual winners of the tournament, Harlequins. During the course of the season, the loss of a number of key players, such as Sean Cronin and Ian Keatley, were announced, with the players signing to Connacht's provincial rivals for the start of the following season.

Heineken Cup qualification[edit]

Lineout against Toulouse in their 2011–12 Heineken Cup group stage match at Stade Ernest-Wallon

In 2011–12 Connacht made their first-ever Heineken Cup appearance, due to Leinster winning the 2011 Heineken Cup Final. By competition rules, introduced in the 2010–11 season, the winners of both the Heineken Cup, and the European Challenge Cup, would receive an automatic berth in the following year's Heineken Cup. This place would then be passed on to another team from that country if the tournament winner was already qualified by domestic performance. As Leinster had qualified through performance in the 2010–11 Celtic League, Connacht claimed the extra berth.[31] Ahead of their first season in European Rugby's premier club competition, Gavin Duffy replaced John Muldoon as captain of the team.[32] Connacht lost their first five matches in the pool stages, claiming losing bonuses in both of their games with Gloucester. In the final game of their pool, however, they managed an upset, beating Harlequins 9–8 in the Sportsground, which prevented the Premiership club from topping the group, and knocked them down into the Challenge Cup.[33]

Domestically, meanwhile, the Celtic League had been renamed, given the previous season's introduction of Italian teams to the competition. In the first season of the new 'Pro12', Connacht built on the previous year's performance. They finished the Pro12 season eighth out of twelve teams.

Connacht's entry into the Heineken Cup led to a significant increase in the club's popularity. In summer 2011, the supporters club, the Connacht Clan, was formed.[34] In September 2011, Connacht season ticket sales went over the 3,000 mark for the first time in the club's history,[35][36] and average attendance for the 2011–12 season saw a 105% increase over the previous season.[37] Connacht's average attendance in home Pro12 matches climbed to 4,653 in the 2011–12 season, and increased further to 5,154 for the 2012–13 season.[38]

The following season saw the Connacht end in the same position as the previous year, as the team finished eighth in the Pro12. On the European stage, Connacht played in the Heineken Cup again in 2012–13, because of Leinster's second Heineken Cup win in a row. Connacht won three of their pool matches: two against Italian team Zebre, along with a victory at home to 2009–10 finalists Biarritz.[39] Elwood departed at the end of the season, having announced his intention to leave in October 2012.[40]

Pat Lam takes over (2013–2017)[edit]

Elwood's replacement was announced in January 2013, with the New Zealand born former Samoa international Pat Lam appointed to coach the team.[41] Lam's first competitive game in charge was in the 2013–14 Pro12, a 25–16 home win over Zebre but following this game, Connacht suffered a number of league defeats in a row. On 21 December 2013, they overcame Newport Gwent Dragons 14–11 at home to break their league losing streak stretching back to September. The team went on a four match winning streak from 15 February to 23 March, earning three try bonus points in the team's longest run of wins in 11 years.[42] Following this run of form though, Connacht failed to win another match in the league, finishing in tenth place and level on points with ninth placed Dragons. Due to Leinster's victory in the 2012–13 European Challenge Cup, Connacht again participated in the Heineken Cup, where they were drawn into Pool 3 with Saracens, Toulouse and Zebre. In the third round of pool games Connacht produced one of the biggest shocks in the history of the Heineken Cup when they defeated Toulouse in the Stade Ernest-Wallon.[43][44][45] Despite two wins against Zebre, this wasn't enough to qualify from the pool, with the team again finishing third.[46]

The following season brought a restructuring of games at European level, which meant Connacht returned to the second tier competition. Connacht finished second in their pool in the 2014–15 Challenge Cup and qualified for the quarter-finals, where they were beaten by Gloucester. In the 2014–15 Pro12, Connacht enjoyed their best season since the competition changed to a round-robin format, winning a record 10 games, including home derbies against provincial rivals Leinster and Munster on their way to finishing seventh. The seventh-place finish saw Connacht entered into a play-off involving Bordeaux Bègles and Gloucester for a place in the next season's Champions Cup. Connacht played Gloucester away for the chance to face Bordeaux, and were leading 18–25 in the final minutes of the game when a penalty gave Gloucester a try-scoring opportunity and sent the match to extra time, after which Gloucester emerged 40–32 victors.[47]

