Connacht put travel woes behind them to focus on Brive cup clash
Published 20/11/2015 | 13:06
Connacht will aim to put the "mental challenge" of a marathon journey home from Siberia behind them when they resume European Challenge Cup action on Saturday.
After beating tournament newcomers Enisei-STM 31-14 in Krasnoyarsk last Saturday - a game played in minus 20 degree temperatures - it then took three days for the entire Connacht squad to arrive back in Galway.
A combination of technical problems with their charter plane, missed flights and visa issues conspired against them, meaning head coach Pat Lam has had little time to prepare for this weekend's Pool One appointment with French challengers Brive.
"It was minus 30 degrees when we had to get off the charter plane on Saturday night. We had to go back to our original hotel and split the group up," Lam said.
"One group went home via Amsterdam, one via Paris and another via London. It has been a bit like a game - things happened, and we just had to adjust.
"It became a long, long journey home, but the whole trip was fantastic. It turned into a mental challenge, and we were all under the pump.
"It has shortened our preparation for Brive, but there are some things you simply can't control. We just had to get on with it.
"I changed the training schedule for this week four times, and it meant we only got one run-out before facing Brive."
While Connacht are now back on familiar territory, English contenders Worcester and London Irish face trips to Italy and France, respectively, with the Warriors tackling Zebre in Pool Four and early Pool Five pace-setters Irish visiting Grenoble.
Worcester opened with a hard-earned win against La Rochelle six days ago, and they need to back that up at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma ahead of home and away clashes against Aviva Premiership rivals Gloucester next month that could effectively decide their European group.
Georgia international hooker Jaba Bregvadze and Worcester academy prop Gareth Milasinovich both make full debuts for Worcester, with scrum-half JB Bruzulier returning from a loan spell at Clermont Auvergne to captain the team.
Warriors head coach Carl Hogg said: " Zebre have a number of Italian internationals with a lot of experience, so they will be tough to beat. We won't underestimate them by any means."
Irish, meanwhile, will aim to build on last Saturday's 48-10 victory over Agen, and scrum-half Darren Allinson said: "We played some good rugby and scored eight tries, which will give the squad confidence going into the Grenoble game.
"It will be a step up. Grenoble are a good side and they have some real quality in their squad, so we know what we are coming up against."
World Cup-winning New Zealand prop Ben Franks is on the bench for Irish, with Jebb Sinclair gaining a start in the back-row alongside Joe Trayfoot and Luke Narraway.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Pool Two sees Sale Sharks hosting Pau, while Sharks' opening weekend conquerors Newport Gwent Dragons visit Castres.
Sale show a number of changes from the side beaten in Wales five days ago, with wing Will Addison, lock Bryn Evans and flanker TJ Ioane among those returning to action in a team captained by back-row forward Magnus Lund.