'It is a pool-defining game for us' - veteran Connacht star Denis Buckley eyes maiden Gloucester win
It’s a measure of the strides made by Connacht rugby that Roscommon native Denis Buckley, who made his debut nine seasons ago, has played almost as many European games in the Champions Cup as in the secondary competition they have been based in for most of the professional era.
No team in Europe has played as many matches in the Challenge Cup as Connacht — 126 games — but prop Buckley led the way in the development of local talent able to compete in the premier event.
The 29-year old, a product of Creggs RFC in Roscommon, made his European debut against Toulouse in the Champions Cup in 2012.
Indeed, his first three years of European rugby were in the Heineken Champions Cup and he knows how important it is for the province to be back competing in it and doing well.
Two good performances so far, a home win against Montpellier and a battling display in Toulouse, have left them in the hunt as they prepare for back-to-back matches against a Gloucester side who lost both their opening matches to the same opposition and are in the midst of a five-match losing sequence.
"It’s an opportunity to put ourselves in a strong position in the group," said Buckley, ahead of their trip to Kingsholm on Sunday.
"It is a pool-defining game for us and if we can go over there and get a result we are right in the mix and it’s in our hands going into the final set of games. So, first and foremost, that’s the goal, to go over there and get a result," added Buckley, whose 34 European appearances have seen 16 in the Champions Cup, two play-offs and the remainder in the Challenge Cup.
Gloucester are familiar foes to Connacht and Buckley has played in three of the five defeats to the Cherry and Whites, so he’s hoping that they finally get their first win over them either on Sunday or at the Sportsground next weekend.
He's one of the elder lemons in the squad with 168 games under his belt and knows that even with Gloucester’s current losing run that it will take a big display to get the win which will keep them in the hunt for a first ever Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final.
"We have played against them a few times and have been on the losing end. I remember in particular the play-off with them that went to extra-time and it was a tough one to take," added the former Blackrock College student whose international honours so far have been confined to U-20 and Emerging Ireland.
"They got a maul try in the extra-time of extra-time. We could and should have won that one.
"But I don’t think the past really plays a part in this one. It’s 80 minutes of rugby, it’s nil-all and I don’t think you need to be looking into past fixtures because they don’t really have any bearing at all and sometimes that can do more harm than good," added Buckley.