9 September 2021
Fixture: Connacht Rugby v London Irish
Competition: Pre-Season friendly
Date: Friday 10th September 2021
Stadium: The Sportsground
Capacity: 8,129 (operating at 50% capacity due to Covid-19 guidelines)
London Irish will play Connacht Rugby at The Sportsground on Friday night, as preparations for the start of the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership Rugby season continue to gather pace.
Connacht travelled to the Exiles’ Round 1 opponents’ Worcester Warriors last weekend, with the hosts coming out on top in a 13-try thriller, winning 52-39 at Sixways.
Oisin Dowling, Tiernan O’Halloran and Jonny Murphy got on the score sheet late on for the visitors, but Connacht's attempts to claw back a 32-point deficit ultimately fell short.
Irish will look to replicate the fortunes of Alex Solomons’ men on their travels to Galway in preparation for a first full season in front of fans at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Connacht will undoubtedly face tough domestic competition this season, entering the expanded inaugural United Rugby Championship for the first time this campaign.
They have, nonetheless, recruited well, with acquisitions such as Shayne Bolton, an Irish-qualified South African centre from University of Free State, amongst eight others, likely to help their cause.
The boss – Andy Friend
Andy Friend joined the Connacht set-up in May 2018 after a two-year stint with the Australia 7s side, with his first head coaching job in the game coming at The Stoop with Harlequins.
Friend won the Championship and EDF Energy Trophy double with Quins in his maiden campaign in 2005/06, going on to coach in Canberra with the Brumbies for three seasons.
The Australian currently boasts the best win-percentage of any Connacht coach in the professional era (52%), bettering legends such as Michael Bradley (36.3%) and 2016 Pro12 winner and Coach of the Year Pat Lam (48.3%).
Friend put pen to paper on a new two-year contract extension in January, with an announcement of a new coaching staff closely following after.
Ahead of the new season, former defence coach Peter Wilkins has been promoted to Senior Coach, while both Mossy Lawlor and Colm Tucker have arrived from the Connacht Eagles, the former joining as Assistant Attack and Skills Coach, while the latter comes in as Defence & Forwards Technical Skills Coach.
One to Watch – Tom Daly
Towering centre Tom Daly picked up both Fans’ Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards in the 2020/21 season.
The Carlow native, who began his career in the Irish capital with Leinster, completed his second full season in Galway last term after an initial loan from the Blues.
In 23 appearances last season, the 28-year-old scored 44 points, amassing 415 metres gained after 160 carries, with 148 tackles to boot.
Daly, with five other Connacht players, was recognised for his recent efforts by being called up by Andy Farrell for Ireland’s Vodafone Summer Series, having represented his country at U-20 and 7s levels.
Classic Encounter – Connacht Rugby 10-27 London Irish – European Challenge Cup, 17 October 2008
The Exiles’ last visit to the Galway Sportsground came back in the 2008/09 Challenge Cup and was the first competitive meeting between the sides.
A second half brace from Topsy Ojo proved pivotal in securing the bonus-point victory for Toby Booth’s men on the Emerald Isle following a resilient yet wasteful showing from Connacht.
Elvis Seveali'i and Seilala Mapusua both touched down to contribute to the 100 per-cent record maintained by the Exiles throughout the pool stages of the competition.
Irish would go on to defeat Connacht once again, this time the scoreline 75-5 at the Madejski Stadium, on their way to a quarter-final exit at the hands of Bourgoin following a 32-30 loss.
Try: Fionn Carr
Conversion: Ian Keatley
Penalty: Ian Keatley
Tries: Elvis Seveali'i, Seilala Mapusua, Topsy Ojo (2)
Conversions: Peter Hewat (2)
Penalties: Peter Hewat
Speaking to Connacht Rugby’s ‘1885 Virtual FanZone’, Senior Coach Peter Wilkins stated of his intent to implement a new culture into Connacht’s brand of rugby in his role this year.
“It’s no secret we want to get more speed into our game and play that brand of rugby that traditionally Connacht have been renowned for,” he said.
“The game planning element and rugby identity will be pulling together all the areas we coach to make sure there is a DNA behind how we play the game, and is something we will look to launch this year.”
(Preview compiled by Ryan Fitzgerald-Nolan)