Tag Archives: Dave McSharry

Positive Signs From Connacht

Connacht Rugby

Connacht have recovered well from a tough mid-season run. (c) Pierre-Selim.

There’s been plenty of good news from the West in recent times. The coup of Leinster’s Nathan White last month was followed up by the capture of experienced outhalf Dan Parks. Equally positive is the revelation that all four of Dave Gannon, Paul O’Donohoe, Dave Moore and Kyle Tonetti have extended their contracts beyond the end of this season.

Earlier in the campaign, the highly promising trio of Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin and Dave McSharry tied themselves to their home province for at least another two seasons. It’s a hugely encouraging sign that these ambitious prospects want to be part of a progressing Connacht.

Unfortunately, it’s been a frustrating campaign for Elwood and his squad to date. Their infamous 14-game losing streak from the end of September until mid-January wasn’t a totally fair reflection of their performances. Of those 14 games, only 5 were lost by more than 10 points, and came against powerhouses like Toulouse, Munster and Ulster. Many of the losses came by narrow margins, due to the lack of accuracy in Connacht’s finishing and an inability to close out winning positions.

That’s not to excuse the bad run, a loss is still very much a loss and there were some poor displays along the way. Momentum is a vital factor in any league and not just in regard to winning. Anyone involved in a side racking up consecutive losses will know that the momentum of losing can be hard to stop. Connacht did it manfully, with their heroic 9-8 Heineken Cup win over quarter-final chasing Harlequins. That night at the Sportsground will never be forgotten in Galway.

O'Halloran has signed on for at least another two years. (c) Pierre-Selim.

The fact that Connacht were in the Heineken Cup at all was certainly a contributing factor to their poor PRO12 form. Compared to the massive squads at Munster, Ulster and Leinster, Elwood’s player base is small. The combined demands of the PRO12 and HC stretched the squad. The coach had very little room for rotation, making minimal changes from week to week. Big efforts and narrow misses in Pool 1 against Harlequins away, and both ties with Gloucester took a lot out of the players.

The signings of Parks and White could make an influential difference next season. New Zealander White has been impressive in his 16 appearances for Leinster this season. He will add leadership on and off the pitch, as well as strong scrummaging at tighthead. With Brett Wilkinson packing down at loosehead and the likes of Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You and Dylan Rogers providing cover and competition, Connacht look like being well-stocked in the front-row for next season.

Parks is an interesting acquisition, but the deal makes sense. At 33, concerns will be raised that Parks is past it as this level. However, age is not really a concern here. Much like Ronan O’Gara, Parks’ playing style and strengths have never been reliant on physical attributes. He will kick the corners to put Connacht into good positions, he will release his outside backs when it’s on, and most crucially, he will take any points on offer.

The Scot is the all-time record scorer in the PRO12/Celtic League with 1338 points in his 128 games since 2003. This season, he has kept his rate up with 75 points in 9 games for the Blues. Parks’ reliable boot is what Connacht have missed at times this season. Niall O’Connor has done well in patches, but too many times Connacht have come away from good territory with nothing to show on the scoreboard. Parks will convert a high percentage of any penalties on offer and if nothing’s on, will try the drop goal.

Parks Penalty

Parks will convert territory and possession into points. (c) Simon Williams.

White and Parks should improve the team next season and if Elwood can add one or two more players of decent quality, Connacht will be heading into next season with higher expectations. With the young players hopefully continuing to improve, Connacht will hope for a Leinster, Munster or Ulster Heineken Cup win and the top-tier European qualification that would bring.

For now the focus is on a strong finish to the PRO12 season. Connacht sit 10th coming into tomorrow evening’s clash with Munster in Galway. There’s 5 games left including this derby, and Connacht can rise up the table with a good run. Munster at home, Dragons away, then Ulster and Aironi at home will all look like winnable fixtures to Elwood and his management team.

