Promising academy pair get first starts as Connacht look for Sale scalp

Andy Friend’s men are hoping to back up last weekend’s Challenge Cup win over Bordeaux.

KYLE GODWIN ISN’T known as a wing but he made a decent impression out wide for Connacht in the 11 shirt last weekend, scoring two tries as Andy Friend’s side opened their Challenge Cup campaign with a 22-10 victory over Bordeaux.

The Australian is back in his preferred 12 jersey for today’s second-round visit to Sale Sharks [KO 3pm], teaming up with Tom Farrell in the midfield as Bundee Aki is rested.

Kyle Godwin Godwin is back in midfield today. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I had a bit of a run on the wing a couple of weeks ago in a trial match, but that [Bordeaux game] was probably the first opportunity I ever had there,” says Godwin.

“I never played there before. I actually enjoyed it, it was good fun.”

The Challenge Cup was always likely to see Connacht experimenting this season, and today’s trip to Sale underlines that again.

Frontline out-half Jack Carty is rested after playing seven games in a row, meaning that academy player Conor Fitzgerald gets his first start for the province after making his debut off the bench against Bordeaux last weekend.

The former Munster academy out-half is joined in making his first senior start by left wing Colm de Buitléar, the Connemara man who also debuted last time out at the Sportsground.

The introduction of the exciting but inexperienced academy pair is balanced by Friend bringing Tiernan O’Halloran back into his team at fullback, while Caolin Blade is handed the captaincy at scrum-half.

The likes of Blade and O’Halloran will be important as Connacht look to find a good blend between running and kicking at AJ Bell Stadium.

Conor Fitzgerald Academy out-half Conor Fitzgerald starts for Connacht. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I might need to be working on a few of my clearance kicks,” says Godwin. “I had a nine iron on one of those that went skywards [last weekend].

“It’s just about a bit of game management. Fitzy did really well and Jack Carty has been fantastic this season in terms of game management, and Bladey too.”

Up front, Denis Buckley replaces Peter McCabe at loosehead after his concussion last weekend, combining with Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey, while Ireland international Ultan Dillane teams up with James Cannon in the second row.

The exciting Paul Boyle starts at blindside flanker in a back row also containing the dynamism of Robin Copeland and breakdown smarts of Colby Fainga’a.

Meanwhile, the possible debut off the bench of Aussie playmaker David Horwitz will be of interest to Connacht fans.

Keen to back up last weekend’s 41-24 win away to Perpignan in Pool 3, Sale have named a strong starting team including Springboks scrum-half Faf de Klerk, the returning James O’Connor at outside centre and England flanker Tom Curry.

Chris Ashton is back from suspension and makes his Sale debut on the left wing, with Steve Diamond’s selection underlining the fact that the Sharks are eager to make a dent in the Challenge Cup.

Barbarians Chris Ashton scores a try Chris Ashton makes his Sale debut on the wing. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

It also means Connacht would be claiming a scalp by winning on the road, but this squad is starting to believe under Friend.

“It’s definitely building, we’re building as a team,” says Godwin. “As much as we’re happy with the win [last weekend], we’re still looking to improve. 

“But with those wins, it creates that winning culture for us.”

Sale Sharks:

15. Sam James
14. Byron McGuigan
13 James O’Connor
12. Rohan Janse Van Rensburg
11. Chris Ashton
10. Kieran Wilkinson
9. Faf de Klerk

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1. Ross Harrison
2. Rob Webber
3. WillGriff John
4. Bryn Evans
5. James Phillips
6. Jono Ross (captain)
7. Tom Curry
8. Josh Beaumont


16. Curtis Langdon
17. Tom Bristow
18. Alexandru Tarus
19. George Nott
20. Ben Curry
21. Will Cliff
22. Luke James
23. Arron Reed


15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Tom Farrell
12. Kyle Godwin
11. Colm De Buitléar
10. Conor Fitzgerald
9. Caolin Blade (captain)

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Conor Carey
4. Ultan Dillane
5. James Cannon
6. Paul Boyle
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Robin Copeland


16. Tom McCartney
17. Matthew Burke
18. Conan O’Donnell
19. Joe Maksymiw
20. James Connolly
21. James Mitchell
22. David Horwitz
23. Eoin Griffin

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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