Amid speculation that Connacht Rugby has changed its title sponsor in preparation for its opening Heineken Cup campaign, the province has refused to confirm any new deal. Speaking to the Galway Advertiser yesterday, media officer Luke Murphy insisted the club is still exploring a number of avenues: “Negotiations are still ongoing with a number of parties. We are not in a position to confirm a change to our sponsor as of yet. It is possible an announcement might be made next week but as it stands we cannot confirm any details as we still have a number of interested parties. Obviously the Heineken Cup has been a great accelerator for us. We have been able to redevelop the Sportsground here, putting on a roof and it is a significant capital project.”
Asked if the new deal might prompt a few high profile last minute reinforcements to complement the additions of players such as Henry Fa'afili and Ethienne Reynecke, Murphy remained confident that their transfer business was completed: “Eric has added a number of quality players to the ranks. We lost a couple of players but we have strengthened significantly as well with 16 new players. I think we have a nice blend of youth and experience. The squad are back in pre season training for a month now and we do not anticipate any new additions.”
The dates and times for the opening set of Rabo Direct Pro 12 fixtures have also been confirmed. Connacht enter the fray on Saturday September 3 with a trip to the Stadio Monigo to face Italian side Benneton Treviso at 3pm. The first home tie will be against Scarlets at the Sportsground the following Saturday at 3.15pm, a game which will be broadcast live in TG4.
Connacht’s first Irish opposition will be Leinster at the RDS on Saturday October 8, while they visit Ulster on November 5. They complete their first half of the campaign with a trip to Thomond Park to face Munster on St Stephen’s Day, before hosting Leinster on New Year’s Day.
Facing all three Irish sides away first certainly represents a significant challenge, but Connacht will be hoping their opponents World Cup induced depletion can work to their advantage. Last season was the western province’s most successful to date and hopes will be high that their achievements can be surpassed even with the obvious distraction of the Heineken Cup. In order to prepare for the new season, Connacht will be holding open training sessions at Sligo RFC this coming Sunday and Monday. This training camp is part of Connacht Rugby’s commitment to bringing the professional team to all parts of the province, and the fact that the club have recently won promotion to the Ulster Bank All Ireland League gives this trip extra significance.