9th is the highest Connacht have ever finished in this league. Treviso in 8th are only 5 points ahead and that should be the target. 4 wins from the 5 in these remaining games would also allow the western province to equal their record for most amounts of wins in a league season, set at 8 all the way back in 2003/04. It’s a big ask but certainly achievable. Time to ‘front up, rise up’.


Photos courtesy: Simon WilliamsPierre-Selim.

PRO12 Preview: Scarlets vs. Connacht

ST vs Connacht-10

Connacht's hard work this season is starting to pay off. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Friday 2nd March, 19.30 (Not televised)

It’s been a great two weeks for Connacht and their supporters with the signings of Nathan White and Dan Parks being announced for next season, as well as the winless run in the PRO12 ending with a well-deserved 26-13 win over Edinburgh last Friday. The Connacht squad must be buzzing at the moment and rightfully so. Since ending their torrid 14-game losing streak with that famous 9-8 win over Harlequins in January, the outlook at the province has become increasingly positive. Hopefully that will continue at Parc y Scarlets tomorrow night.

Eric Elwood has had to make several changes to last weekend’s victorious team. Brett Wilkinson and Mike McCarthy are on Ireland duty this week so miss out. That means a first start for Munster’s on-loan tighthead Peter Borlase, with Ronan Loughney moving over to loosehead. 20-year-old Dave Heffernan wins his first cap at blindside while fellow Connacht Academy member Mick Kearney starts in the second-row.

There’s youth in the backline too where Dave McSharry and Eoin Griffin renew the midfield partnership that showed such promise earlier in the season. Niall O’Connor misses out through injury, meaning a rare start for Miah Nikora at flyhalf. The bench features several other youngsters with Academy prop Denis Buckley joined by Eoghan Grace, Dave Moore, Matt Jarvis and Kyle Tonetti.

Meanwhile, the Scarlets have been able to bolster their team with four released Wales squad players in Liam Williams on the right wing, Rhodri Jones at loosehead as well as Aaron Shingler and the brilliantly-named Lou Reed in the second-row. Worryingly, the Scarlets are aiming for their seventh consecutive  home league win. Last weekend’s 34-20 win over Treviso ensure that the Welsh region are still in the play-off race.

Having written off Connacht last weekend this is even harder to call, but the Scarlets have more to play for tomorrow night. Verdict: Scarlets by 3.

Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Gareth Maule (capt.), 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Liam Davies, 8 Kieran Murphy. 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Aaron Shingler, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Subs: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Phil John, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Mat Gilbert, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Nick Reynolds, 23 Viliame Iongi.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 Dave Heffernan, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Peter Borlase, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Ronan Loughney.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Stewart Maguire, 19 John Muldoon, 20 Eoghan Grace, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Kyle Tonetti.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).


Photo courtesy:  Pierre-Selim.

Pro12 Previews

Edinburgh vs. Ulster @ Murrayfield

Friday 6th January, 19.30 (Not televised)

Rory Best is one of four Irish internationals who return for Ulster. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Ulster welcome back their Irish internationals for the trip to Murrayfield tonight. Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Tom Court all return to the starting 15. Stephen Terblanche moves to fullback to accommodate Trimble on the wing, meaning Adam D’Arcy drops to the bench. In the back-row, Willie Faloon is the one to miss out due to Ferris’ inclusion. Ferris is at blindside, so Chris Henry moves to the openside with Pedrie Wannenburg retained at No.8.

Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys continue as half-backs while Ian Whitten and Darren Cave start again in midfield. The team selection ensures a degree of continuity from the morale-raising 33-17 win over Munster last weekend. Prop John Afoa said this week that there’s a “real buzz” in this Ulster squad at the moment. Coach Brian McLaughlin will hope this atmosphere is extended with another win in Scotland tonight.

Coming into this match, Ulster sit 8th in the PRO12. Edinburgh are one place behind, trailing by 4 points. Last time out, the Scottish side lost 17-12 to Glasgow Warriors. Outhalf Phil Godman scored a last-gasp drop goal to secure a losing bonus point there. Edinburgh have won just once in their last four PRO12 matches, but have only lost once in seven at Murrayfield in all competitions. Ex-Connacht and Ireland A coach Michael Bradley is in charge at the club.

