Bradley looks for a perfect ending
THE fact that Connacht only managed to get two representatives into Ireland's 44-man squad for the Six Nations and 'A' internationals came as a blow out west.
Hooker Sean Cronin is set to make his Six Nations debut over the next two months, with prop Brett Wilkinson destined for some 'A' team action but there was disappointment for the likes of captain John Muldoon, out-half Ian Keatley, scrum-half Frank Murphy and winger Fionn Carr. However, all four could still feature among the additional players brought into the 'A' squad and have shown the type of form in Connacht's successful European run that merits a call-up.
Michael Bradley's men will look to round off their Challenge Cup qualification in style this afternoon with a sixth victory from six outings when they take on Olympus Madrid at Ciudad Universitaria (3.0). The Spaniards have conceded an average of 47 points per match in their five outings and, with victory a formality, Connacht have the opportunity to develop their back play which, up to now, has been over-reliant on Carr's incursions from the wing.
Bradley has made three changes to the side that defeated Montpellier last week, with Ronan Loughney getting a run at loose-head, Johnny O'Connor coming onto the open-side flank for the injured Ray Ofisa and George Naoupu in at No 8. Going into the quarter-finals as No 1 seeds would be a considerable achievement for Bradley and his side will back themselves in a knock-out challenge at the Sportsground against any opposition.
"It's important we win the match and go on then and get the bonus point, but we are travelling strong," said Bradley, who was in charge of the Connacht side that suffered a shock defeat to Catania four seasons ago.
"I think the lads are still very focused on what needs to be done. I don't think Olympus Rugby are as strong as Catania were and that was one of those freaky results on the day. It was a bad day at the office. I would be very surprised if that happened -- it's too big an opportunity and the quality of players currently here is better than it was back then."
A heavy away victory beckons, a rare occurrence for this team, but one which can further build confidence in a squad that has developed a taste for success.
OLYMPUS MADRID -- M Tudela ; J Cano, M Heredia, J Canosa, B Pardo, M Mazo, P Feijoo, A Onega Camacho, C Bohorquez, D Gurgenazde, S Souto, J Recuerda, R Camacho, M Acena, I Criado Reps: J Arbelaitz, M Serrano, S Hattori, L Fernandez, M Cook, G Palmers, H Quirelli, I Gutierrez
CONNACHT -- T Nathan; L Bibo, N Ta'auso, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; R Loughney, S Cronin, R Morris; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon (capt), J O'Connor, G Naoupu. Reps: A Flavin, B Wilkinson, J Hagan, B Upton, M McComish, C O'Loughlin, M Nikora, A Wynne.
REF -- Stefano Traversi