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Duffy hopes buoyant Connacht can maintain 'winning habit'


Connacht forwards coach Jimmy Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht forwards coach Jimmy Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht forwards coach Jimmy Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile

It's three years since Connacht last won five games on the spin, but they get a chance to equal that in the Challenge Cup tonight when they take on a Peprignan side without a win in 14 games this season.

Paddy Jackson, as expected, is back in the Perpignan side for a game the Catalans firmly believe can yield them their first win of a troubled season before they face Stade Francais, Clermont Auvergne and Racing 92 over the Christmas period.

Connacht arrived in Perpignan yesterday morning via Barcelona and were greeted by wind and rain which must have prompted them to think they had never left the Sportsground.

The failure to pick up bonus points in their home wins over Bordeaux-Begles and Perpignan and the away loss to leaders Sale Sharks, leaves Connacht badly in need of one in Stade Aime Giral.

Their best bet at this stage looks like nailing one of the three runners-up spots in the five pools, with Sale out in front with 15 points from three games.

The Westerners have managed five wins in a row only twice in the professional era.

The first time was back in 2002 and then three years ago, in that unforgettable march to the Pro12 title under Pat Lam, they chalked up eight on the spin when they defeated Munster in Thomond Park for the first time since 1986.

"Winning becomes a habit," said forwards coach Jimmy Duffy. "Your next game is always the most important.

"You try keep the momentum going by putting performances together and last weekend was another test because it forced us to play a different style of game to the way we had played all year, keep it a bit tighter and I think both teams struggled in terms of the elements but it was a really good learning for a lot of fellas.

"What was really encouraging is the boys didn't regress on ambition, they actually chucked the ball about. We would have liked to get another score but we didn't which is a wee bit of a disappointment.

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"But when you take it back and say the winds were in excess of gusts of 48mph and the rain hopping off the ground, well that's not a bad result at the end of the day."

The weather is expected to improve for tonight's game but the prolonged rain will make for a greasy surface on a pitch which has been in poor shape since the start of the season.

Connacht coach Andy Friend has used this competition to blood a lot of youngsters and has again slotted Kieran Joyce into the centre, having given him his first start last week. Conor Fitzgerald, let go by the Munster academy last summer, made his first start away to Sale and will made his second today. Verdict: Connacht

Perpignan - J Farnoux; E Sau, A Cocagi, A Taumoepeau, T Fainga'anuku; P Jackson, T Ecochard; Q Walcker, M Leiataua, Y Boutemmani; T Labouteley, Y Vivalda; E Shahn, P Reynaud, K Chateau. Reps: C Deligny, K Tougne, N Lemaire, J van Heerden, A Brazo, S Degmache, E Selponi, J Bousquet.

Connacht - D Leader; C Kelleher, K Joyce, D Horwitz, M Healy; C Fitzgerald, J Mitchell; P McCabe, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy; J Cannon, G Thornbury, S O'Brien, J Connolly, R Copeland. Reps: T McCartney, M Burke, C Carey, J Maksymiw, E Masterson, C Blade, J Carty, K Godwin.

Ref - I Tempest (England)

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