Connacht set their sights on European Challenge Cup

by Richard Hartmann

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has said Connacht will be aiming to win the European Challenge Cup after yesterday’s round of 16 draw.

“It’s a brilliant opportunity for us. We started out the year in the Champions Cup but as the year has fallen we’ve moved back into the Challenge Cup. We now know we’re not going to be competing for silverware in the Pro14, and silverware and podium finishes is where we want to be so we’re looking at this challenge cup as a real opportunity to go and win something,” said Friend.

They were drawn away to Leicester Tigers next month and if they win they will have a home quarter final against either Ospreys or Newcastle Falcons.

Leicester are the only side in the Gallagher Premiership who Connacht have never previously played in the European competition.

England has been a miserable place for Connacht with no win on English soil since beating Worcester in the 2009 Challenge Cup.

Veteran prop forward Denis Buckley said: “Leicester are a really good side. It would have been nice to be at home, but this is the card we’ve been dealt. It’s an exciting game to build towards and our away form has been excellent. We’re as good as any side left in the competition and on our day, we know we can take any of them.”

Before the trip to Leicester, Connacht have two remaining matches in the Pro14 starting with the visit of Edinburgh to the Sportsground this weekend.

Having lost to Munster last Friday night in Limerick, Connacht can no longer get to the final of the domestic competition. They will be hoping though to tie up 2nd place in Conference B with a win over Edinburgh.

A win would guarantee Heineken Cup qualification for the third year running.

Friend, who is expected to shuffle the deck against Edinburgh, said: “I see it as an opportunity to give a few players who may not have had an opportunity this year a chance to pull on the jersey and show us what they’ve got. When we do make an announcement on our signings, you’ll see that there are some exciting young players coming through. This game gives some of those guys an opportunity to stake a bit of a claim albeit six months or so out from the start of the new season”.

Connacht V Edinburgh, Galway Sportsground. Saturday March 13th K/O 7.35pm.

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