...Can Connacht's stand-in skipper Andrew Farley, pictured above against Harlequins, rally his troops tonight for a morale-boosting win over Montpellier...
Familiar foes, this is the third season in a row that Connacht have met Montpellier in the Challenge Cup, and the westerners will be hoping to repeat last year's home and away victories, over the coming days.
CHALLENGE CUP: POOL 4: Friday, December 8
CONNACHT v MONTPELLIER, The Sportsground, 6.30pm
Team News: Connacht coach Michael Bradley has made seven changes to his starting line-up as the westerners hope to get their bid for European success back on track.
Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Michael Swift, Conor O'Loughlin, David Slemen, Ted Robinson and David Slemen are back in the side as Connacht look to end a five-match losing streak.
There are two positional switches - John Muldoon moves from blindside flanker to number eight and Keith Matthews will line out on the right wing instead of centre. Brett Sturgess provides prop cover on the bench, while prop Ray Hogan (calf muscle) and winger Conor McPhillips (nose) are on the injury list.
Montpellier, who are second-from-bottom on the French Top 14 championship, have made a plethora of changes to the team that lost 51-13 away to Castres last Saturday. Only Olivier Sarramea, Aliinu'u Koko, Michel Macurdy and Jharay Russell have survived the chop from that six-try defeat.
Argentinian flanker Martin Durand will be a familiar face in the pack, while full-back Sarramea, who was playing with Stade Francais last season, has been capped by France and bustling winger Aliinu'u Koko, who stands at 6ft and weighs in at 17 stone, has earned international honours with Samoa.
Watch out too for the likes of Jacques Boussuge, Julien Thomas and Fulgence Ouedraogo, who were part of the French team that won the IRB Under-21 World Championship last summer and have come straight up through the Montpellier system.
They managed to beat Stade France 25-13 in the Top 14 last month, but with some notable injuries and a poor away record, Montpellier will travel with little confidence.
Connacht: Daniel Riordan; Keith Matthews, Paul Warwick, Gavin Williams, Ted Robinson; David Slemen, Conor O'Loughlin; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Stephen Knoop, David Gannon, Andrew Farley (capt), Michael Swift, Ray Ofisa, John Muldoon.
Replacements: John Fogarty, Brett Sturgess, Brendan O'Connor, Colm Rigney, Chris Keane, Mark McHugh, John Hearty.
Montpellier: Olivier Sarramea; Jacques Boussuge, Regis Lespinas, Harley Crane, Aliinu'u Koko; Francois Trinh Duc, Julien Thomas; Nicolas Descamps, Joan Caudullo, Anthony Vigna, Goncalo Uva, Michel Macurdy, Martin Durand, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Jharay Russell.
Replacements: Nicolas Grelon, Philemon Toleafoa, Drickus Hancke, Cedric Mathieu, Sebastien Logerot, Murphy Taele, Jean-Matthieu Alcalde.
Referee: Sean Davey (England)
Touch Judges: Martin Fox, Paul Emerson (both England)
Coach Speak: Michael Bradley (Connacht) - "We must treat Montpellier with respect. They are a team in waiting and as a club building a new stadium, they are an up-and-coming French outfit. Certainly their away form is poor, but you do not know which side will turn up on the day.
"If we can get bonus points home and away from these two matches to give us 12 points (in the pool table), then we're in a strong position to qualify, depending on the results of the two matches between Harlequins and Bath.
"At this stage of the season we need to get a win with a bonus point and that would also set us up for tough games ahead, with Ulster and Munster over the Christmas period."
Didier Nourault (Montpellier) - "We know each other perfectly well after playing each other home and away for the last two European Challenge Cup tournaments. And we know that Connacht's first target in their bid for Heineken Cup qualification is through the Challenge Cup ahead of the Magners League.
"So each time they play it is as if their lives depend upon it and that makes for huge rugby games with 100% commitment.
"They are tough and really physical matches which lift both our spirits and level of game, because our pride in our club means we are determined not to suffer any heavy defeats.
"When you are up against Irish players if you don't put everything needed for a competitive contest into the game, it can quickly become a nightmare."
Match Odds: Paddy Power - To Win: Connacht 1/50, Montpellier 50/1; Draw: 12/1; Handicap Betting - To Win: Connacht (-27 points) 5/6, Montpellier (+27) 5/6; Draw: (27) 25/1
2006/07 FORM: Connacht - WWLDLLWLLLLL
Montpellier - LWWLWLDLLLWLLWLL
PREVIOUS CHALLENGE CUP MEETINGS:
December 2004 - Round 2 - Connacht 56 Montpellier 3, The Sportsground
December 2004 - Round 2 - Montpellier 19 Connacht 14, Stade Sabathe
October 2005 - Pool 5 - Montpellier 13 Connacht 19, Stade Sabathe
January 2006 - Pool 5 - Connacht 43 Montpellier 10, The Sportsground
- Connacht have won three of their previous four European encounters with Montpellier, only falling to the French side 19-14 at Stade Sabathe in December 2004. Last January saw the province run six tries past tonight's opposition in a 43-10 win at the Sportsground - Keith Matthews (2), Ted Robinson, Conor McPhillips, Matt Lacey and Colm Rigney all touched down
- Winger Ted Robinson will be making his 25th European appearance tonight. The 5ft 9in flyer has scored four Challenge Cup tries to date, including three in six games last season
- Australian Paul Warwick, who is playing at centre tonight, is Connacht's top scorer in the Challenge Cup this season with 22 points (2 conversions, 1 drop goal and 5 penalties). He famously grabbed a personal haul of 26 points when the westerners first played Montpellier in Galway in December 2004
- Overall, this is Connacht's 68th game in Challenge Cup history - the province have won 32 and lost 35 of those previous European matches. Montpellier's record reads played 20, won 5 and lost 15.
- Colm Rigney, John Hearty and Daniel Riordan have scored a try apiece in Connacht's Pool 4 run this season. Montpellier's four tries in the competition so far have come from Sebastien Mercier, Jharay Russell, Philemon Toleafoa and Martin Durand