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Amlin Challenge Cup Preview: Bayonne v Connacht

Amlin Challenge Cup Preview: Bayonne v Connacht

Connacht are enduring a losing run at present, but a number of their defeats have been by less than seven points. If things click for Eric Elwood’s charges on Saturday night, they could topple Pool 1 leaders Bayonne.

AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, January 15

BAYONNE (1st) v CONNACHT (3rd), Stade Dauger, 8.45pm local time/7.45pm Irish time (live Eurosport France)

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Team News: With their qualification hopes ended by last month’s defeats to Harlequins, Connacht have made a number of personnel changes for Saturday’s Pool 1 match against Bayonne at Stade Dauger.

The selected team sees a number of changes to the side that narrowly lost to the Newport Gwent Dragons in the Magners League last week.

There are also a number of positional switches in a rejigged team, with the most notable seeing Fionn Carr move to the full-back position.

Head coach Eric Elwood hopes the switches will give his side the spark needed to reignite Connacht’s season – they have suffered seven defeats in-a-row.

There are two changes in the pack with Bernie Upton replacing Michael Swift in the second row and Mike McComish returning at number 8.

Young centre Eoin Griffin is the only player to retain his place in a freshened up back-line. Like winger Shane Monahan, Griffin will be making his European debut.

Monahan and Brian Tuohy fill the wing berths and link up with Fionn Carr, who gets a chance to impress at full-back in a new-look back-three.

Niva Ta’auso returns to the Connacht midfield, with Ian Keatley and Frank Murphy resuming their half-back partnership, while the likes of John Muldoon, Gavin Duffy, Ray Ofisa and Ezra Taylor remain on the injury list.

On the good news front, experienced forward Mike McCarthy will earn his 100th cap for Connacht this weekend.

The 29-year-old joined Connacht in 2003 before having spells with London Wasps and Newcastle Falcons. Since returning to the Sportsground in 2007, he has been a regular in the Connacht team.

Meanwhile, into the Bayonne back-line come Garth Ziegler, Sebastien Fauque and Julien Audy as the Bayonne management make changes to the team that saw off Castres Olympique 25-22 last time out.

Fauque joins Thibault Lacroix at centre and Audy, who offers another place-kicking option, slots in at scrum half in place of Cedric Garcia.

The front row has been completely changed as Tonga Lea’aetoa, hooker Arnaud Heguy and Denis Avril return to the starting line-up. Robin Linde and Cameron Treloar are two more changes in the second row, and number 8 Marc Baget will captain the side in a rejigged back row.

Amongst the players missing due to injury or illness are Remy Martin, who is nursing some broken teeth, Aretz Iguiniz (calf), Jean-Baptiste Peyras-Loustalet (flu) and Julien Puricelli (adductor muscle).

BAYONNE: Pepito Elhorga; Garth Ziegler, Thibault Lacroix, Sebastien Fauque, Johnan Pietersen; Benjamin Boyet, Julien Audy; Tonga Lea’aetoa, Arnaud Heguy, Denis Avril, Robin Linde, Cameron Treloar, Guillaume Bernad, Dwayne Haare, Marc Baget.

Replacements: Francois Da Ros, Pierre Philippe Lafond, Walter Desmaison, Ross Filipo, Jean-Jo Marmouyet, Francois Carillo, Cedric Garcia, Sam Gerber.

CONNACHT: Fionn Carr; Shane Monahan, Eoin Griffin, Niva Ta’auso, Brian Tuohy; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Bernie Upton, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor (capt), Mike McComish.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Shane Conneely, Cillian Willis, Miah Nikora, Keith Matthews.

Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dean Richards, Roy Maybank (both England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Bayonne to win: 1/8; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 9/2

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Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We are competitive and doing a lot a good things, we have to keep believing and persevere.

“We’re sending out our strongest team possible in the hope of getting that elusive win. They are working hard for it and deserve to get the win they are looking for. If it is this week, great, if it is next week so be it.

“This game itself has a little bit of history. We beat Bayonne here (16-13), they were a little cross with that defeat and indicated they are determined to get some payback.”

Current Form – Bayonne – (Top 14): Won 26-22 away to Toulon; Won 27-0 at home to Agen; Lost 25-16 away to Castres Olympique; Won 19-18 at home to Brive; Won 28-23 away to Bourgoin; Won 18-16 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 29-20 away to Toulouse; Lost 26-25 at home to Perpignan; Lost 22-19 at home to Biarritz Olympique; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Won 16-12 at home to Harlequins; Lost 16-13 away to Connacht; (Top 14): Lost 15-9 away to Racing Metro 92; Lost 29-18 at home to Montpellier; Won 24-20 away to Stade Francais; Won 23-14 at home to La Rochelle; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Won 65-7 at home to I Cavalieri Estra; Won 31-7 away to I Cavalieri Estra; (Top 14): Won 20-9 at home to Toulon; Lost 21-3 away to Agen; Won 25-22 at home to Castres Olympique

Connacht – (Magners League): Won 40-17 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 35-33 away to the Scarlets; Won 19-17 away to Glasgow Warriors; Drew 15-15 at home to Ulster; Lost 22-6 away to the Cardiff Blues; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Lost 23-21 away to I Cavalieri Estra; Won 16-13 at home to Bayonne; (Magners League): Lost 18-6 at home to Leinster; Lost 24-17 away to Benetton Treviso; Lost 16-15 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 24-19 away to Edinburgh; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Lost 20-9 away to Harlequins; Lost 15-9 at home to Harlequins; (Magners League): Lost 16-12 at home to Munster; Lost 30-8 away to Leinster; Lost 17-16 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Amlin Challenge Cup: Bayonne – Points: Sam Gerber 25; Tries: Sam Gerber 5; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 25; Tries: Ian Keatley, Bernie Upton, Gavin Duffy, Sean Cronin 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 1

Friday, October 15, 2010 – Pool 1 – Connacht 16 Bayonne 13, the Sportsground

Amlin Challenge Cup Records:

Bayonne –
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the semi-finals

Connacht –
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
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