Connacht bid farewell to twelve players on Saturday

Connacht's Ultan Dillane will be farewelled from the Sportsground on Saturday after 126 matches since making his debut in 2014.
Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Connacht's Ultan Dillane will be farewelled from the Sportsground on Saturday after 126 matches since making his debut in 2014. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Connacht Rugby's season comes to an end on Saturday (5pm ) when they host Zebre Palma in a match with only pride at stake.

Unable to qualify for the semi-finals or the top eight Champions Cup places, Connacht coach Andy Friend wants his squad to provide an expected full house of supporters, and those 12 players who are leaving the province, a winning farewell.

It will be an emotional tribute for so many of Connacht's players, not least Connacht's all-time top try scorer Matt Healy, who is retiring. Healy has scored 58 tries in 151 matches since making his debut against Leinster in 2012. A key player in Pat Lam's winning side, he was joint top try-scorer in the 2015/16 Pro12, was named in the league's Dream Team, and scored a try in the victorious Pro12 final against Leinster. His form earned him what would be his only cap for Ireland when he replaced Tiernan O'Halloran against South Africa in 2016.

La Rochelle bound Ultan Dillane has been another giant player for Connacht, having started 94 of his 126 matches since making his debut in 2014, and the centurion also made a huge impression off the field through his work with the Galway Hospice. Eoghan Masterson, also who started 84 of his 117 appearances, while scoring a try for the Emerging Ireland side in the 2015 Tbilisi Cup decider to win the cup, is another leaving, along with another PRO12 final medal winner, powerful centre Peter Robb and New Zealander and prop Dominic Robertson McCoy who joined in 2016. Other front row players leaving are Tietie Tuamauga, Greg McGrath and Johnny Murphy, backrow player Abraham Papali'i, and backs Sammy Arnold, Australian Ben O'Donnell and Peter Sullivan.

Coach Andy Friend says preparing for the fixture after a three-week break has been “tricky” in what has been a season of “inconsistency, and with that missed opportunities”.

"We've had some opportunities, I felt, to win more, possibly one or two of our Champions Cup games against Leicester and Stade Francais. Other games we were certainly not at our best. When we have played that rugby, we are a hard team to beat.

"We’ve played some great rugby and won some crucial games, but overall it’s been a season of inconsistency.”

However, Friend insists this last game at the Sportsground this season is still important.

"It's a tricky period because you’ve got players exiting, the last game, which is still an important game. [It’s] another chance to play in front of family and friends, and put on the Connacht jersey,” Friend says.

Although the result is of little significance, Friend says Connacht will be giving full respect to Saturday’s visitors from Italy.

"We have to respect Zebre. In the last three games, they have probably played some of their best football. They won’t be coming here to lay down for us, but we have to make sure we play our style of rugby that we have shown at times during the year and work harder than them.

"If we play a consistent game and work harder than them, I believe we have enough fire power to cause them trouble. And that is the way we have trained this week."

Connacht will be without Irish internationals Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen - Aki is nursing a minor knee injury, and Hansen has a wrist injury, while Paul Boyle (toe ), and scrumhalf Caolin Blade (ankle ) are also sidelined for this final fixture.

 

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