18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
A 16-point contribution from the boot of Mark McHugh and a late try from Paul Warwick sealed Connacht's sixth opening night win in six seasons of Celtic League rugby on Friday.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, September 1
BORDER REIVERS 15 CONNACHT 29, Netherdale (Att: 1,293)
Scorers: Borders: Pens: Calum MacRae 5
Connacht: Tries: Gavin Williams, Paul Warwick; Cons: Mark McHugh 2; Pens: McHugh 4; Drop: Warwick
The westerners held onto their proud record of never having lost their opening game in the competition as they got their Magners League campaign off to a winning start in Galashiels.
After coming in at the break with a 9-6 deficit to overhaul, Connacht coach Michael Bradley asked for composure from his players and he got it in spades. John Muldoon and former captain Andrew Farley, as well as new hooker Adrian Flavin who had a memorable debut, kept the pack's momentum going after a shaky start and game breakers McHugh and Warwick did the rest.
Warwick almost single-handedly gifted Connacht the cushion for their win - incredibly, it was the fourth straight time that the 'away' team has won this fixture.
Warwick's scrambled drop goal and well-taken injury-time try saw Connacht boss the latter stages after full-back Calum MacRae, the Borders' only scorer, had twice reduced the gap to a single point at 13-12 and 16-15.
The Connacht side was largely built along the lines of last season's selection with debutants Brett Wilkinson and Flavin slotting in in the front row. In sunny conditions, Borders predictably dominated the early stages with Scotland and Lions scrum half Chris Cusiter willing the hosts' pack on.
MacRae booted two penalties inside the first 13 minutes to put the scoreboard operator to work, but Connacht's defensive line was never really tested. If there was a tackle to be made, a Connacht player stood up to the task and made it.
There were some cracks, Darren Yapp looked ill at ease on the left wing and the Antipodean midfield of Warwick and Williams took a while to gel. The scrum too took a battering, though Connacht had the better of the second quarter with McHugh's booming boot working the touchlines and his two penalties had the game squared up at 6-6 by the half hour mark.
A third MacRae kick, just before the break, gave the Borders their slight but deserved half-time advantage and Steve Bates' charges looked well in the hunt for their first opening night win in the competition's history.
Connacht's mettle was certainly being tested but they came firing out of the blocks for the second half with a Farley lineout claim being ferried out the backline to Williams who crossed for his first ever try in a Connacht jersey.
McHugh converted for 13-9 and the former Ireland international swapped penalties with MacRae before Connacht's lead was whittled down to 16-15 courtesy of MacRae's fifth penalty success.
Connacht needed to be steadied and they got the composure they were looking for when McHugh sent over his fourth penalty of the evening and Warwick did excellently to work himself a drop goal shot in the 79th-minute which he crept over off his weaker left foot.
The conditioning of the Connacht forwards was top notch as they finished strongly as a unit, holding Borders' all-Scottish international pack at bay, and the only tweeking Bradley sought was when he introduced his hooker and captain for the season John Fogarty into the fray.
Warwick bagged a brilliant individual try in injury-time when he won the race to his own kick ahead, allowing McHugh to convert from close range and set Connacht on the right road to earning that elusive qualifying berth for the Heineken Cup.Borders: Calum MacRae; Simon Danielli, Ben MacDougall, Garry Law, Nick De Luca; Gregor Townsend, Chris Cusiter (capt); Gavin Kerr, Ross Ford, Bruce Douglas, Craig Hamilton, Stuart Grimes, Kelly Brown, Scott Gray, Ross Beattie.
Replacements used: Opeta Palepoi for Hamilton, Andy Miller for Gray (both 47 mins), Ed Kalman for Kerr (49), Steve Scott for Ford (63), Steve Jones for Townsend (68), John Dalziel for Beattie (70). Not used: Brendan McKerchar.
Connacht: Matt Mostyn; Conor McPhillips, Paul Warwick, Gavin Williams, Darren Yapp; Mark McHugh (capt), Chris Keane; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Stephen Knoop, David Gannon, Andrew Farley, John Muldoon, Matt Lacey, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: John Fogarty for Flavin (67 mins). Not used: Michael Diffley, Michael Swift, Brendan O'Connor, Tom Tierney, Keith Matthews, Daniel Riordan.
Referee: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Touch Judges: Iain Ramage, Bob Nevins (both Scotland)