5 Dec, 14:49
The Ireland U19 squad to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Saturday 14th December has been announced.
Connacht have achieved some tangible success with their switch to Friday night rugby and Michael Bradley is determined to make the Sportsground a fortress for the Challenge Cup.
The westerners have a proud record in the tournament, which beings tomorrow night when NEC Harlequins venture west to the city of Galway (kick-off 7pm). For the past four seasons, Connacht have qualified each time for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, and they appeared in semi-finals in 2004 and 2005.
Meeting Harlequins first up in Pool 4 will be a difficult task for Connacht, whose progress in Europe has been halted by an English team in each of the last three seasons.
Still the province's record of 33 wins and 32 defeats in the tournament is an enviable one. Add in their eleven years of European experience and the fact that they have won their last nine out of ten European games at the Sportsground, losing only to Sale Sharks in the 2004/05 semi-final, and Connacht are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Their home form will again be key to their progress, especially with a daunting series of trips to come to Bath, 'Quins and French side Montpellier before and after Christmas.
After three wins and a draw in the Magners League, Bradley said: "Our supporters have been fantastic in getting behind the team this season and the move to playing our home matches on a Friday night has been a huge success - the place has really been buzzing on match days.
"And it's good that we will be going into the Challenge Cup on the back of a sound league win over Newport Gwent Dragons. It was a tight game and we did a lot of things right so the confidence is up."
'Quins have been twice champions of this tournament, and pipped Connacht by four aggregate points in the semi-final on the way to claiming the 2003/04 title. But Dean Richards' current side have lost five out of five on their return to the Guinness Premiership and will undoubtedly be vulnerable just five days after their 33-20 defeat to Bristol.
The Londoners' hooker Tani Fuga is also starting his first game of the season tomorrow night so expect Andrew Farley and David Gannon to put the Samoan under pressure from the off.
Both sides know each other quite well from the two games in 2004 and there will be a degree of revenge in the air. Bradley added: "Everyone at Connacht has great memories of the semi-final three seasons ago when we played 'Quins in the second leg in front of a crowd of 7,500 at the Sportsground.
"We beat them 23-18 only to miss out on aggregate, but it was still a great day and we're looking forward to another great challenge and an occasion with plenty of atmosphere."