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European Challenge Cup Preview: Bayonne v Connacht

European Challenge Cup Preview: Bayonne v Connacht

Lying just a point behind Pool 2 leaders Exeter Chiefs, Connacht are hoping to complete a quick-fire double over French side Bayonne and edge closer to reaching the European Challenge Cup knockout stages.

EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP POOL 2: Saturday, December 13

BAYONNE (4th) v CONNACHT (2nd), Stade Jean Dauger, 8.45pm local time/7.45pm Irish time (live FR4/Galway Bay FM/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Head coach Pat Lam has named his side for Connacht’s European Challenge Cup round 4 match away to Bayonne at the Stade Jean Dauger on Saturday night.

There are wholesale changes to the team that defeated the French side 42-19 at the Sportsground last weekend.

Out-half Miah Nikora has been handed the captaincy and is partnered at half-back by Academy scrum half Caolin Blade, who will make his first senior start for the province.

Conor Finn, the 22-year-old Galway man, will also earn his first competitive start in a centre partnership with versatile back Craig Ronaldson.

Darragh Leader is installed at full-back in a back three with Connacht centurion Fionn Carr and Niyi Adeolokun on his return from injury.

Up front, Finlay Bealham starts for the first time in a reshuffled pack with Ronan Loughney, Dave Heffernan, Michael Swift and Willie Faloon also promoted from the bench. After featuring for Connacht Eagles last Saturday following a six-week absence, lock Aly Muldowney is back in action for the senior side this weekend.

Academy forward James Connolly will make his Connacht debut in Bayonne. The 21-year-old from Naas will feature in a back row with Faloon and Athlone man Daniel Qualter, who is at number 8 for his own first start.

Named on the bench, Academy prop Saba Meunargia could also make his Connacht debut on Saturday night. The 20-year-old Georgian-born prop attended Marist College and has represented Ireland at Under-18 (Clubs and Schools) and Under-19 level. Last season the Buccaneers clubman was called into the Ireland U-20 squad.

The players listed on the province’s unavailable/injured list, at present, are: Jason Harris-Wright, Sean Henry, Nathan White, Rodney Ah You, JP Cooney, Mick Kearney, Andrew Browne, Jake Heenan, Robbie Henshaw, Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki, Danie Poolman, Ian Porter, John Cooney and Shane Layden.

Meanwhile, the selected Bayonne team shows five personnel changes to the side that lost in Galway, with three new inclusions up front.

Half-backs Clement Otazo and Christophe Loustalot return to a rejigged back-line which sees Jon Elissalde reverting to full-back and Matthieu Ugalde moving from out-half to inside centre where he partners Lalakai Foketi.

The 22-year-old Loustalot, who captains the side from scrum half, is their top scorer from the first three rounds with 17 points (four conversions and three penalties).

South African JC van Rensburg and David Roumieu have been added to the front row, Samoan international Pelu Ian Taele starts in the second row alongside Tonga’s Lisiate Fa’aoso, while the back row is unchanged.

Bayonne have won just one of their last five games in the Challenge Cup, failing to pick up any losing bonus points in any of those four defeats.

BAYONNE: Jon Elissalde; Saimoni Vaka, Lalakai Foketi, Matthieu Ugalde, Pierre Sayerse; Clement Otazo, Christophe Loustalot (capt); JC van Rensburg, David Roumieu, Florian Lapeyrade, Pelu Ian Taele, Lisiate Fa’aoso, Baptiste Chouzenoux, Clement Ancely, Thibault Visensang.

Replacements: Simon Labouyrie, Aretz Iguiniz, Gert Muller, Mark Chisholm, Bastien Duhalde, Guillaume Rouet, Gabi Lovobalavu, Jean Monribot.

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Niyi Adeolokun, Conor Finn, Craig Ronaldson, Fionn Carr; Miah Nikora (capt), Caolin Blade; Ronan Loughney, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Michael Swift, Aly Muldowney, James Connolly, Willie Faloon, Daniel Qualter.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Saba Meunargia, George Naoupu, Eoin McKeon, Kieran Marmion, Dave McSharry, Matt Healy.

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees, Greg Morgan (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Bayonne to win: -; Draw: -; Connacht to win:

Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “With an extremely busy period ahead and a number of guys injured or unavailable to us, there are a lot of players getting an opportunity to wear the Connacht jersey this weekend.

“It’s an exciting time for them and this week has been all about ensuring that they have clarity in their role and the game-plan to execute our Connacht systems with confidence. I look forward to seeing how they perform in a pressurised environment.

“Saturday night presents a very different task to the one at the Sportsground last week. Like all French teams, Bayonne at home will be a totally different proposition. But a very good training week has given us the confidence and the belief that we have the game-plan, and the players, to perform.”

Current Form – Bayonne – (Top 14 Championship): Won 29-15 at home to Toulon; Won 38-12 at home to Oyonnax; Lost 30-6 away to Castres Olympique; Lost 34-29 away to Stade Francais; Won 23-6 at home to Brive; Lost 24-15 away to Grenoble; Won 35-19 at home to Toulouse; Won 15-10 at home to Montpellier; Lost 24-19 away to Lyon; (European Challenge Cup): Won 30-24 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Lost 25-13 away to La Rochelle; (Top 14 Championship): Won 24-13 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 27-10 away to Racing Metro 92; Drew 19-19 away to La Rochelle; (European Challenge Cup): Lost 42-19 away to Connacht

Connacht – (GUINNESS PRO12): Won 16-11 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 14-13 away to Edinburgh; Won 10-9 at home to Connacht; Lost 39-21 away to Glasgow Warriors; Drew 24-24 at home to Cardiff Blues; Won 9-6 at home to Benetton Treviso; (European Challenge Cup): Won 48-12 at home to La Rochelle; Lost 33-13 away to Exeter Chiefs; (GUINNESS PRO12): Lost 26-11 away to the Ospreys; Won 43-3 at home to Zebre; Won 14-8 at home to the Scarlets; (European Challenge Cup): Won 42-19 at home to Bayonne

Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Challenge Cup: Bayonne – Points: Christophe Loustalot 17; Tries: Pierre Sayerse 2; Connacht – Points: Craig Ronaldson 21; Tries: Danie Poolman 3

Previous European Meetings: 3

Saturday, December 6, 2014 – Pool 2 – Connacht 42 Bayonne 19, Stade Jean Dauger
Saturday, January 15, 2011 – Pool 1 – Bayonne 21 Connacht 35, Stade Jean Dauger
Friday, October 15, 2010 – Pool 1 – Connacht 16 Bayonne 13, the Sportsground

Challenge Cup Records:

Bayonne –
2013/14: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
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 –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
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