Sunday 18 February 2018

Loughney up for the Challenge

Connacht's Ronan Loughney
Connacht's Ronan Loughney

John Fallon

Connacht, who have played more games than any other side in Europe in the Challenge Cup, will bid to maintain a 100pc record after three games in the competition for only the third time.

This is Connacht’s 17th season in the Challenge Cup and this evening’s clash at the Sportsground will be their 108th in the tournament.

Remarkably, Connacht have yet to draw a game in the competition and the record at the moment stands at 56 wins and 51 losses. But only twice in the past have Connacht managed to win their three opening games.

The first time it happened was in their third season in the competition in 1998-’99 when they started with a 31-12 win in Newport.

They followed it up by pipping 29-28 Perigueux at the Sportsground before travelling to Italy and edging out Rovigo 21-20.

That run came to an end when Connacht lost 38-26 at home to Narbonne.

The second time Connacht won their three opening matches was in 2009-’10 when they produced their best ever performance in the pool stages when winning all six matches.

They opened with a 46-6 win over Madrid side Olympus Rugby, then beat Montpellier 22-19 in France and then scored a good 26-21 victory over Worcester Warriors at Sixways Stadium.

They pushed on from there to defeat Worcester 19-7 at home and sailed into the knockout stages with a 20-10 home win over Montpellier and their biggest ever away victory when they triumphed 66-0 in Madrid. Connacht beat Bourgoin 23-20 in the quarter-finals before bowing out to Toulon by 19-12 in the semi-finals.

Victory this evening would give Connacht a great chance of making the quarter-finals for the ninth time and long-serving prop Ronan Loughney said it would be brilliant to maintain the winning home record they have built up this season.

“This is a massive game for us at home and we have that home record to protect.

“We love cup rugby, and we have set our sights high in the Challenge Cup,” said the 31-year old.

Connacht have won all six home matches this season, five of them in the Pro12, as well as the Challenge Cup win over Brive.

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