Having lost the previous season's play-off, Connacht were entered into 2015–16 Challenge Cup, where they topped their pool which included Newcastle Falcons, Brive and Russian side Enisei-STM before being knocked out by Grenoble in the quarter-finals. In the 2015–16 Pro12 however, Connacht broke a number of records on their way to a second-place finish in the regular season. This put the team through to the end-of-year play-offs for the first time where they faced Glasgow Warriors in a semi-final in Galway, winning 16–11. On 28 May 2016, a 20-10 win against Leinster in the Pro12 final gave Connacht their first ever major trophy.[48]

Post-Lam era (2017–present)[edit]

On 20 February 2017, it was announced that Kieran Keane had been appointed as head coach, taking over after Lam's departure.[49] After a disappointing first season, Keane was let go one year into a three-year deal.[50] Australian coach Andy Friend, formerly head coach of the Australian sevens team was announced as his replacement in May 2018.[51]

Status within Irish rugby[edit]

Connacht has historically been designated as having lower status compared to its fellow provinces. In the 1960s for example, the Irish team was picked by a committee of five, generally consisting of two representatives each from Leinster and Ulster, and one from Munster. Connacht were represented on this council by a sub-selector, without the power to vote on the final squad.[10] Most of Connacht's international players during this era were either Irish-qualified imports from England or players who joined the side after failing to make the cut in their native province. Tom Clancy, a Connacht-native international player, stated that players like him had to be "twice as good as the competition to get a chance."[13]

At the onset of the professional era, the IRFU designated Connacht as a development team, meaning the team received only half the budget of the other Irish provinces. In 2003, the IRFU discussed the future of Connacht Rugby and the prospect of the team being shut down as part of a cost-saving program. In response, thousands of supporters marched to show their support of the provincial team and this idea was subsequently rejected.[52] In May 2014, the IRFU announced that it would be providing Connacht with an increase in funding of over €1 million, nominally to improve strength and conditioning coaching and facilities.[53]

Although Connacht are no longer as far behind in funding, they do still have a smaller playing population compared to the other provinces. The Connacht Rugby academy under Nigel Carolan consistently produced graduates to represent the senior Connacht Rugby team, with many of these players having also represented Ireland at under-age level. Robbie Henshaw, Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Eoin McKeon, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader, Tiernan O'Halloran and Jack Carty are examples of Connacht players native to the province to have progressed to the senior team through the academy.[54][55][56][57]

In spite of the increased production line of native talent, Connacht continues to rely on its traditional policy of bringing in players from outside its jurisdiction that have failed to progress to their senior provincial team to help make up its playing numbers. Examples of this from the amateur era include Robbie McGrath and Victor Costello, both of whom went on to represent Ireland. This trend has continued in the professional era with the record-holder for points scored, Ian Keatley, and leading try-scorer Matt Healy both being from Dublin, while Munster-native players like Sean Cronin and Ultan Dillane have earned Ireland caps while playing for the team. Connacht has also tended to give opportunities to foreign-born players who qualify for Ireland through heritage. This relationship was codified by the IRFU in the 1980s when English-born players were mandated to represent Connacht in the Interprovincial Chamipionship.[18] In the amateur era, this saw the likes of Simon Geoghegan, John O'Driscoll and Jim Staples represent Connacht,[13] while since the game has turned professional, the likes of Michael Swift,[58] Mike McCarthy[59] and Kieran Marmion have all reached over 100 caps for the team.[60]

Connacht Rugby has in the past lost players it recruited and helped to develop to provincial rivals and foreign teams. For example, Connacht lost four important first team players to provincial rivals in 2011. The team's out-half, Ian Keatley moved to Munster,[61] while hooker Sean Cronin, tighthead prop Jamie Hagan and winger Fionn Carr all transferred to Leinster.[62][63][64] After the loss of another first team player to Leinster was announced in 2012, this time Irish international lock Mike McCarthy, the Connacht chief executive Tom Sears accused Leinster of trying to "poach" Connacht players, arguing it was not in the best interests of Irish rugby.[65][66]

