Jack Carty named Connacht captain this season Dubarry Park hosts pre-season challenge

Connacht kick off the home season tomorrow with a highly attractive fixture against top English club Sale Sharks at Dubarry Park (7pm ).

With the new synthetic pitch being installed, tomorrow's pre-season challenge moves to Athlone against the English Premiership side which boasts a string of England internationals Manu Tuilagi, Tom and Ben Curry, Joe Simpson, and Josh Beaumont (son of Bill ), as well as Scotland’s Ewan Ashman.

It is expected to be a tough pre-season test for Andy Friend's outfit which will be without the five internationals, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham and Cian Prendergast, who all featured in Ireland’s recent series win over New Zealand. Also unavailable for this fixture, is Jack Carty, who has been named captain for the new season, and who will be assisted by vice-captains Jarrad Butler and Bundee Aki.

Carty, who was the on-field captain for several games last season, has already made 180 appearances for the club, and could surpass Connacht great Eric Elwood's all-time points tally.

Carty says it is a "huge honour" to captain his home province.

"I first walked through the doors as a 14-years-old, and if you said to me, I would play for Connacht never mind captaining the team, I would have laughed at you. None of this would ever have been possible if it wasn’t for my family, friends and teammates.

"It’s an incredibly humbling moment, and with that comes responsibility to ensure we proudly represent the people of Connacht, whether they are here in the actual province or in one of the four corners of the world – which we strive to do.

"I can’t wait to get back on the pitch again to lead in the best way possible, by performing. A special thanks to JB [Jarrad Butler], who I’ve learnt an incredible amount from the last few years and will continue to do so. I can’t wait to see everyone at the Sportsground, with our new surface, on October 7.”

Connacht have faced Sale in European competition, but the gap between the two sides has narrowed since a 44-6 loss in 2001. Known for both physicality, this will be a stern test for Connacht's younger players who could be up against some of their South African internationals, notably the Du Preez brothers Robert, Daniel and Jean-Luc, all of whom have been capped by the Springboks.

This will be a tough workout for Connacht, designed to prepare them for the new season which kicks off against Ulster on September 17 in Belfast.

Many of Friend's new squad members have also tasted competitive fare for the first time in a pre-season friendly away to Castres in France yesterday. All players, except the internationals, will have been given game time this week.

And off the field the change in management structure sees Andy Friend move to a new role as Connacht's director of coaching, while Pete Wilkins takes over as head coach.

Wilkins says pre-season training has been positive, having learned some lessons from last season.

"It's a really exciting week for us. It means all players - apart from our internationals - have had game time, so a great opportunity for them to show us what they have absorbed from this pre-season so far - that they have an understanding of how we want to play the game this year - to really take the game to the French and play at a high tempo."

In more coaching changes, Colm Tucker, previously defence and forwards technical skills, moves to the new role of scrum and contact coach, while Mossy Lawler takes over as attack and skills coach after two seasons as assistant. Forwards coach Dewald Senekal takes responsibility for line-out and maul.

Connacht v Castres Olympique: @ Stade de la Chevaliére, Mazamet: Oran McNulty, Adam Byrne, Byron Ralston, Tom Daly(c ), Alex Wootton, David Hawkshaw, Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Grant Stewart, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Oisín Dowling, Ciaran Booth, Shamus Hurley-Langton. Replacements, Seán Masterson, Eoin de Buitléar, Matthew Burke, Sam Illo, Darragh Murray, Oisín McCormack, Colm Reilly, Shane Jennings, Josh O’Connor, Charlie Ward, Bart Vermeulen, Donnacha Byrne.

 

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