Connacht coach Michael Bradley is banking on home advantage paying dividends in the province’s European Challenge Cup showdown with Newcastle Falcons under the Sportsground floodlights next Friday (kick-off 6.30pm).
Connacht meet Newcastle Falcons in a must-win Pool 3 Round 3 game, hoping that they can take the momentum gained from last Friday’s Magners League win over Glasgow Warriors into Europe.
No one has played more Challenge Cup matches than Connacht – this will be match number 68 in the tournament – and they have qualified for the knock-out stages in four of the last five campaigns.
“If we are going to progress we have to get some sort of return from these back-to-back matches with the Falcons and, obviously as your home match is the best chance of doing that, we have earmarked this one as a win for ourselves,” Bradley said.
“However, Newcastle have clearly set their stall out and see winning the tournament as a direct route into next season’s Heineken Cup. They have made a good start but our win over Glasgow Warriors at the weekend will boost our confidence.
“We know the Falcons reasonably well – we played them in a pre-season friendly when Jonny (Wilkinson) was making a comeback from injury and it was in front of a near sell-out crowd – and then we played them in the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals two seasons ago when Toby Flood really came to the fore in a (23-3) win for them.
“Yes they have got a host of big names – including All Blacks prop Carl Hayman who has now arrived at Newcastle – but we are used to playing against sides with the big name players and it doesn’t worry us.
“However, while I honestly believe we are more competitive this year, we have to finish teams off when we get those opportunities,” added the former Ireland scrum half.
“We have the ability to win matches and the confidence to close out games – it is just the execution that is letting us down. We believe we can win any game if we apply ourselves.”
That 10-6 victory over Glasgow moved Connacht off the bottom of the Magners League table and now they are turning their focus on Europe.
“It was important to get the victory last Friday but perhaps what was more important was the standard of the performance, often in very trying conditions,” Bradley admitted, following the wind and rain-lashed encounter.
“We understand that the season ahead is very difficult and the teams we’re going to be playing against will, in nearly all cases, be favourites against us. But, if we perform like that, we’ll be very difficult to break down and we should get our fair share of victories.”
Friday’s game is an all-ticket game at the Sportsground and the Connacht Branch are urging supporters to snap up tickets fast.
The tickets, which cost €;25, are being sold on a first-come basis and are available online from www.TicketMaster.ie or from Ticketmaster outlets in Galway, which include the Zhivago stores and FancyFare in Salthill.
Tickets are also available from the Connacht Rugby headquarters at the Sportsground between 9am and 5pm each day. Season tickets will, of course, be valid for the game.
Connacht Rugbys’ commercial manager Fiona Keys said that there was a strong demand for tickets and urged supporters to get their tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment as the game could be a sell-out.
“There is huge interest in the game and we are looking forward to a packed Sportsground on Friday,” Keys said.