Wednesday 18 September 2019

Friend: We are desperate to make a big impact in Challenge Cup this season

Connacht coach Andy Friend. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht coach Andy Friend. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Rooney

Coach Andy Friend hopes youth will take its chance when two experimental teams do battle in the Challenge Cup today as Connacht welcome Bordeaux-Begles to the Sportsground (3.0).

Only six Connacht players and three from the French outfit are retained from last weekend's respective league outings, while academy players Conor Fitzgerald and Colm De Buitléar could debut from the bench for the home side.

On the heels of an historic interpro win over Ulster last weekend, Connacht were further lifted by the announcement of plans to redevelop the Sportsground. Friend wants to see a European win to add to their satisfaction.

"This is a competition that Connacht have a proud tradition in and we hope to make a big impact in this season," said Friend.

"We are coming off six tough Guinness PRO14 games, so it is only natural that there is some rotation of the squad, but we have a good blend of youth and experience among the squad.

"We hope that they will get a chance to make their debuts at some stage during the 80 minutes.

"We know that Bordeaux will come with a big, physical side and we are expecting a massive challenge."

Last season Connacht faltered at the quarter-final stages as a timid performance against Gloucester signed the exit papers of then coach Kieran Keane, but the new man in charge is determined to carry his side into the knockout stages for the fourth year in four attempts.

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As a potential route into next season's Champions Cup, the second-tier competition is high on Connacht's priority list, and they are desperate to pick up a convincing home win first up.

"We take the competition very seriously, and we are looking to win this weekend and progress as best we can," said defence coach Peter Wilkins.

"If you get good results from the first two, one home and one away, that sets you up nicely for what is to follow. If you do get wins early, it can change the other team's mindset the next time you play them.

"To have a French team up first adds an extra bit of spark to the season after two tough interpros. So in terms of a different focus and culture, it is worthwhile because it lifts bodies and minds, and it is certainly reflected in the way the team is training this week. They are energised by it."

Injuries have denied Connacht the chance to field Kieran Marmion, Tiernan O'Halloran and Tom Farrell as Friend has retained six of the team that won in Ulster for the first time since 1960, including the in-form Jack Carty, who gets the nod to start his seventh straight game of the season for the westerners.

"With the French teams in the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup a lot depends on the emphasis they place on the competition and their current league position and what they look at in terms of rotation," said Wilkins.

"They are a powerful, physical team with so many good game managers. There is a lot of quality and regardless of who they send it will be a great challenge for us."



Bordeaux Bègles: League position: 8th

Coach: Rory Teague (1st season)

How they beat you: By sucking you into an arm wrestle. If the weather is as wet as forecast, it would play into Bordeaux’s


How you beat them: The French side’s interest in this competition is summed up by the team they have sent to Galway. Get on top early and given Connacht’s firepower in the back line, it could be handy day at the office for the hosts.

Player to watch: Beka Gorgadze – the powerful 22-year-old No 8 has played 11 times for Georgia.

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