The province also has a lower representation in top level club competition in Ireland than its rivals, due to its lower playing population. Of the 25 senior clubs currently operating in Connacht,[9] only Buccaneers, Galway Corinthians, Galwegians and Sligo compete in the highest level of amateur rugby in the country, the All-Ireland League.[67]

European qualification[edit]

In the early years of European competition, Connacht were automatically entered in the European Challenge Cup each year. The IRFU were allocated three places in the more prestigious Heineken Cup, and with these going to the other provinces Connacht were left with no avenue of qualification. The Interprovincial Championship in 2000 guaranteed a spot in the following 2001–02 Heineken Cup to the top two teams,[68] with Connacht finishing in last place.[69] However, the advent of the Celtic League in 2001 saw this guarantee removed. The 2002–03 season saw Connacht finish ahead of Leinster in their Celtic League pool[70] and progress to the knockout rounds ahead of the eastern province,[71] having beaten them away in Donnybrook in the only game between the sides.[72][73] Despite having finished ahead of their rivals in the table, progressed further than them in the competition and beaten them in the head-to-head game, the IRFU persisted with its policy and Leinster were entered in the 2003–04 Heineken Cup as the top Irish seeds.[74]

The 2004–05 season saw a change to this policy, as the union began to use the Celtic League table as its sole criteria for determining which Irish teams would be entered into the following season's Heineken Cup. Connacht finished six points behind Ulster in the final standings that year, missing out again.[75] It wasn't until 2016 that Connacht finished in a higher league position than any of their provincial rivals again. Despite this Connacht did achieve Heineken Cup qualification from the 2011–12 season to the 2013–14 season. Ironically this was thanks to Leinster, who won three consecutive European tournaments. Leinster's successes meant that they were automatically qualified for the following year, leaving an open Irish qualification berth which was filled by Connacht.[76][77]

With the Heineken Cup being replaced by the 20-team European Rugby Champions Cup in the 2014–15 season, the Pro12 table gained a greater influence on qualification. Under the previous format, the competition provided a minimum of ten teams, with Scotland and Italy providing two teams each, and Ireland and Wales both providing three. The new system saw one place being reserved for the highest finishing Pro12 team from each of its four participating countries and three other qualifiers based solely on league position, for a total of seven teams. The other teams were entered in the new second tier competition, the European Rugby Challenge Cup. This meant Connacht were no longer required to finish ahead of another Irish province or rely on an Irish victory in a European tournament to qualify for the top tier of European rugby.[78] The 2015–16 season marked a major breakthrough for Connacht, as a second place finish in the Pro12 table followed by victory in the grand final saw the team qualify for the top tier of European competition on their own steam for the first time.[79]

The Pro14 underwent further changes to its European qualification process ahead of the 2017–18 season. In May 2017, the guaranteed places in the Champions for at least one team from each country in the league were scrapped, with the intention of having just the top seven teams qualify instead.[80] The addition of two South African teams to the league saw further alterations, as the teams were split into two seven-team conferences. The highest three non-South African teams from each pool took the first six qualification spots, while the seventh team to qualify would be decided by a play-off between the fourth-ranked non-South African team from each conference.[81]

Stadium and supporters[edit]

Connacht against Leinster in their 2008–09 Celtic League game at the Sportsground

The Galway Sportsground has been the historical home of Connacht Rugby since the late 1920s. Located on the College Road and within walking distance of the city centre,[82] it is known as a spartan and inhospitable venue for visiting teams.[83] It is particularly notorious for its wet and windy conditions due to its location near the Atlantic coast and Galway's rainy climate.[84] In addition to its use by Connacht, the Sportsground is also used for greyhound racing, with the track running between the playing field and the stands.[85] The stadium is owned by The Galway Agricultural & Sports Society Ltd. who lease it to both Connacht Rugby and the Irish Greyhound Board.[86] Due primarily to the issue of ownership, the development of the Sportsground has lagged behind that of the other Irish provinces who, with the backing of the IRFU, have moved ahead with major developments of their home grounds.[87][88][89]

