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Connacht Rugby announce signings of Ben O’Donnell and Abraham Papali’i

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Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce the signings of Australian 7s player Ben O’Donnell and Bay of Plenty Number 8 Abraham Papali’i.
 
The pair will link up with the squad before the start of the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season.
 
Ben O’Donnell joins from the Australian Sevens programme, having played 95 matches for his country since he was handed his debut in 2017 under Andy Friend. The 24-year old went on to score 47 tries in that time and has been a key figure in their progression through the World Rugby Seven Series over the past three seasons.
 
O’Donnell was voted Australian Sevens Player of the year in 2018 and subsequently went on to be the first Australian player ever nominated for the World Sevens Player of the Year.
 
New Zealander Abraham Papali’i arrives from Bay of Plenty where he was a key member of the squad that won the Mitre 10 Cup Championship last year. The Auckland-born duel code player started his Rugby Union career with North Harbour before being recruited into the New Zealand Warriors (Rugby League) pathway. In 2015 Papali’i signed a two year contract with the Sydney Roosters of the Australian National Rugby League (NRL).
 
Following his time with the Roosters, Papali’i joined Lézignan Sangliers in the premier French Rugby League competition before the 6’4” number 8 returned to New Zealand and successfully restarted his Rugby Union career with Bay of Plenty.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says today’s announcement is a significant boost ahead of the return to rugby.
 
“I am delighted to welcome Ben and Abraham to Connacht Rugby.
 
I got to know Ben very well on the Australian Sevens scene. It did not surprise me that he went on to become such an important player for them and I am thrilled that he has chosen to join Connacht.
 
Abraham is a powerful number 8 who has all the attributes to become a really valuable player for us while furthering our options in the back row. I know every Connacht supporter will be excited to see what he can offer.”

 
Friend expressed his excitement about the announcement and what the squad can achieve in the upcoming season.
 
“Today’s announcement comes on the back of discussions that started a number of months ago and we are delighted to eventually be able to share this exciting news with all of our supporters today.
 
These signings bring our squad up to 43 players for next season. We have freshened up and added depth to our squad in a number of key areas, having signed a healthy blend of young exciting players who have come through our Academy system as well as bringing in some additional quality and experience from further afield.
 
We are an ambitious group and I firmly believe we have all the tools we need to kick on to the next level and achieve success in what is going to be a really exciting season.”

Press Release from Connacht Rugby

Pro14

Lowry retained at 10 for Ulster v Zebre

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ulster coaching team has named the match-day squad to host Zebre in tomorrow night’s final Guinness PRO14 regular season game (Kingspan Stadium, 8.15pm).

21-year-old, Cormac Izuchukwu will make his first start for the Ulster men as he is named in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell. Marty Moore comes back into the starting front row at tighthead, with Eric O’Sullivan and John Andrew retaining their starting berths at loosehead and hooker. Jordi Murphy will captain the side at openside flanker, with Sean Reidy and David McCann being retained at blindside and Number Eight.

A youthful back line sees Ethan McIlroy coming into the  back three at full-back, with Rob Lyttle on the left wing and Robert Baloucoune returning on the right. Stewart Moore and James Hume will make up the midfield pairing, while John Cooney and Michael Lowry are named at half-back.

Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Matty Rea are the forward reinforcements, with David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham providing the back line options on the bench.

Ulster team to play Zebre Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 16, Friday 19 March at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports / eir Sport):

(15-9) Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle, Michael Lowry, John Cooney;

(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordy Murphy (Capt.), David McCann.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.

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Ulster hooker set for Edinburgh move

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(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Edinburgh Rugby today announced the signing of 24-year-old Scottish qualified Ulster Rugby hooker Adam McBurney.

McBurney – whose grandmother was from Cadder, Lanarkshire – joined the Ulster academy set-up in 2016 and represented Ireland from U18 to U20.

His progress led to a senior debut for Ulster in 2017 and his first senior contract with the Irish Province a year later.

He has since gone on to make 35 appearances for the Guinness PRO14 side.


He said: “I’m extremely excited to sign for Edinburgh. It’s a great place and a club with very high standards

“Over the last few seasons, the progress on the pitch has been extremely noticeable from the outside looking in, and it’s something I’m looking forward to being involved with.

“I want to be part of a very successful Edinburgh squad, take every opportunity I’m given on the pitch, show what I’m about and how I can fit into the values and good work Edinburgh have already been doing.”

Wearing the number two jersey, McBurney hopes to take advantage of the experience of Head Coach Richard Cockerill, who earned 27 caps for England in the late 90s.

“Richard Cockerill was a world class player and is a world class coach. I still have a lot of learning in me. I hope to benefit from his experiences to bring the best out of me as a hooker.

“I’ve been in the same rugby environment since I was a kid and hope this change will challenge my ability to adapt, along with picking the brains of new coaches and players to develop my skills.

