Harman Patil (Editor)

Connacht Rugby

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Covid-19
Nickname(s)  The Devil's Own
Top scorer  Ian Keatley (688)
League(s)  Pro12
Founded  1885
Coach  Pat Lam
CEO  Willie Ruane (Jul 2014–)
Most caps  John Muldoon (275)
Most tries  Fionn Carr (42)
2015–16  2nd (Champions)
Arena/Stadium  Galway Sportsgrounds
Captain  John Muldoon
Connacht Rugby Home Connacht Rugby Connacht Rugby
Location  Connacht, Republic of Ireland
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Connacht Rugby (Irish: Rugbaí Connachta) is one of the four professional provincial rugby teams from the island of Ireland. Connacht competes in the Pro12 and the European Rugby Champions 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.

Contents

Connacht Rugby Connacht Rugby Guide to fixtures by Hostel Galway Accommodation

Connacht plays its home games at the Galway Sportsgrounds, which holds 8,100 spectators. Connacht play in a predominantly green and navy jersey, green shorts and green and white socks. 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.

Connacht Rugby Job Vacancy HR Generalist Connacht Rugby Irish Rugby Official

With only 7% of the total number of Irish rugby union players, Connacht has a much smaller base of rugby union players to choose from than the other three provinces, due in part to its small population and the relative popularity of Gaelic Athletic Association sports such as hurling and Gaelic football. However, rugby union in Connacht has expanded, with increased ticket sales, 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. The Connacht Eagles, a developmental side, have featured in the semi-professional British and Irish Cup since the 2012–13 season.

Connacht Rugby All Black pedigree good for Connacht rugby

Irish rugby tv focus on connacht rugby academy


Foundation and amateur era (1885–1995)

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 Leinster, Munster and Ulster, whose teams had been formed ten years earlier 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. Castlebar, Queen's College (later NUI Galway) and Ballinasloe, who formed part of Buccaneers, are the only three of those six to have stayed active in some form since the branch was founded. The province is currently made up of four All-Ireland League clubs, 20 "Junior" clubs and 4 "Mini" rugby clubs. During the amateur era, the four Irish provinces played against each other in the Irish Interprovincial Championship, and also played against touring international sides.

Early professional years (1995–2003)

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. In Ireland, the four provincial teams were the only teams to go professional, while their smaller constituent clubs remained amateur.

Connacht Rugby Connacht Rugby to face Munster in a limited edition Green Lantern

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 4th from 6 teams in their group, which also contained Toulon and the Northampton Saints.

The 1997–98 European 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 4. Connacht won 5 of their 6 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. Nel's initial two seasons also saw Connacht knocked out of the Challenge Cup during the group stages – but domestically, 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 Celtic League. They were beaten by Scotland's Glasgow Warriors, with 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. 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.

Michael Bradley era (2003–2010)

Michael Bradley took charge of Connacht in 2003, coming in from the Irish under-age set up to replace Steph Nel. 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 semifinals 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.

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. 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 clubs 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. 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)

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. 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

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. Ahead of their first season in European Rugby's premier club competition, Gavin Duffy replaced John Muldoon as captain of the team. 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.

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. In September 2011, Connacht season ticket sales went over the 3,000 mark for the first time in the club's history, and average attendance for the 2011–12 season saw a 105% increase over the previous season. 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.

Ahead of the 2012–13 season, Connacht signed former Scotland fly-half Dan Parks from the Cardiff Blues. Round 5 of the league saw Connacht beat their provincial rivals and the Heineken Cup holders, Leinster, 34–6 at the Sportsgrounds, with the team running in five tries. This season saw the Connacht end in the same position as the previous year, as the team finished eighth out of twelve teams 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. Elwood departed at the end of the 2012–13 season. The end of the season also saw the retirements of two of Connacht's most experienced players, Adrian Flavin and Johnny O'Connor, both of whom had made over 100 appearances for the team.

Pat Lam takes over (2013–present)

Elwood's replacement was announced in January 2013, with the New Zealand born former Samoa international Pat Lam appointed to coach the team. 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. 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. They were drawn into Pool 3 with Saracens, Toulouse and Zebre. In the first round of games Connacht ran Saracens close in Galway, before overcoming Zebre away. On 8 December 2013, Connacht produced one of the biggest shocks in the history of the Heineken Cup when they defeated Toulouse in the Stade Ernest-Wallon. They were beaten by Toulouse in the return game at the Sportsground. Connacht beat Zebre at home and went into the final game with a slim chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, but were beaten comfortably by Saracens on a final score of 64–6.

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. The team won a record 10 games, including home derbies against provincial rivals Leinster and Munster on their way to finishing seventh, the highest finish the team had ever achieved.

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.

On 28 May 2016, Connacht won their first ever major trophy, the 2015–16 Pro12 after a 20-10 win against Leinster in the final.

On 20th February 2017 it was announced that Kieran Keane was appointed as head coach, taking over once Pat Lam leaves in June 2017.

Status Within Irish Rugby

Initially 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. Thousands of supporters at the time marched to show their support of the provincial team and this idea was subsequently rejected. 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.