Following increased support for the province in the wake of improved results, particularly the 2015–16 title-winning season, the Connacht Branch have stated their intention to undertake either a large scale redevelopment of the Sportsground or a move to an alternative stadium.[90] The ultimate stated aim for the province is a stadium with a capacity of at least 10,000 spectators,[91] that has full covering on all stands and the ability to cater for a wide variety of fans.[92] Surveys have been taken from supporters of the team and business owners in Galway city to determine what facilities and services would be expected from a new stadium.[93] A move to a new location would likely mean playing in a municipal stadium in Galway city,[94] though there is a stated preference within the province's leadership to remain at the Sportsground if possible.[82]

The official supporters' club for the province is the "Connacht Clan". A voluntary organisation, it was established in 2011 and is club run by a member-elected committee.[95] The committee is made up entirely of supporters, with the exception of one representative from the Connacht Branch, who acts as a liaison to the supporters.[96] The side's mascot "Eddie the Eagle" is used to promote the team to younger fans, appearing at schools and attending promotional events aimed at families.[97][98]

Crest and colours[edit]

The flag of the Province of Connacht

The dimidiated eagle and sword arm featured in the Connacht Rugby crest is taken from the flag of the Province of Connacht. These arms are said to have been granted to Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, the reigning King of Connacht, by the Schottenkloster, or Irish monastery, that was founded in Regensburg, a city in Bavaria, in the 11th century.[99]

Connacht playing in green against Toulouse in the 2011–12 Heineken Cup

The current kit consists of a two-tone green shirt, with green shorts and green socks.[100] The traditional colours of the Connacht province and flag are white, blue and black, with no green present. Though it is potentially related to the use of Connacht's traditional colours of white and blue by Ulster and Leinster's teams respectively, the reasons for its presence on the Connacht Rugby kit are unknown. However the green jersey has been associated with the Connacht senior team since as early as the 1950s. Connacht's second jerseys often use the province's traditional colours however. The 2017–18 away kit is white and blue, with white shorts and socks.[101]

The current official Connacht team and support staff kit supplier is Australian manufacturer BLK sport, who announced a comprehensive four-year agreement to supply the full range of apparel for all of Connacht Rugby's representative teams and support staff in 2013.[102]

Connacht's main shirt sponsors are Irish sporting retailer Intersport Elverys, who took over from previous sponsor Lifestyle Sports ahead of the 2016–17 season, after two years of a four-year deal.[103] The deal with Elverys runs until the end of the 2018–19 season.[104]

Current standings[edit]

Pro14[edit]

2018–19 Pro14 Table view · watch · edit · discuss
Conference A
Team P W D L PF PA PD TF TA TBP LBP PTS
1 Scotland Glasgow Warriors 4 3 0 1 132 98 +34 18 12 3 0 15
2 Wales Ospreys 4 3 0 1 103 86 +17 13 11 1 0 13
3 Ireland Connacht 4 2 0 2 101 77 +24 11 9 1 2 11
4 Ireland Munster 4 2 0 2 110 75 +35 16 8 2 0 10
5 Italy Zebre 4 2 0 2 76 88 −12 10 11 2 0 10
6 Wales Cardiff Blues 4 1 0 3 118 99 +19 12 13 2 3 9
7 South Africa Cheetahs 4 0 1 3 77 175 −98 11 25 2 0 4
Conference B
Team P W D L PF PA PD TF TA TBP LBP PTS
1 Ireland Leinster 4 3 0 1 137 72 +65 19 8 3 1 16
2 Ireland Ulster 4 3 1 0 112 88 +24 11 9 1 0 15
3 Wales Scarlets 4 2 0 2 94 98 −4 11 10 1 1 10
4 Italy Benetton 4 2 0 2 87 107 −20 11 12 1 0 9
5 Wales Dragons 4 2 0 2 70 100 −30 8 15 0 1 9
6 South Africa Southern Kings 4 1 0 3 53 115 −32 11 14 2 1 7
5 Scotland Edinburgh 4 1 0 3 66 88 −22 6 11 0 2 6
If teams are level at any stage, tiebreakers are applied in the following order -[105]
  1. number of matches won
  2. the difference between points for and points against
  3. the number of tries scored
  4. the most points scored
  5. the difference between tries for and tries against
  6. the fewest red cards received
  7. the fewest yellow cards received

