Connacht rugby has achieved a huge boost with five players selected on Ireland’s summer tour to Canada and the US, and five on Ireland’s Churchill Cup squad.
Gavin Duffy is the province’s only capped player named in Declan Kidney’s Irish squad, and he will be joined by hooker Sean Cronin, centre Keith Matthews, Connacht captain John Muldoon, and outhalf Ian Keatley.
The Irish squad is without the Leinster players on Heineken Cup duty, and Irish players involved in the British and Irish Lions. As a result the squad has a youthful look with just 12 test-capped players, including Rory Best, Peter Stringer, Bob Casey, Eoin Reddan, Mick O’Driscoll and Denis Leamy.
Following the two matches - Canada v Ireland, Saturday, May 23 and USA v Ireland, Sunday, May 31- three of the Connacht players, Cronin, Matthews, and Muldoon will join Fionn Carr and Frank Murphy in the Irish Churchill Cup squad. Former Connacht players, James Downey (Northampton ) and Tony Buckley are also in the squad.
The Churchill Cup A team, which also heads to the US next month, will be captained by Connacht’s John Muldoon.
Muldoon has made a huge impression this season as a captain who leads by example, and Irish coach Declan Kidney was in the Sportsground on Friday to see the Portumna man in action in Connacht’s last match of the season against Ulster,
Connacht, despite a poor first half in which they fell 11-5 behind, turned the tables in the second period, but spurned several chances to sign off their home season with a third interprovincial victory.
Having dominated the first half, Ulster found themselves under siege for long periods, and in the end they were lucky to escape with the points. Connacht, despite claims for a penalty try just four minutes from the end, were denied. Although they won a penalty after Ulster left wing Simon Danielli hindered Fionn Carr just a metre from the try line, Connacht outhalf Ian Keatley missed the 76th minute penalty which would have given them the lead and a likely victory.
It was a complete turnaround from the first half which the visitors had dominated as Connacht took command with the pack getting the measure of their opponents at the breakdown. As always Andrew Farley and Michael Swift, celebrating more than 150 games for the province, were solid in the line-out, and from a penalty to touch Connacht went through the phases before fullback Troy Nathan made the break. Following quick ball and a looping pass, flanker Andrew Browne crossed in the corner. Keatley converted to give Connacht a 12 - 11 lead on 49 minutes, but it was shortlived. Connacht were again penalised for collapsing the scrum four minutes later and right wing Schifcofske slotted the penalty in front of the posts.
Connacht regained the initiative and had their chances in a lively second half, but on this occasion Connacht's rising young star Keatley was unable to convert three penalty chances. The last miss brought the curtain down on Connacht's home season.
Tomorrow evening Connacht’s season ends in Glasgow when they take on the Warriors at Firhill (7.45pm ).
Neither side has anything to play for but pride. The Warriors cannot catch Edinburgh for the Scottish bragging rights, while Connacht cannot catch the Dragons, despite them having lost their last two matches. The Warriors are expected to put out a young side who will be eager to impress coach Sean Lineen, so Connacht need to be mentally prepared for this clash. if they are, they have a real chance of signing off their season with a win.