Although Connacht are no longer as far behind in funding they do still have a smaller playing population compared to the other provinces, though this is growing steadily along with the supporter base. Connacht has often relied on a policy of bringing in players from other teams that have failed to progress to their senior team or are seeking more game time and players from the amateur All-Ireland League to help make up. The Connacht Rugby academy under Nigel Carolan has consistently produced graduates to represent the senior Connacht Rugby team however and many of these players have also represented Ireland at under-age level. Robbie Henshaw, Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Eoin McKeon, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader, Tiernan O'Halloran, Danny Qualter and Jack Carty are examples of Connacht players native to the province to have progressed to the senior team through the academy.

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, while hooker Sean Cronin, tighthead prop Jamie Hagan and winger Fionn Carr all transferred to Leinster. 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.

European Qualification

In the early years of European competition, Connacht were automatically entered in the European Challenge Cup each year rather than the more prestigious Heineken Cup, with the IRFU automatically giving its three allocated Heineken Cup places to the other provinces regardless of results in the Celtic League. However, ahead of the 2006–07 season, the union agreed to use the Celtic League table as its sole criteria for determining which Irish teams would enter the next season's Heineken Cup. Before 2016, Connacht had never finished in a higher league position than any of their provincial rivals. Despite this Connacht did achieve Heineken Cup qualification from the 2011–12 season to the 2013–14 season due to Leinster winning 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.

With the Heineken Cup being replaced by the 20-team European Rugby Champions Cup in the 2014–15 season, the Pro12 table now has a greater impact 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 sees one place now 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 are entered in the new second tier competition, the European Rugby Challenge Cup. This means that Connacht are 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. To avoid conflict with the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the organiser of the European club competitions, European Professional Club Rugby, decided not to hold a play-off for the 20th Champions Cup place after the 2015–16 season, instead awarding that place to the winner of the 2015–16 Challenge Cup. Starting in the 2016–17 competition the 20th tournament spot will be decided by a playoff involving the Pro12's two highest finishing teams that have not already qualified, the seventh highest finishing club from France's Top 14 and the seventh highest finishing club from the English Premiership.

The 2015–16 season marked a major breakthrough for Connacht, finishing level on points atop the league table with Leinster but placing second on the first tiebreaker of matches won, and going on to win the season championship. The 2016–17 Champions Cup was the first to which Connacht qualified solely on its own merit. They finished third in their pool and failed to reach the quarter final.

Sportsground and supporters

The historical home of Connacht Rugby since the late 1920s, the Galway Sportsgrounds, often known simply as "the Sportsground", is known as a spartan and inhospitable venue for visiting teams, especially in winter. The ground is owned by The Galway Agricultural & Sports Society Ltd. who lease it to both Connacht Rugby and the Irish Greyhound Board. 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, with work completed on Munster's Thomond Park in 2008 and Ulster's Ravenhill in 2009, while further refurbishment is planned for the RDS. These developments leave Connacht further behind the other provinces, as their rivals look to benefit financially from the increased revenue streams.

Connacht's participation in the Heineken Cup for the first time in 2011–12 spurred a new phase of development at the Sportsground, increasing capacity to 7,500 supporters. The Clubhouse Terrace was knocked down, and replaced by covered terrace called the "Clan Terrace" that is primarily for season ticket holders and Supporters Club members. The Clan Terrace is scheduled to be replaced itself when funds to do so are in place. There is also the construction of a bar, food outlets and restroom facilities on the Clubhouse side of the ground.

The second part of the development was the erection of a covered seated area called the "West Stand", adjacent to the existing main stand. This stand caters an additional 300 supporters. The new West Stand, along with the developments on the Clan side, increased capacity and improved facilities within the Sportsground.

The Connacht Clan is the official supporters' club of Connacht Rugby and was established in 2011. It is a voluntary club run by a committee elected by members.

Crest and Colours

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.

The current kit consists of a green shirt with a navy back and white shoulder trimming, green shorts and green socks. The away kit is white, green and blue. 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.

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.

Connacht's main shirt sponsors are Irish sporting retailer Lifestyle Sports, who took over from Mazda Ireland ahead of the 2014–15 season. Lifestyle Sports signed a four-season deal with the province, which will see their logo feature on the jersey until the end of the 2017–18 season.

Coaching and management team

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

Senior playing squad

2016–17 Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.

  • Players qualified to play for Ireland on dual nationality or residency grounds*
  • Senior 15's internationally capped players in bold
  • Irish Provinces are currently limited to four non-Irish eligible (NIE) players and one non-Irish qualified player (NIQ or "Project Player"). Connacht Rugby is exempted from this under a separate development arrangement
  • Academy Squad

    2016–17

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

    Notable players

    See also Category:Connacht Rugby players

    Ireland

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

    British and Irish Lions

    The following Connacht players have also represented the British and Irish Lions.

    (c) Tour Captain

  • Ray McLoughlin: 1966, 1971
  • John O'Driscoll: 1980, 1983
  • Ciaran Fitzgerald: 1983 (c)
  • Pro12

    The following Connacht players have been named to the Pro12 Team of the Year:

    Connacht Eagles (formerly Connacht A) is the team that represents Connacht in the British & Irish Cup and in the All Ireland Inter-provincial Championship. Pre-professionalism and a formal Celtic league structure, the main Connacht team competed in the AIPC. Since the advent of professionalism the provinces have fielded lesser teams in order to concentrate on the Celtic League/Pro12. The team is composed of Senior Connacht squad players requiring gametime, Academy players and AIL players called up from their clubs.

    References

    Connacht Rugby Wikipedia


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