Green background indicates teams that compete in the Pro14 play-offs, and also earn a place in the 2019–20 European Champions Cup
(excluding South African teams who are ineligible)

Blue background indicates teams outside the play-off places that earn a place in the 2019–20 European Champions Cup
Yellow background indicates the fourth-ranked eligible teams in each conference that play-off against each other for the seventh place in the 2019–20 European Champions Cup
Plain background indicates teams that earn a place in the 2019–20 European Rugby Challenge Cup.
(CH) Champions. (RU) Runners-up. (SF) Losing semi-finalists. (QF) Losing quarter-finalists. (PO) Champions Cup play-off winners.

Challenge Cup[edit]

Pool 3

Team
P W D L PF PA Diff TF TA TB LB Pts
England Sale Sharks 0 0 0 0 0 0 +0 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland Connacht 0 0 0 0 0 0 +0 0 0 0 0 0
France Bordeaux 0 0 0 0 0 0 –0 0 0 0 0 0
France Perpignan 0 0 0 0 0 0 –0 0 0 0 0 0

Coaching and management team[edit]

Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Individuals may hold more than one non-WR nationality.

Role Name Union
Chief Executive Willie Ruane[106]  Ireland
Team Manager Tim Allnutt[107]  New Zealand
Head Coach Andy Friend[51]  Australia
Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy[108]  Ireland
Backs Coach Nigel Carolan[109]  Ireland
Defence Coach Peter Wilkins[110]  England
Senior Video Analyst Simon Kavanagh[111]  Ireland
Head of Strength and Conditiong David Howarth[112]  Australia
Senior Strength and Conditioning Coach Johnny O'Connor[113]  Ireland
Academy Manager Eric Elwood[114]  Ireland
Connacht Eagles Coach Mossy Lawler[115]  Ireland

Current squad[edit]

Senior playing squad[edit]

The Connacht senior squad for 2018–19 is:[116]

Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.

Player Position Union
Shane Delahunt Hooker Ireland Ireland
Dave Heffernan Hooker Ireland Ireland
Tom McCartney* Hooker New Zealand New Zealand
Jonny Murphy Hooker Ireland Ireland
Finlay Bealham Prop Ireland Ireland
Denis Buckley Prop Ireland Ireland
Conor Carey Prop Ireland Ireland
Peter McCabe Prop Ireland Ireland
Conán O'Donnell Prop Ireland Ireland
Dominic Robertson-McCoy* Prop New Zealand New Zealand
James Cannon* Lock England England
Peter Claffey Lock Ireland Ireland
Ultan Dillane Lock Ireland Ireland
Joe Maksymiw* Lock England England
Quinn Roux Lock Ireland Ireland
Gavin Thornbury Lock Ireland Ireland
Paul Boyle Flanker Ireland Ireland
Jarrad Butler (captain) Flanker Australia Australia
James Connolly Flanker Ireland Ireland
Colby Fainga'a Flanker Australia Australia
Cillian Gallagher Flanker Ireland Ireland
Seán O'Brien Flanker Ireland Ireland
Robin Copeland Number 8 Ireland Ireland
Eoghan Masterson Number 8 Ireland Ireland
Eoin McKeon Number 8 Ireland Ireland
Player Position Union
Caolin Blade Scrum-half Ireland Ireland
Kieran Marmion Scrum-half Ireland Ireland
Conor McKeon Scrum-half Ireland Ireland
James Mitchell* Scrum-half England England
Jack Carty Fly-half Ireland Ireland
David Horwitz Fly-half Australia Australia
Craig Ronaldson Fly-half Ireland Ireland
Bundee Aki Centre Ireland Ireland
Tom Farrell Centre Ireland Ireland
Kyle Godwin Centre Australia Australia
Eoin Griffin Centre Ireland Ireland
Peter Robb Centre Ireland Ireland
Niyi Adeolokun Wing Ireland Ireland
Matt Healy Wing Ireland Ireland
Cian Kelleher Wing Ireland Ireland
Sevu Reece Wing Fiji Fiji
Rory Scholes Wing Ireland Ireland
Darragh Leader Fullback Ireland Ireland
Tiernan O'Halloran Fullback Ireland Ireland
  • Senior 15's internationally capped players in bold
  • Players qualified to play for Ireland on dual nationality or residency grounds*
  • Irish Provinces are currently limited to four non-Irish eligible (NIE) players and one non-Irish qualified player (NIQ or "Project Player").[117] Connacht is exempted from this under a separate development arrangement.[118]

