The momentum from last weekend’s memorable win over Leinster should stand to Connacht as they head to the south west, Basque region of France to take on Thomas Lievremont’s Dax side in their opening European Challenge Cup match.
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP – POOL 1: Friday, October 10
DAX v CONNACHT, Stade Maurice Boyau, 7pm local time
Team News: Head coach Michael Bradley has made two changes in personnel for Connacht’s opening match in the European Challenge Cup away to Dax.
Robbie Morris comes back into the front row at tighthead as Connacht aim to get their campaign off to a flying start before facing London Irish at the Sportsground the following week.
Michael Swift replaces the suspended Michael McCarthy in the second row. He will line out alongside former captain Andrew Farley.
Former Ireland Under-20 out-half Ian Keatley has recovered from a head injury sustained in last Sunday’s Magners League win over Leinster to retain his place in the team.
Keatley, Fionn Carr, Mike Roberts, Frank Murphy and Sean Cronin will be making their Challenge Cup debuts from the off.
Meanwhile, Dax coach Thomas Lievremont, the former France number 8 and brother of current French boss Marc Lievremont, has made a full 15 changes to his side for the Pool 1 opener.
Currently ninth in the Top 14 Championship, Dax beat Bayonne 27-17 at home last Saturday but none of the starting fifteen for that game will feature against Connacht.
That means Samoan centre Gavin Williams will miss out on playing against his former club – he lined out for the Irish province between 2005 and 2007.
Williams, Italian full-back David Bortolussi and Argentinian international duo Federico Martin Aramburu and Lucas Borges are notable absentees in the backs.
And in the forwards, Samoan pair Kas Lealamanua and Kane Thompson and the coach’s brother Matthieu Lievremont have been rested.
So, Dax, the 14th French club to play Connacht in the tournament, will line out with very much a second string line-up.
Perhaps that is a sign that they are underestimating Connacht or that, as it is for many French sides, progress in their domestic competition is of greater importance than European success.
Dax will still field a strong team, even though their centre and half-back partnerships and the selected front row have yet to play together this season.
New Zealander Duncan Bell and former Castres centre Laurent Marticorena will link up in Dax’s midfield, while ex-Brive man Maxime Petitjean is a familiar name at number 10.
The front row of Julien Brugnaut, William Bonet and Jeremy Castex form a powerful unit and probably their best line on the pitch.
Dax will be captained by number 8 Pierre Caillet, formerly of Mont de Marsan.
DAX: Laurent Diaz; Bruno Hiriart, Laurent Marticorena, Duncan Bell, Paul Albaladejo; Maxime Petitjean, Jean Baptiste Pezet; Julien Brugnaut, William Bonet, Jeremy Castex, Cedric Guironnet, Anthony Mazel, Bastien Adrillon, Vincent Deniau, Pierre Caillet (capt).
Replacements: Mattin Auzqui, Jimmy Jaen, Christopher Poulain, Jean-Baptiste Cros, Justin Pendanx, Florian Argel, Jordi Rouge.
CONNACHT: Fionn Carr; Mike Roberts, Gavin Duffy, Mel Deane, Liam Bibo; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Robbie Morris, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley, John Muldoon (capt), Johnny O’Connor, Colm Rigney.
Replacements: Joe Merrigan, Ronan Loughney, Andrew Browne, Ray Ofisa, Kieran Campbell, Troy Nathan, John Hearty.
Referee: Andrew Small (England)
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden, Andrew Pearce (both England)
Assessor: Douglas Kerr (Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Dax to win: 4/7; Draw: 20/1; Connacht to win: 7/5
Pre-Match Quotes: John Muldoon (Connacht) – “Last week was a great victory, on the back of what was a very disappointing result the week before against Cardiff. We were very happy to take the scalp of Leinster.
“Psychologically, beating Leinster was a big boost. We’re starting to get some momentum at home and if we can take that on our travels to France, we’ll do well.
“We’ve done quite well before in France, we beaten a lot of quality sides.
“It’s just about building momentum and building confidence. Hopefully we’ll get a good result over in Dax and roll on London Irish at home next week.”
Thomas Lievremont (Dax) – “I’ve not seen Connacht play at all. I know that they are one of the veterans of this tournament and, being Irish, I’m sure they will be a very well prepared and physical team.
“They have some very experienced players in their squad and will no doubt be coming to Dax looking for a win so we are expecting a tough match.
“We have recruited well over the summer and strengthened our squad in most positions so I feel we are in a much stronger position to play well in Europe this year.
“We had a fantastic win against my old club Biarritz a couple of weeks ago. There is nothing personal in it and there is certainly no sense of revenge, but it was a very important win for us.
“And, along with our victory over Bayonne last weekend in another local derby, they have seen us safely out of the relegation zone.
“That has taken the pressure off us and allowed us to concentrate on our European match against Connacht.”
Current Form – Dax (Top 14): Lost 31-9 at home to Stade Francais; Lost 32-25 away to Toulouse; Lost 9-6 at home to Montpellier; Won 19-11 away to Castres Olympique; Won 30-18 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 41-9 away to Brive; Won 27-17 at home to Bayonne
Connacht (Magners League): Lost 16-3 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 45-3 away to the Scarlets; Won 15-8 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 58-0 away to Cardiff Blues; Won 19-18 at home to Leinster
Previous European Meetings: 0
European Challenge Cup Records:
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the semi-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Connacht to win by less than 7 points