'Everyone will be saying he's the next Mack Hansen' - Connacht excited about additions

Andy Friend is enthused by Leinster players deciding to switch to Connacht.

Byron Ralston will join Connacht ahead of next season.
Byron Ralston will join Connacht ahead of next season.
Image: AAP/PA Images

CONNACHT HAVE A few huge months ahead of them as they aim to ensure this season doesn’t end as a disappointment. They have just five games left to grab a play-off spot in the URC and will face Leinster in the home-and-away Champions Cup round-of-16.

So there’s plenty on their plate right now, but there’s also a sense of excitement in the background for supporters about the new additions set to join the province this summer.

Connacht have confirmed a raft of new signings in recent weeks, with four players in line to join from Leinster, one arriving from New Zealand, and another from Australia.

21-year-old Byron Ralston, who is Irish-qualified, has been impressing on the wing for the Western Force in Super Rugby and Connacht boss Andy Friend is convinced the Darwin native can impress in Ireland. 

“I think Byron’s going to offer a lot to us, as all those signings are,” said Friend. “Watching him for the Force… again, his agent let us know that he was Irish-qualified so you take a greater interest when you see that.

“But he’s very athletic. He has been playing on the wing but he can play in the centres as well and actually has a desire to play outside centre which is a position that we need more coverage in, so that’s great.

“He’s got youth on his side and he’s very, very keen. Probably the most important thing is you then talk to coaches that have coached him and they say he is very, very coachable.

“He wants to come over here. He had other opportunities but a bit like Mack Hansen he wants to come over here and explore those Irish roots and see what opportunity presents itself here.

“So I think he’s a great signing for us. There’ll be a bit of pressure because everyone else will be saying he is the next Mack Hansen, the poor bugger! Listen, you never know what he’s going to do.”

super-rugby-brumbies-force Mack Hansen is tackled by Ralston [14] in Super Rugby in 2021. Source: AAP/PA Images

Kiwi back row Shamus Hurley-Langton will be joining Connacht from the Manawatu Turbos, having impressed in New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship over the last two seasons.

The 21-year-old has an Irish-sounding surname but he isn’t actually qualified to play for Ireland.

“I think the spelling of Shamus changes it,” said Friend. “I said it to him and he does have Irish heritage, but I think it’s one generation removed.

“But he is another exciting young prospect. For me, he’s a very similar version of Colby Fainga’a [who starred for Connacht from 2018 to 2020] and we know how good Colby was for us.

“He’s a powerful back rower, he can play eight or seven, he certainly attacks and defends with enormous vigour and intent. So I think he’s going to be another exciting signing for us.”

The four-man Leinster contingent is made up of 22-year-old out-half/centre David Hawkshaw and a trio of 27-year-olds in wing Adam Byrne, loosehead prop Peter Dooley, and back row/lock Josh Murphy.

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While Hawkshaw has relatively limited experience, Byrne has been capped by Ireland, while Dooley and Murphy have lots of senior professional experience too. 

Friend is enthused that those players were open to making the inter-provincial move with the aim of starting more games in Connacht.   

“I think it’s great for us,” said Friend. “It’s probably been the biggest change since I’ve been here.

“I remember in my first year, we spoke to a number of Leinster fringe players who weren’t getting game time and there was no way of budging them.

adam-byrne Adam Byrne will join from Leinster. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

“I think it’s a compliment to Connacht and the programme that we’re building here that when we talk to these men now, there’s a desire and for them, they’ve chosen to uproot and come down here and want to play in the green of Connacht which is great for us.

“I think it’s great for them too because the only way you get better as a rugby player is to play rugby.

“So there’s opportunity here. They haven’t been given any guarantees at all. They’re coming into a squad and as we say to all the players, ‘May the best man win, there will be 15 each week and hopefully if you’re good enough, you’ll be in that 15.’”

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Murray Kinsella

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