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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Connacht excited by 21-year-old Fitzgerald in Carty's absence

The young out-half gets another chance to impress against Munster tomorrow.

IF LAST SEASON was Conor Fitzgerald’s breakthrough year at Connacht, then, going by the early evidence, the next 12 months could very well see the young out-half come of age in a green jersey.

Promoted from the academy to a professional contract off the back of six first-team appearances last term, Fitzgerald has impressed in pre-season and is set for further opportunities with Jack Carty away at the World Cup. 

conor-fitzgerald Fitzgerald has impressed during pre-season. Source: Jean Francois Basset/INPHO

Named to start tomorrow’s final pre-season outing against Munster at the Sportsground, 21-year-old Fitzgerald is highly-rated at the western province and could play a big role for Andy Friend’s side during the early stages of the Pro14 season.

Although Dave Horwitz and Conor Dean are also options for Friend, it appears Fitzgerald — a former minor Limerick hurler — has earned his shot in the 10 jersey having worked hard over pre-season.

“With Bundee and Jack away, it provides opportunity to others and I think Conor Fitzgerald is the one who will get the first opportunity because he’s going really well,” backs coach Nigel Carolan said at this week’s Pro14 launch.

“He’s got a really useful skillset and he has grown, not only physically, but is maturing very well. I think he is going to be one of our bright sparks this year. He might even challenge Jack when he comes back from the World Cup.”

Fitzgerald starred off the bench in Connacht’s 14-13 win in Oyonnax last month, as he scored nine points during a standout second-half cameo in the out-half position.

“I just think Conor is very composed,” Carolan continued. “He’s learning the game and instils a lot of confidence in the players around him. I think he’s going to be of value to us this year.”

Connacht captain Jarrad Butler is also tipping Fitzgerald to have a big season out west.

He added: “Conor Fitz, the way he has matured and you can just see he’s building confidence with every game. He has started shouting at me and I’ve been telling him to cool his jets but it has been good, really good.”

Fitzgerald will partner Caolin Blade in the half-backs for Saturday’s friendly against Munster in Galway [KO 3pm], as Friend’s side gear up towards their Pro14 season opener against away at Scarlets next week.

The Connacht head coach has named a strong team for his side’s final hit-out before the serious business, with Tiernan O’Halloran, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Paddy McAllister, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux and Butler all named to start.

nigel-carolan Nigel Carolan speaking in Dublin this week. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Stephen Fitzgerald, meanwhile, will hope to continue his try-scoring form having crossed twice in the win over Russia in Moscow, while Kieran Marmion is on the bench having endured the disappointment of missing out on a place in Ireland’s World Cup squad.

Overall, Carolan says Connacht are pleased with their squad depth ahead of the new campaign, which will also mark their return to the Heineken Champions Cup.

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“I think there’s real depth,” the former Ireland U20 coach said. “It’s really difficult for us as coaches to select what we think is our best XV because there are questions being asked by other players. 

“We have put more focus on our kicking and trying to find space through that. A lot of teams are defending now with 13 in the frontline so we have to be able to utilise the grass spaces that are left.

We’ve put a massive emphasis on our kicking and it’s just trying to expand the variety of our attack and making sure there is a toolbox there. It’s up to the players to select the right tool for the right moment based on the picture they see.

As for Butler, who starts at number eight on Saturday, the goal is clear.

“We want to be competitive in the Champions Cup,” the skipper says. “We’re really excited to be part of the competition and we see it as a huge opportunity for guys to put their hand up on the European stage.

“We want to win the Pro14, we want to be competitive. We made some really good strides last season and improved a lot. We want to go again and build on that.” 


15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Stephen Fitzgerald
13. Kyle Godwin
12. Tom Farrell
11. Matt Healy
10. Conor Fitzgerald
9. Caolin Blade

1. Paddy McAllister
2. Tom McCartney
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Gavin Thornbury
5. Quinn Roux
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Jarrad Butler (captain).


16. Jonny Murphy
17. Denis Buckley
18. Dominic Robertson McCoy
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Eoin McKeon
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Conor Dean
23. John Porch
24. Paul Boyle
25. Peter Robb.

Gavan Casey is joined by Andy Dunne and, from Japan, Murray Kinsella ahead of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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