Connacht face Pool 1 pacesetters Bayonne in a game which is crucial to their hopes of reaching the Amlin Challenge Cup’s knockout stages. Another big European night is in prospect at the Sportsground.
AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP: POOL 1: Friday, October 15
CONNACHT (3rd) v BAYONNE (1st), the Sportsground, 7pm
Team News: Connacht coach Eric Elwood has brought back a number of frontliners for Friday’s Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 1 showdown with Bayonne.
There are seven changes in personnel to the Connacht team that suffered a shock defeat to I Cavalieri Estra in Italy last weekend.
Gavin Duffy, Keith Matthews and Frank Murphy return in the back-line, while Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael McCarthy and Ray Ofisa come back into the starting pack.
Winger Darragh Fanning retains his place on the right wing after an impressive European debut in Prato, and number 8 John Muldoon is set for his first outing at the Sportsground since fracturing his arm on Ireland’s summer tour.
Cronin and Hagan renew their front row partnership with Brett Wilkinson for what is a ‘must win’ game for the westerners.
Emphasising that point, Elwood said: “We firmly believe we have a chance to qualify, but for us to have a chance we need to win this game on Friday.
“We had been going okay in the Magners League and were looking forward to Europe and the first game against a team we were expected win against. To come home with our tails between our legs, it was not a nice place to be in in the last few days.
“To be fair to the lads, they have been doing the business in the Magners League. We had a bad result, we know that, the lads know that, and they don’t need to be punished or battering each other in training.
“We had a good discussion, we did the review, we know what we have to do, and we are going to move forward in a positive way and hopefully we will see the rewards on Friday.”
Meanwhile, Bayonne coach Christian Gajan has made eight alterations to the team that saw off Harlequins on a 16-12 scoreline last Sunday.
The wholesale changes were expected, given the short turnaround and the French side’s resources. In the backs, Yoann Huget, Thibault Lacroix and half-backs Sebastien Fauque and Julien Audy return to the starting line-up.
South African Sam Gerber, a try scorer in the home win over Harlequins, switches to inside centre.
In the front row, Tongan international prop Tonga Lea’aetoa is the only player retained. Australian Cameron Treloar and former All Black Troy Flavell continue their second row partnership, and number 8 Marc Baget is joined in the back row by the France-capped Julien Puricelli and Rémy Martin.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Darragh Fanning, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Michael McCarthy, Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Barry Fa’amausili, Ronan Loughney, Bernie Upton, Andrew Browne, Cillian Willis, Miah Nikora, Troy Nathan.
BAYONNE: Pépito Elhorga (capt); Yoann Huget, Thibault Lacroix, Sam Gerber, Jean-Baptiste Peyras Loustalet; Sebastien Fauque, Julien Audy; Pierre Philippe Lafond, Arnaud Heguy, Tonga Lea’aetoa, Cameron Treloar, Troy Flavell, Julien Puricelli, Rémy Martin, Marc Baget.
Replacements: David Roumieu, Francois Da Ros, Denis Avril, Robin Linde, Abdellatif Boutaty, Cedric Garcia, Garth Ziegler, Johnan Pietersen.
Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Alan Falzone, Stefano Marrama (both Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/9; Draw: 19/1; Bayonne to win: 7/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Ian Keatley (Connacht) – “We were always ahead in the Prato game until they got that intercept try. We were confident that we could come back but unfortunately I missed that drop goal that probably would have settled it.
“I know myself that I’ve got good players around me that could just turn it on at any minute, but unfortunately we didn’t.
“They were definitely up for it. Once we let them back into the game you could hear the crowd getting behind them.
“During the week we were told not to disrespect them but maybe we did that a little bit and it ultimately cost us the game. We’re deeply upset.
“The lads take full responsibility for the game. We just didn’t show up. We didn’t play our normal game but moving on to Friday now, I think you’re going to see a completely different animal.”
Pépito Elhorga (Bayonne) – “I have to say we were quite surprised to see that Connacht lost to the newcomers Cavalieri – maybe they went through a bad phase.
“Personally speaking, I have never played against the Irish province but they are always there, like the stalwarts of this tournament.
“Connacht did really well last season, qualifying for the semi-finals before losing to Toulon in an extremely tight game. And with five Irish internationals in their squad, they don’t lack talent and they are very physical by tradition.
“Our strength at the moment is that we don’t let go, we are committed 100% from the kick-off right to the final whistle. And that is a quality that both English and Irish squads master as well.
“They rarely let their guard down and they put you under constant pressure. Up front I think we’re good at gaining territory, so if we can get on the front foot in that area that’ll help our backs make the difference.
“I think Connacht have the same assets – they are very solid up front and fast in the three-quarters.”
Current Form – 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
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
Previous European Meetings: 0
Amlin Challenge Cup Records:
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
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