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European Challenge Cup Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Connacht

European Challenge Cup Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Connacht

Sandy Park in Exeter is the venue for Connacht’s 100th European Challenge Cup match. Win number 52 would see the province cement their place at the top of Pool 2, ahead of their December clashes with Bayonne.


EXETER CHIEFS (3rd) v CONNACHT (1st), Sandy Park Stadium, 3pm (live Galway Bay FM/highlights TG4)

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Team News: The Connacht team to face Exeter Chiefs in round 2 of the European Challenge Cup has been named. Head coach Pat Lam has made eight personnel changes to the side that beat La Rochelle 48-12.

Loosehead prop Denis Buckley is recalled for Saturday’s pool game at Sandy Park, while tighthead Nathan White has been handed the captaincy in the absence of John Muldoon, who is rested this week having started every game prior to this one.

The tournament’s most-capped player, Michael Swift, is named in the second row for his second appearance of the season. He is partnered by the returning Michael Kearney.

Galway man Andrew Browne starts in the back row with openside flanker Willie Faloon and George Naoupu who will anchor the scrum at number 8.

There are changes to the back-line with the introduction of Niyi Adeolokun, Dave McSharry and Ian Porter.

Craig Ronaldson, who started the last three games at inside centre, has this week been handed the reins at out-half while Jack Carty is included among the replacements.

Notable changes to the bench include the call-up of young forward Daniel Qualter and Academy scrum half Caolin Blade who are named in the matchday squad for the first time this season. Winger Fionn Carr is in line to earn his 100th Connacht cap.

Meanwhile, Scotland prop Moray Low and former Stormers forward Don Armand are the sole survivors in the Exeter Chiefs pack from last weekend’s 30-24 defeat at Bayonne.

The Chiefs’ backs division is virtually transformed with the exception of winger Jack Nowell, who was this week named in the 33-man England squad for the November internationals.

Rob Baxter’s selected squad also has an Irish flavour to it with ex-Ireland Under-21 international Gareth Steenson starting at out-half and former Ulster centre Ian Whitten on the bench.

Tongan replacement Fetu’u Vainikolo is also a familiar face having spent two seasons at Connacht between 2011 and 2013. Indeed, he scored a try when Connacht won an August 2012 pre-season friendly against Exeter (8-6) at Sandy Park.

Tickets for Saturday’s game are available online from the Exeter Chiefs website or can be bought from the ticket office (which opens at 12pm on match day).

EXETER CHIEFS: Chrysander Botha; Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Sam Hill, Matt Jess; Gareth Steenson, Will Chudley; Ben Moon, Jack Yeandle (capt), Moray Low, Don Armand, Damian Welch, Dave Ewers, Ben White, Thomas Waldrom.

Replacements: Elvis Taione, Brett Sturgess, Tomas Francis, Sireli Naqelevuki, Kai Horstmann, Dave Lewis, Ian Whitten, Fetu’u Vainikolo.

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Niyi Adeolokun, Robbie Henshaw, Dave McSharry, Danie Poolman; Craig Ronaldson, Ian Porter; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, Michael Kearney, Andrew Browne, Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You, Aly Muldowney, Daniel Qualter, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Fionn Carr.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Sébastien Minery, Stéphane Boyer (both France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Exeter Chiefs to win: 1/7; Draw: 30/1; Connacht to win: 4/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Once again we have a very tough test in front of us and on the road. Exeter are flying high in the Premiership and we expect them to name a very strong side at home.

“It’s going to be a great match because you have two teams that I believe are quite similar in the way they work extremely hard for each other and rely on team work.

“It’s good to be able to bring the experience and size of Michael (Swift), Mick (Kearney) and Andrew (Browne) into what is going to be another physical challenge. Their availability allows us to use our squad effectively ahead of another tough game away to the Ospreys six days later.

“After playing well at inside centre for the last few games, Craig (Ronaldson) gets a well-deserved opportunity to lead the team from outhalf, with the experience of Dave McSharry outside him.

“We’ve been pleased with the performances of Danny (Qualter) and young Caolin (Blade) with the Eagles team this season and it’s great for both of them to get an opportunity this week.”

Rob Baxter (Exeter Chiefs) – “Connacht have got away to a flyer, they got the points they needed at home. For us to keep this group alive a home win is very important so we have to go flat-out to get a win here. That means an away bonus point in France (against Bayonne) means something.

“Our intention will be to try to get those important four points, then this competition is alive for us, just like the (Aviva) Premiership.

“Looking at Connacht over their last three or four games, they’re playing very well. They’ve always been a good challenge for us in pre-season, we’ve had some good games against them and I’m sure this weekend will be the same again.

“They’re a solid side and they look to me like a team enjoying what they’re doing. They certainly had a good result last weekend against La Rochelle, and they’ll be aware if they can back up that performance with an away win they put themselves in charge of the group. It’s an important game for both of us.

“We’ve talked a lot this year about our home form, which so far has been very good. We’ve only lost narrowly against Leicester, so it’s very important to keep ramming it home.”

Current Form – Exeter Chiefs  – (Aviva Premiership): Won 52-0 away to London Welsh; Lost 24-20 at home to Leicester Tigers; Won 25-22 away to Gloucester; Won 36-13 at home to Harlequins; Lost 29-24 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 44-24 at home to London Irish; (European Challenge Cup): Lost 30-24 away to Bayonne

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

Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Challenge Cup: Exeter Chiefs – Points: Ceri Sweeney 11; Tries: Adam Hughes, Carl Rimmer 1 each; Connacht – Points: Craig Ronaldson 11; Tries: Robbie Henshaw 2

Previous European Meetings: 0

Match Facts –

– Exeter Chiefs and Connacht have never met in Europe

– Exeter have never faced Irish opposition in the tournament but Connacht have faced sides from England on 26 occasions (W8, L18)

– Connacht have won just twice on English soil in the European Challenge Cup

– This will be Connacht’s 100th game in the competition

Challenge Cup Records:

Exeter Chiefs –
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 3

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