Tuesday 22 May 2018

Loughney targets home reward

Ronan Loughney:
Ronan Loughney: "We are really lucky to have such great supporters. They have stuck with us through thick and thin." Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Connacht will bid to reach their fourth European Challenge Cup semi-final when they take on Grenoble at Stade des Alpes tomorrow night in France.

This is the ninth time that Connacht have qualified for the quarter-finals of the competition, with Grenoble becoming the first side that Connacht have met twice in the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup.

Their previous meeting at this stage was back in 2004-'05 when the competition was run off on a two-leg basis with knockout rounds.

Connacht set themselves up to advance to a semi-final meeting with Sale Sharks when they won 26-21 at Stade Lesdiguieres, the ground where Grenoble are still based but who now play their home games at the 20,068-capacity Stade des Alpes.

Connacht won the second leg 19-3 to advance to the semi-finals for the second year in a row but went down to Sale.

Connacht reached the semi-finals the previous year for the first time but were pipped 49-45 by Harlequins.

Connacht's third and final appearance in the last four came in 2009-'10 when Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon beat them 19-12 at the Sportsground.

All three of Connacht's quarter-final wins were against French sides, defeating Narbonne 43-18 on aggregated in 2003-04, while five years ago they defeated Bourgoin 23-20 at the Sportsground.

Victory tomorrow night will set up a home semi-final against either Harlequins or London Irish and long-serving prop Ronan Loughney believes it would be a perfect reward for Connacht supporters.

"Over the last five or six years, the support has just gone from strength to strength. A lot of the clubs we go to play have bigger capacities but when you play here, sometimes it feels like there is 15,000 or 20,000 people because of the noise that comes out of the terraces.

"We are really lucky to have such great supporters. They have stuck with us through thick and thin. For us it would be a great opportunity to reward them with a home semi-final. That's our target to hopefully win this game," said Loughney.

A win tomorrow night would be the 12th time for Connacht to win a competitive game in France.

Irish Independent

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