Academy squad[edit]

The Connacht academy squad for 2018–19 is:[119]

Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.

Player Position Union
Dylan Tierney (year 1) Hooker Ireland Ireland
Matthew Burke (year 2) Prop Ireland Ireland
Conor Kenny (year 3) Prop Ireland Ireland
Niall Murray (year 1) Lock Ireland Ireland
Cian Huxford (year 1) Flanker Ireland Ireland
Sean Masterson (year 2) Flanker Ireland Ireland
Mikey Wilson (year 1) Flanker Ireland Ireland
Paul Boyle (year 2) Number 8 Ireland Ireland
Joshua Dunne (year 1) Number 8 Ireland Ireland
Player Position Union
Stephen Kerins (year 3) Scrum-half Ireland Ireland
Colm Reilly (year 1) Scrum-half Ireland Ireland
Luke Carty (year 2) Fly-half Ireland Ireland
Conor Dean (year 1) Fly-half Ireland Ireland
Conor Fitzgerald (year 1) Fly-half Ireland Ireland
Kieran Joyce (year 2) Centre Ireland Ireland
Sean O'Brien (year 1) Centre Ireland Ireland
Mark Balaski (year 1) Wing Ireland Ireland
Conor Hayes (year 1) Wing Ireland Ireland
Oran McNulty (year 1) Wing Ireland Ireland
Colm de Buitléar (year 2) Fullback Ireland Ireland

Honours[edit]

Competition Championships Best Result
Inter-Provincial Championship 3 (all shared) Champions: 1956–57 (shared), 1957–58 (shared), 1964–65 (shared)
Pro14 1 Champions 2015–16
Champions Cup 0 3rd in pool: 2012–13, 2013–14, 2016–17
Challenge Cup 0 Semi-finalists: 2003–04, 2004–05, 2009–10

Season records[edit]

Pro14[edit]

Season Pos Played Won Drew Lost PF PA PD Bonus Points
2001–02 2nd (Pool B) 6 4 0 2 152 97 +55 n/a 12
Quarter-final Connacht 29 – 34 Glasgow
2002–03 4th (Pool B) 7 5 0 2 126 176 –50 0 20
Quarter-final Munster 33 – 3 Connacht
2003–04 (Lg) 9th 22 8 2 12 479 550 −71 8 44
2003–04
(Cup)
1st Round Borders 21 – 26 Connacht
Quarter-final Scarlets 12 – 14 Connacht
Semi-final Connacht 25 – 26 Edinburgh
2004–05 10th 20 7 1 12 317 407 –90 7 37
2005–06 10th 22 6 0 14 325 466 –141 5 37[n 1]
2006–07 10th 20 4 2 14 326 474 –148 6 26
2007–08 10th 18 5 1 12 214 396 –182 2 24
2008–09 10th 18 4 0 14 224 460 –236 4 20
2009–10 10th 18 5 1 12 254 459 –205 4 26
2010–11 9th 22 7 1 14 394 459 –65 9 39
2011–12 8th 22 7 1 14 321 433 –112 7 37
2012–13 8th 22 8 1 13 358 422 –64 4 38
2013–14 10th 22 6 0 16 371 509 −138 11 35
2014–15 7th 22 10 1 11 447 419 +28 8 50
2015–16 2nd 22 15 0 7 507 406 +101 13 73
Semi–final Connacht 16 – 11 Glasgow Warriors
Final Connacht 20 – 10 Leinster
2016–17 8th 22 9 0 13 413 498 −85 8 44
2017–18 6th (Conference A) 21 7 0 14 445 477 −32 11 39
  1. ^ 11 teams were involved in this season, so one team did not play each week and were awarded 4 points instead.
    Therefore, each team finished the season with 8 more points than the table would seem to warrant.

