Tough Euro draw for Connacht

Connacht Rugby face a tough pool in this season's European Challenge Cup.

Drawn in pool three, Connacht will face Sale Sharks, the number-one ranked Gallagher Premiership Rugby club in the Challenge Cup draw. And new Connacht coach Andy Friend will also take his new charges to France twice, to face Bordeaux-Bègles and Perpignan.

It will mean a return to Ireland for Ulster's former outhalf Paddy Jackson, now with Perpignan, who made his return to rugby this week for pre-season training with his new club. Connacht have never met fourth seeds Perpignan, but last season's D2 winners have gone some way to strengthening their squad for a return to the Top 14.

It will also be a first visit to Bordeaux Begles since Warren Gatland pulled off a victory at Stade Andre Moga in 1997. That 9-15 victory propelled Connacht to their first European quarter-final after overcoming Northampton Saints and Nice. On that Connacht team were current Connacht CEO Willie Ruane, current Academy manager and Connacht legend, Eric Elwood, backs coach Nigel Carolan, and current Dragons coach Bernard Jackman.

Bordeaux Begles, who finished 10th in the Top 14 last season, ahead of former European opponents Oyonnax and Brive in 13th and 14th place, will certainly be targeted for a Connacht win this season.

It is a hugely tough pool for Connacht, who were Pro 14 second seeds behind Benetton Treviso, coming against the top seeds Sale Sharks. The two sides met in 2005 over two legs in the semi-final with the English premiership outfit prevailing in the first leg in Galway by 25-18 before a 59-9 victory in Edgeley Park. Sale went on to win the tournament, beating Pau in the final by 27-3.


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