Connacht prepare for Perpignan backlash in vital Euro clash

 Bundee Aki, scoring Connacht’s second try during the European Rugby Challenge Cup round three match against Perpignan at the Sportsground, will  miss for tomorrow's return fixture in France due to his wedding in New Zealand.

Bundee Aki, scoring Connacht’s second try during the European Rugby Challenge Cup round three match against Perpignan at the Sportsground, will miss for tomorrow's return fixture in France due to his wedding in New Zealand.

Connacht's European hopes are on the line tomorrow evening in France (7pm ) when they face a Perpignan outfit desperate to get a first win of the season.

Without a Top 14 or European win this season, the Catalan club is also reeling from the recent death of former legend South Africa Barend Britz who died after an assault outside his pub. As a result Connacht is expecting a massive backlash from the French outfit after losing 22-10 in the Sportsground last weekend.

With just two points in pool three from a draw with fellow French competitors Bordeaux-Begles, Perpignan have little chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals this season, but there is more at stake for the home side at Stade Aime Giral tomorrow, and as a result Connacht's forward's coach Jimmy Duffy believes it will be a massive occasion for both teams.

"It's a huge game for us, and we are going to pick a team we believe can go over there and win. Perpignan are obviously still searching for a win, and with their local hero unfortunately losing his life last week, it's a big occasion for them.

"It would have been his birthday this weekend, he would have been 64, so it's another tough thing for the club to take. They have a long history, but we are picking a team to win."

Connacht currently sit in second place on eight points in the European Challenge Cup's pool three after that hard-fought win in atrocious weather last weekend at the Sportsground in the first of these back-to-back games. However, only a win tomorrow will keep their hopes of a quarter-final alive.

"Sale are in the driving seat, so we can't be looking left or right," says Duffy. "We are definitely focused on identifying a game plan to knock Perpignan, while also selecting a side that can do the business, and then get ourselves home for a big Christmas.

"This is a massive opportunity to try to keep the momentum going. Last weekend was another test because it forced us to play a different style of game than we had played all year by keeping it tighter. I think both teams struggled with the elements, but it was a good learning and it forced both sides to completely alter the game plan. With the rain bouncing off the floor, it was really tough."

In looking for a fifth win on the trot, Connacht expect conditions to be more conducive for expansive rugby with both sides looking to capitalise.

"Both teams did admirably well to hold to the ball last weekend, but for us it was about holding onto the last pass. We created opportunities, but maybe forced it in contact, but we would expect the conditions this weekend to be considerably better."

Connacht are expected to make several changes for tomorrow evening's fixture. Although without Ireland centre Bundee Aki, who has returned to New Zealand for his wedding, key players who were rested after the double in South Africa, are expected to return to action in a bid to keep Connacht involved in both competitions heading into the Christmas period. Out of action are Eoin Griffin with a calf injury and Peter Robb (knee ) until next month, while Niyi Adeolokun has been ruled out till February after surgery on a bicep tendon. Scrumhalf Kieran Marmion also is on course for return next February following ankle surgery, while Conor McKeon and Eoin McKeon (both shoulder ), Conan O'Donnell (hand ) and Craig Robertson (knee ) remain sidelined.

Perpignan’s DNA

Although Perpignan are expected to provide the toughest of challenges as they pay homage to Barend Britz, Connacht do travel with confidence, particularly after a run of four wins, including a rare double in South Africa.

"Genuinely delighted," says Duffy. "Except for Niyi, we returned with few injuries - nothing but a few bumps and bruises. It was probably the best couple of weeks. Fingers crossed we can maintain the momentum this weekend and through the Christmas.

"We always relish going over there. It is a tough physical challenge."

Having worked in France and been a member of Warren Gatland's breakthrough team that qualified for the first time to play Agen in the European quarter-finals, Duffy does not underestimate tomorrow's opposition.

"They are a very proud club with a lot of history and success. These guys know how to win matches, it's in their DNA. To come through the PROD2 and be promoted from such a tough league, we are under no illusions. I watched them play against Toulouse and Toulon and you get to see how physical they are, big human beings, who can play ball. There a lot of passion and energy, and now with the circumstances and their searching for a win as well, it will be tough."

"Like any club, every game is the next most important, you want to start winning again and that no doubt is at the forefront of their minds. They are a big challenge, but we expect them to be bigger this weekend.

With big ball carriers, strength in the backrow, and threats in the back line, Duffy knows Connacht will need to be at their best.

"We do not want to cough up simple opportunities against them. We will need to be detailed in attack, and obviously nulify the threats."

Despite the appalling weather last weekend at the Sportsground, Connacht had looked on course for a bonus-point win taking a 14-0 lead at the break with tries from fullback Darragh Leader and Bundee Aki, with outhalf David Horwitz adding the extras, and a penalty minutes into the second half. Although the home side dominated the next 20 minutes, Perpignan hit back with a penalty and a try from a driving maul to narrow the gap to just seven, before Kyle Godwin grabbed the third try for Andy Friend's men minutes from full time to secure a second Challenge Cup victory.

Connacht v Perpignan (Sportsground ) : D Leader; C Kelleher, K Joyce, B Aki (K Godwin 68 ), M Healy; D Horowitz (C Fitzgerald 54 ), J Mitchell (C Blade 71 ); P McCabe (M Burke 48-60 temp ), D Heffernan (c ), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 61 ), J Maksymiw (G Thornbury 61 ), Q Roux, E Masterson (P Boyle 68 ), C Fainga’a, J Connolly.

Perpignan: J Bousquet; T Fainga’anuku, P Lucas (A Taumoepeau 54 ), P Marty (J Farnoux 64 ), E Sau; E Selponi, S Degmache (T Ecochard 75 ); Q Walcker (K Tougne 58 ), R Carbou (M Leiataua HT ), N Lemaire (S Charlet 61 ), Y Vivalda, B Botha (A Roussel 58 ), J van Heerden, P Reynaud, M Faleafa (E Iachizzi 61 ).

Referee: K Dickson (RFU )


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