Champions Cup[edit]

Season Pool Pos Played Won Drew Lost PF PA PD Bonus Points
2011–12 4th 6 1 0 5 68 130 −62 2 6
2012–13 3rd 6 3 0 3 96 138 −42 0 12
2013–14 3rd 6 3 0 3 101 147 –46 1 13
2015–16 Qualifying Gloucester 40 − 32 (a.e.t.) Connacht
2016–17 3rd 6 4 0 2 188 118 +70 2 18
2017–18 Qualifying Northampton Saints 21 – 15 Connacht

Challenge Cup[edit]

Season Pool Pos Played Won Drew Lost PF PA PD Bonus Points
1996–97 4th 5 2 0 3 94 131 –37 n/a 4
1997–98 1st 6 5 0 1 144 97 +47 n/a 10
Quarter-final Agen 40 – 27 Connacht
1998–99 5th 6 3 0 3 129 156 –27 n/a 6
1999–00 3rd 6 2 0 4 131 165 –34 n/a 4
2000–01 4th 6 1 0 5 60 152 –92 n/a 2
2001–02 2nd 6 3 0 3 157 140 +17 n/a 6
2002–03 Round 1 Mont-de-Marsan 12 – 26 Connacht
Connacht 47 – 29 Mont-de-Marsan
Round 2 Narbonne 42 – 27 Connacht
Connacht 23 – 7 Narbonne
Quarter-final Connacht 30 – 35 Pontypridd
Pontypridd 12 – 9 Connacht
2003–04 Round 1 Béziers 10 – 18 Connacht
Connacht 11 – 13 Béziers
Round 2 Connacht 29 – 7 Pau
Pau 10 – 6 Connacht
Quarter-final Narbonne 18 – 27 Connacht
Connacht 16 – 10 Narbonne
Semi-final Harlequins 31 – 22 Connacht
Connacht 23 – 18 Harlequins
2004–05 Round 1 Narbonne 25 – 11 Connacht
Connacht 40 – 21 Narbonne
Round 2 Connacht 56 – 3 Montpellier
Montpellier 19 – 14 Connacht
Quarter-final Grenoble 21 – 26 Connacht
Connacht 19 – 3 Grenoble
Semi-final Connacht 18 – 25 Sale Sharks
Sale Sharks 59 – 9 Connacht
2005–06 2nd 6 4 0 2 190 119 +71 4 20
Quarter-final Newcastle Falcons 23 – 3 Connacht
2006–07 3rd 6 1 0 5 119 150 –31 4 8
2007–08 3rd 6 3 0 3 172 97 +75 3 15
2008–09 2nd 6 4 0 2 159 140 +19 3 19
Quarter-final Northampton Saints 42 – 13 Connacht
2009–10 1st 6 6 0 0 199 63 +136 2 26
Quarter-final Connacht 23 – 20 Bourgoin
Semi-final Connacht 12 – 19 Toulon
2010–11 2nd 6 3 0 3 173 99 +74 3 15
2014–15 2nd 6 4 0 2 186 144 +42 4 20
Quarter-final Gloucester 14 – 7 Connacht
2015–16 1st 6 4 0 2 147 96 +51 3 19
Quarter-final Grenoble 33 – 32 Connacht
2017–18 1st 6 5 1 0 225 102 +123 4 26
Quarter-final Connacht 28 – 33 Gloucester

Notable players[edit]

See also Category:Connacht Rugby players

Ireland[edit]

The following Connacht players have represented Ireland at full international level.
[Players in Bold are currently representing Connacht]

British and Irish Lions[edit]

The following Connacht players have represented the British and Irish Lions.[133]

(c) Tour Captain

Overseas internationals[edit]

Pro14[edit]

The following Connacht players have been named to the league's Team of the Year:

Season Irish player Overseas player
2014–15[135] Denis Buckley, Robbie Henshaw
2015–16[136] Finlay Bealham, Denis Buckley, Ultan Dillane, Matt Healy, Kieran Marmion Bundee Aki, Tom McCartney
2016–17[137] Tiernan O'Halloran
2017–18

Centurions[edit]

The following players have earned 100 or more caps for Connacht. Bold indicates player is active with the team.

