Tough opener for Connacht

Connacht face a tough opener in this season’s Magners League when they host Welsh outfit Ospreys on the weekend of September 4.

This is the second year in succession Connacht have faced the Ospreys at the start of the nine-month campaign, and it was the Welsh side’s 3- 16 victory last year that ended Connacht’s unbeaten opening day record.

In the first series of matches before the break for European action Connacht will face Edinburgh away, before hosting Cardiff and Ulster - the first of the interprovincials - before an away fixture to the Dragons.

The league resumes after two European rounds away to Glasgow followed by another break for the Autumn International Series. As usual the Christmas fare will start with an away match to Munster, and a New Year fixture at home to Leinster.

The Magners League is becoming increasingly important in Connacht’s ambitions to qualify for the Heineken Cup. It is also becoming tougher. Changes in the European competition this year sees only the pool winners qualifying for the quarter-finals, while Connacht’s only route through the Magners League is to finish above one of the other three provinces. The play-off between the best non-qualifier from Wales and Ireland, and an Italian side, will no longer apply.

Connacht’s season will open with three friendlies, away to Harlequins and Gloucester on August 14 and 22, before a final fixture with Rotherham at the Galway Sportsground on September 5.

• Former Connacht hooker Joe Merrigan has been contracted to Coventry for next season. He will link up with another former Connacht player, scrumhalf Mike Walls, at the national first division side.

•Connacht Rugby is holding a rugby art competition for boys and girls who wish to be a Connacht mascot this season. Childrren must draw a picture of Connacht Rugby's Eddie the Eagle, and will be divided into two age brackets - 6-9 years old and 10-13 years old. Five winners from each category will be selected as a Connacht mascot, while the winning sketches will appear on the Connacht Rugby website for the season. For further details see www.connachtrugby.ie

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