“I’d like to thank to Ulster for everything they’ve done to help me progress to where I’m at today.”

The news comes as the club confirmed hooker Mike Willemse will leave Edinburgh at the end of the season, having made 34 appearances to date since arriving in 2019.

Edinburgh Rugby Head Coach, Richard Cockerill, said: “We’re pleased to announce Adam will be joining our squad next season. He’s a tough and dynamic competitor with a lot of scope for development.

“He’s a good fit for us and – with Mike leaving – slots well into our stable of hookers at the club.

“He’ll bring a lot of energy, a bit of edge and is a hard worker. We’re looking forward to linking up with him and seeing how he can progress.”

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CJ Stander To Retire At End Of Season

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

CJ Stander has confirmed that he will retire from professional rugby at the end of the season.

The news will come as a surprise to many, but it is a decision that the soon-to-be 31-year-old has given a lot of time and thought to.

The Ireland and Lions capped back row is calling time on his rugby career at the end of the season after reaching significant milestones in the respective green and red jerseys.

Stander made his 50th appearance for Ireland against Scotland at the weekend in the Six Nations, while he reached 150 caps for Munster when lining out against Leinster at the end of January.

Citing family reasons as the driver behind the decision CJ is in the fortunate position to retire from rugby on his own terms.

CJ Stander Statement

All professional sports people are told “you will know when the time is right to hang up your boots”.

It’s a sentiment one cannot fully comprehend until that day arrives. For me, that time has come, and I hereby publicly announce my retirement from all forms of rugby. I will be available to represent Munster until 27 June 2021 when my contract expires, and for International duty, until the end of the mid-year Test window.

During the lockdown, I did a stocktake of what matters most to me in life. My faith, family and this incredible game I have played since I was six years old easily topped the list. However, I came to the realisation that my commitment to rugby has started to take an unfair toll on my family, who both in Limerick and South Africa have made considerable sacrifices for more than 25 years to allow me to live my dream.

I am not saddened by my decision. I’ve had a full and utterly enjoyable rugby career, and I can now look back on a journey that offered me rewards, memories and surprises beyond anything I could have scripted for myself. I wouldn’t change a thing. The 150 matches I played for Munster were some of the most precious and formative experiences of my life. My blood will remain Munster Red long after I have said my goodbyes to the people of Limerick.

I have just played my 50th Test for Ireland. I have never considered myself a foreigner in an Irish jumper, but I knew this environment would only reward hard work, devotion and the forging of authentic relationships. My first steps towards the Test arena were taken from the welcoming midst of the people of Limerick. In 2012, arriving as a 22-year-old who only had two kitbags flung over his shoulders and a limited command of English, I had to commit myself to a new family who immediately adopted me as one of their own. Limerick became my home.

It was during a freezing training session at Munster towards the end of 2020 that I just knew I had entered the final stretch of my career. I asked myself whether I was still enjoying this enough to earn the continued support of Munster and Ireland, and to justify the sacrifices my family was making. From a performance perspective, the answer was yes. But I always had the intent to retire while I was still playing some of my best rugby. I also knew I wanted my daughter Everli to grow up around her family in South Africa. When all these intentions and considerations intercepted each other during that training session, I discussed the implications thereof with coach Johann van Graan and the Irish Rugby Union. I deeply appreciate that they tried to persuade me otherwise, but I knew it was time. I will be playing my final matches as a professional athlete with contentment and gratitude for what was and for what lies ahead in the next chapter of my life.

I have many people to thank, and I will do most of the thanking in a private setting. For now, I want to say thank you to my parents, Jannie and Amanda, my brother Janneman, my wife Jean-Marié, my daughter Everli, and my family-in-law as well: Ryk (Sr), San-Marie, Ryk, and Elsje. Your boundless love and support carried me.

Thank you to my agent, Gerrie Swart. You convinced me that Limerick was a great fit for me, and you have never been more right about anything. I also sincerely value your guidance during this transitional time.

I reserve a special word of thanks to the late Anthony “Axel” Foley. Your impact on my personal and professional life remains as tangible today as it was when you were still with us.

Thank you to Johann van Graan for being such a powerful and formative force in my life. You first started coaching me when I arrived for training in Pretoria as a 17-year-old. Now, 14 years later, we’re having an Irish pint to celebrate a lifelong friendship.

Thank you to the people of Ireland, my larger rugby family in Limerick, the Irish Rugby Union, Joe Schmidt, who first selected me to play for Ireland, Andy Farrell, who continued to back me, and every teammate and member of management I have had the honour of sharing a dressing room with.

Not only has my English (marginally) improved thanks to your intervention, but you also pushed me to become a better player, man, husband and father. As I now shift my focus squarely back to my family, I do so hoping that I’m leaving the Irish jersey in an even better space than when I first inherited it. Ireland has enormous talent breaking through the ranks, and it is now time for me to step back and allow a new generation of players to answer Ireland’s call.

Article from Munster Rugby

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