Player Date of 100th cap
Ireland Eric Elwood 12 January 2002 v. Narbonne[138]
England Dan McFarland 27 December 2005 v. Munster[139]
England Darren Yapp 12 May 2006 v. Neath-Swansea Ospreys[140]
Ireland Matt Mostyn 20 October 2006 v. NEC Harlequins[141]
England Michael Swift 15 December 2006 v. Montpellier[58]
Ireland Andrew Farley 31 December 2006 v. Munster[142]
Ireland Mark McHugh 4 May 2007 v. Newport Gwent Dragons[143]
Ireland Conor McPhillips 21 September 2007 v. Newport Gwent Dragons[144]
Ireland Colm Rigney 9 November 2007 v. Brive[145]
Ireland John Fogarty 16 December 2007 v. Newcastle Falcons[146]
Ireland John Muldoon 5 September 2008 v. Ospreys
Ireland Brett Wilkinson 9 October 2010 v. Cavalieri Prato[147]
Ireland Gavin Duffy 19 November 2010 v. Ospreys[148]
Ireland Johnny O'Connor 12 December 2010 v. Harlequins[149]
Ireland Mike McCarthy 15 January 2011 v. Bayonne[59]
Ireland Keith Matthews 1 April 2011 v. Edinburgh[150]
Ireland Adrian Flavin 1 April 2011 v. Edinburgh[150]
Samoa Ray Ofisa 2 December 2011 v. Benetton Treviso[151]
Ireland Ronan Loughney 2 March 2012 v. Scarlets[152]
Ireland Frank Murphy 27 December 2013 v. Munster[153]
Ireland Andrew Browne 4 January 2014 v. Leinster[154]
Ireland Fionn Carr 25 October 2014 v. Exeter Chiefs[155]
New Zealand George Naoupu 25 April 2015 v. Glasgow Warriors[156]
Ireland Rodney Ah You 24 May 2015 v. Gloucester[157]
Ireland Kieran Marmion 7 May 2016 v. Glasgow Warriors[60]
Ireland Tiernan O'Halloran 7 May 2016 v. Glasgow Warriors[60]
Ireland Denis Buckley 25 November 2016 v. Cardiff Blues[158]
Ireland Eoin McKeon 7 January 2017 v. Ospreys[159]
Ireland Matt Healy 6 January 2018 v. Munster[160][161]
Ireland Finlay Bealham 16 February 2018 v. Zebre[162]
Ireland Jack Carty 31 March 2018 v. Gloucester[163]
Ireland Dave Heffernan 31 March 2018 v. Gloucester[163]

Connacht Eagles[edit]

Connacht Eagles.svg

Connacht Eagles (formerly Connacht A) is the province's second tier side. The Eagles represent Connacht in the semi-professional British and Irish Cup[164] and in an Irish Interprovincial series against the 'A' teams from Leinster, Munster and Ulster.[165] During the amateur era, and early in the advent of professionalism, the main Connacht team competed in the Interprovincial Championship. Since the inception of the Celtic League however, the provinces have fielded lesser teams in order to concentrate on their league and European games. The side is generally composed of senior Connacht squad players requiring gametime, Academy players and All-Ireland League players called up from their clubs.[166] The team is currently coached by academy coach Mossy Lawler.[115]

Captains in the professional era[edit]

Head Coaches in professional era[edit]

Coach First Season Final Season
Eddie O'Sullivan 1993–94 1995–96
Warren Gatland 1996–97 1997–98
Glenn Ross[23] 1998–99 1999–00
Steph Nel 2000–01 2003–04
Michael Bradley 2003–04 2009–10
Eric Elwood 2010–11 2012–13
Pat Lam 2013–14 2016–17
Kieran Keane 2017–18 2017–18
Andy Friend 2018–19

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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