Bradley has rung the changes for this tie. Scotland legend Chris Paterson comes in at fullback while Nick de Luca starts at centre. Try machine Tim Visser is on the left wing, opposite 21-year-old Tom Brown. It’s a Scottish international half-back pairing of Godman and Greig Laidlaw. Up front, Fijian international Netani Talei starts at No.8 while Bradley has gone for an all-Scottish international front row in Geoff Cross, Ross Ford and Allan Jacobsen.

Ulster come into this match with more momentum and the huge boost that the likes of Ferris and Trimble bring but Edinburgh’s home form has been good. Both teams face must-win Heineken Cup clashes the weekend after this so it may come down to whichever side can keep their focus tonight. If Ulster are to make a bid for the playoff spots then this is the kind of game which they have to win.

Edinburgh: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Tom Brown, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 James King, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Greig Laidlaw (capt.) 8 Netani Talei, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Stuart McInally, 5 Esteban Lozada, 4 Sean Cox, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.                                                                                                             Subs: 16 Alun Walker, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Alan MacDonald, 21 Chris Leck, 22 Matt Scott, 23 Jim Thompson.

Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt.), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Subs: 16 Andi Kyriacou, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Paddy Wallace, 23 Adam D’Arcy.


Aironi vs. Connacht @ Stadio Zaffanella

Saturday 7th January, 15.35 (TG4) 

Connacht captain Gavin Duffy (catching ball) will hope to help his team end their awful run. (c) Liam Coughlan.

This match looks to be Connacht’s best chance of ending their run of losses. Aironi are bottom of the table, having won only two of their games in the PRO12, as well as losing all four of their Heineken Cup matches. Connacht were cruelly dealt more injuries during last week’s narrow loss to Leinster. Eoin Griffin, Johnny O’Connor, Brian Tuohy and Ronan Loughney all picked up injuries in that inter-pro derby.

Eric Elwood is able to call on the the province’s most capped player in Michael Swift, who returns in the second-row. Dylan Rogers replaces Loughney in the front-row. In the back-line, Dave McSharry returns from injury to replace Griffin in the centre while Fetu’u Vainikolo comes in for Tuohy, who broke his leg last weekend. The fifth and final change sees Frank Murphy start at scrumhalf instead of Paul O’Donohoe.

Meanwhile, Aironi had a derby of their own last weekend. They lost 37-14 away to Treviso and have made three changes from that starting fifteen. Giulio Toniolatti comes in on the right wing, while Tyson Keats gets the nod at scrumhalf. Joshua Furno joins captain Marco Bortolami in the second-row. The Aironi bench has experience in abundance with the likes of Salvatore Perugini, Mauro Bergamasco and Quintin Geldenhuys to call on.

Connacht’s next two fixtures after this are against Toulouse and Harlequins in the Heineken Cup. That makes a win against Aironi all the more important. Those two HC fixtures will be huge asks so a win in Italy looks their only hope to lift some of the gloom. While Connacht have only scored one try more than Aironi in the PRO12 this season, the Italians have conceded 33 to Connacht’s 18. Hopefully Connacht can match their performance of last weekend. That would be enough to secure a precious win.

Aironi: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giulio Toniolatti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Gabriel Pizarro, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Josh Sole, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Nicola Cattina, 5 Marco Bortolami (capt.), 4 Joshua Furno, 3 Fabio Staibano, 2 Roberto Santamaria, 1 Alberto De Marchi
Subs: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Salvatore Perugini, 18 Lorenzo Romano, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Naas Olivier, 23 Alberto Benettin.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Kyle Tonetti, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Mattew Jarvis, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 George Naoupu, 7 John Muldoon, 6 Mick Kearney, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Dylan Rogers, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Stewart Maguire, 19 Eoin McKeon, 20 Ray Ofisa, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Niall O’Connor, 23 Henry Fa’afili.


