Dublin: 15°C Friday 19 August 2022

Farewells and glimpses of the future as Connacht wrap up against Zebre

It has been a disappointing URC season for Andy Friend’s side but they can finish with a home win.

Ultan Dillane is leaving for La Rochelle this summer.
Ultan Dillane is leaving for La Rochelle this summer.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AN EVENING OF farewells and a few glimpses of the future await at the Sportsground in Galway as Connacht finish their season with a URC run-out against Italian side Zebre [KO 5pm, RTÉ]. 

It has been a disappointing season for the western province, whose record of eight wins in 17 league games means they were well out of the running for the play-offs some time ago. 

Given they faced an uphill task by being part of the Irish shield along with Munster, Leinster, and Ulster, Andy Friend’s side needed to be absolutely nailed-on with their games against non-Irish opposition.

There have been a few bright sparks in that regard, but home defeats to the Dragons and Glasgow, as well as away defeats without bonus points against Cardiff and Edinburgh,  stand out in the negative column. So there are regrets as Connacht reflect on this URC season.

Today is the end of the line in Connacht colours for stalwart back row Eoghan Masterson, long-serving second row Ultan Dillane, back row Abraham Papali’i, and centre Sammy Arnold. Masterson and Dillane have spent their entire pro careers up until this point with Connacht, so it’s sure to be emotional for them.

Arnold has won over the Connacht fans in a short space of time and although Papali’i never quite fulfilled his explosive potential, he too was well-liked. Both head for Brive in France this summer.

Connacht should be able to conclude their campaign in winning fashion against this poor Zebre team, who have won just once this season, and their matchday 23 allows Friend to take another look at a few young men who hope to play prominent roles in the future.

There has been excitement about hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin’s talent since he shone for the Ireland U20s in their Grand Slam-winning campaign of 2019 but he has been slowed by injuries since. Having clearly used that time away from playing to improve himself as an athlete, he has returned in impressive fashion recently.

dylan-tierney-martin 22-year-old Connacht hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

An aggressive presence who loves competing at the breakdown and chop-tackling, he is a big prospect for Connacht and will enjoy his first senior start in the number two shirt this evening.

22-year-old fullback Oran McNulty has lots of promise, 24-year-old back row Seán Masterson is in the same bracket after overcoming his own injury travails, while we’ve already seen 22-year-old lock Niall Murray shine at this level.

Shifting to number eight, Cian Prendergast has been one of the best things about this Connacht campaign. The 22-year-old has been consistently brilliant and deserves a shot with Ireland this summer in New Zealand.

Tying things together are some of the senior men who will be key as Connacht look to the next chapter. The likes of captain Jack Carty, Tom Daly, Denis Buckley, Gavin Thornbury, and Kieran Marmion won’t have been pleased with how 2021/22 panned out.

So this evening is about finishing on a high, bidding goodbye to a few fine Connacht servants, then looking forward to a breather before the hard work begins ahead of the 2022/23 season. Friend and co. will hope it’s a better one. 

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  • 15. Oran McNulty 
  • 14. John Porch 
  • 13. Tom Farrell 
  • 12. Tom Daly 
  • 11. Alex Wootton 
  • 10. Jack Carty (captain)
  • 9. Kieran Marmion 
  • 1. Denis Buckley 
  • 2. Dylan Tierney-Martin
  • 3. Finlay Bealham 
  • 4. Gavin Thornbury 
  • 5. Niall Murray 
  • 6. Eoghan Masterson 
  • 7. Seán Masterson 
  • 8. Cian Prendergast 


  • 16. Dave Heffernan 
  • 17. Matthew Burke 
  • 18. Jack Aungier 
  • 19. Ultan Dillane 
  • 20. Abraham Papali’i 
  • 21. Colm Reilly 
  • 22. Conor Fitzgerald 
  • 23. Sammy Arnold 


  • 15. Lorenzo Pani
  • 14. Asaeli Tuivuaka
  • 13. Franco Smith Jr.
  • 12. Enrico Lucchin
  • 11. Jacopo Trulla
  • 10. Carlo Canna
  • 9. Chris Cook
  • 1. Danilo Fischetti
  • 2. Luca Bigi
  • 3. Eduardo Bello
  • 4. David Sisi (captain)
  • 5. Andrea Zambonin
  • 6. Luca Andreani
  • 7. Iacopo Bianchi
  • 8. Taina Fox-Matamua


  • 16. Giampietro Ribaldi
  • 17. Paolo Buonfiglio
  • 18. Matteo Nocera
  • 19. Leonard Krumov
  • 20. Ross Vintcent
  • 21. Nicolò Casilio
  • 22. Alessandro Fusco
  • 23. Junior Laloifi

Referee: Adam Jones [WRU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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