The Connacht squad are busy preparing for the visit of Castres Olympique to the Sportsground next Tuesday (kick-off 7pm) in the first match of a double header against the French Super 14 outfit, before they conclude the series in Galway on Saturday, September 1 (kick-off 4pm).
The matches are part of a series of high profile pre-season friendlies Connacht have organised. Having put it up to South Africa at the Sportsground last Tuesday, coach Michael Bradley is now looking forward to seeing his players take on the might of Castres in the coming days.
“Castres are a huge club in France,” said the former Ireland scrum half. “I feel it’s a huge coup for Connacht to get them to come to the Sportsground in the build up to the new season.
“Its an excellent test for us. Having produced the goods against South Africa, it now gives us an opportunity to focus more on our ability to score rather than the defence and breakdown, where we performed superbly last week.”
Castres, who appointed their former captain and Ireland and Lions lock Jeremy Davidson as their head coach during the off season, will be using the week-long trip to Galway as a training camp.
“The idea is that Castres will be travelling with their full squad,” Bradley explained. “They’ll be looking to give every player game time and will use the week to facilitate team building and training. Pre-season training can be very long and such a trip is ideal to break up the months and make it all the more enjoyable.”
Davidson finds himself coaching Castres, having moved on from coaching Dungannon last season in AIB League Division One where they finished sixth. He joins Castres on the back of a career where he captained Ulster, London Irish and was voted the players’ player of the 1997 Lions tour.
Davidson, like Connacht coaches Bradley, Eric Elwood and Dan McFarland, is also one of few Irish coaches who have come through the highly regarded Level 3 programme of the IRFU coaching system. Bradley also feels that without Davidson’s involvement, such a fixture would not have come to pass.
“Jeremy Davidson was key to organising these fixtures. He was the first non-French captain of Castres and they were delighted to bring him back in a coaching capacity. Naturally we’re looking forward to seeing him back at the Sportsground in his new role,” added the Connacht boss.
Like Connacht, who are without Gavin Duffy due to World Cup duty, Castres will be without the services of France lock Lionel Nallet, but apart from that Davidson’s visitors will be at full strength.