Cardiff Blues vs. Leinster @ Cardiff City Stadium

Saturday 7th January, 18.15 (TG4)

Jamie Heaslip (being tackled by Keith Earls here) captains the Leinster side. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Joe Schmidt has named an all-Irish starting fifteen for Leinster’s clash with the Blues on Saturday evening. With the recent announcement of the IRFU’s plans to change the manner in which overseas players are contracted to the provinces, it’s a sign that Leinster will probably be the least affected. Blues coach Justin Burnell has also named a strong side for what should be a high-quality encounter.

For Leinster, fullback Rob Kearney is joined by brother Dave and 20-year-old Andrew Conway in a back-three brimming with pace. Fergus McFadden is selected at outside centre, where he’ll be hoping to impress Declan Kidney ahead of the Six Nations. Eoin Reddan is at scrumhalf ahead of Isaac Boss.

Up front, Sean Cronin comes in at hooker, with Mike Ross and Cian Healy either side of him. Devin Toner and Damian Browne make up the second-row. Kevin McLaughlin is named at blindside while Sean O’Brien is at 7. Jamie Heaslip captains the side from No.8.

Cardiff give Gavin Henson a start at fullback while Wales captain Sam Warburton leads the side at openside. Leinster will have to look to negate Warburton’s influence as much as possible. Elsewhere, the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Gethin Jenkins and Dan Parks add an international flavour to this tie.

Looking at the teams on paper, this is a mouth-watering clash. Cardiff sit 5th at the moment, just 3 points behind Munster and with a game in hand. They’ll be looking to catapult themselves into those play-off positions. Leinster are currently 6 points clear at the top of the table and will hope to maintain that breathing space. It should be a cracker.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Gavin Henson, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Sam Warburton (capt.), 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Marc Breeze, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 John Yapp, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Richard Mustoe.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney 13 Fergus McFadden, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Andrew Conway, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Damian Browne, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Leo Auva’a, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Isa Nacewa, 23 Fionn Carr.


Munster vs. Treviso @ Thomond Park

Saturday 7th January, 20.15 (RTE 2)

Conor Murray is back at scrumhalf. (c) Robbie Ambrose.

Munster are back to full-strength after a disappointing performance from a weakened team against Ulster last weekend. Only five of that team are retained as Munster look to get back on track. Ronan O’Gara is back in to steer the ship at outhalf, while Paul O’Connell returns to captain the side from the second-row. Peter O’Mahony has recovered from his jaw injury and comes in at blindside flanker.

Elsewhere, Keith Earls is back at outside centre, another player looking to impress Declan Kidney. The exciting Simon Zebo is back in on the left wing, meaning Johne Murphy moves over to the right. It’s a strong-looking Munster bench too, with Donncha O’Callaghan, Tomas O’Leary and Ian Keatley all waiting in the wings.

Treviso are only 5 points behind Munster in the league, so a win for them at Thomond would be huge. Coach Franco Smith has made only one change from the team that ran in four tries against Aironi last weekend. Manoa Vosawai replaces the injured Robert Barbieri at No.8. Treviso have been the most improved team in the PRO12 this season, so Munster will have to be wary of the threat they pose.

Still, with the strength of the team McGahan has gone for, Munster should be looking for a big win. As always, they will be made to work extremely hard by the Italians but this game may be an opportunity to secure a bonus-point win that would leave Munster in a much stronger position. The Blues, Scarlets, Treviso and even Ulster are all breathing down Munster’s neck, meaning a big win would be very welcome.

Munster : 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifemi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (capt.), 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Tomas O’Leary, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Danny Barnes.

Treviso: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Brendan Williams, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Gonzalo Padrò, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 4 Antonio Pavanello (capt.), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Franco Sbaraglini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Subs: 16 Diego Vidal, 17 Matteo Muccignat, 18 Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Enrico Pavanello, 21 Simon Picone, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Alberto Di Bernardo.


Photos courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan, Robbie Ambrose, Liam Coughlan.