New challenge for Connacht in European rugby

After three seasons of Heineken Cup rugby, Connacht return to the Challenge Cup next season where they will face new opposition in two French and an English outfit.

Drawn in pool two and ranked in tier four of eight, Connacht will face English outfit Exeter Chiefs, ranked in tier one.

Although relative newcomers to premiership rugby, the Chiefs have made their mark since being promoted to the competition three seasons ago. The two sides have met in other in two pre-season friendlies, but they have never clashed in a competition.

Connacht will also face French sides Bayonne and La Rochelle. Bayonne , who finished 10th in the Top 14, ahead of Grenoble, Oonnax, Perpignan and Biarritz, played Connacht in the former Amlin Cup competition in 2010/11. Connacht prevailed on both occasions, winning at home 16-13 and in France by 35-21.

La Rochelle have been newly promoted to France's Top 14 competition, having secured promotion with a 31-22 win over Agen in the PRO D2 play-off final in Bordeaux. They have just recruited Waratah's winger Alofa Alofa.

Connacht should be reasonably content with this pool and will have no fears facing any of these three teams.

John Muldoon is looking forward to returning to France where last season they overcame rugby doyens Toulouse in the Heineken Cup, now renamed the European Rugby Champions Cup.

""I love the challenge of playing in France and last season we went to Toulouse and won. That was a special day for Connacht rugby and now we have the chance to do that again.

"We've been to Bayonne before and won, but we haven't played Exeter Chiefs in a competitive game to my knowledge. We had a friendly against them a few seasons ago, but they have simply got better and better since they gained promotion.

"They've been in the Heineken Cup in the last few seasons and had to play against some of Europe's biggest clubs. They will be a massive test for us.”

Ireland u-20s

All eyes will be on the Ireland u-20 side this weekend in New Zealand where two Connacht youngsters, Galwegian Ciaran Gaffney and Buccaneer Rory Maloney are in action in the Junior World Championship. Both youngsters starred in Ireland’s win over Fiji with Gaffney touching try for a try before the break. The 38-0 win has put Ireland into the semi-finals for the first time, and they are now up against defending champions England on Sunday morning (TG4 6.05am ). New Zealand face the 2012 winners in the other semi-final.

2014/15 European Rugby Champions Cup

Pool 1: Saracens, Munster Rugby, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Sale Sharks

Pool 2: Leinster Rugby, Castres Olympique, Harlequins, London Wasps

Pool 3: RC Toulon, Leicester Tigers, Ulster Rugby, Scarlets

Pool 4: Glasgow Warriors, Montpellier, Bath Rugby, Toulouse

Pool 5: Northampton Saints, Racing Metro 92, Ospreys, Benetton Treviso

2014/15 European Rugby Challenge Cup pools

Pool 1: Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Grenoble, FIRA-AER 1

Pool 2: Exeter Chiefs, Bayonne, Connacht Rugby, La Rochelle

Pool 3: Stade Francais Paris, NG Dragons, Newcastle Falcons, FIRA-AER 2

Pool 4: Edinburgh Rugby, Bordeaux-Begles, London Welsh, Lyon

Pool 5: Gloucester Rugby, Brive, Zebre, Oyonnax

Pool stage dates

Round 1: 16/17/18/19 October 2014

Round 2: 23/24/25/26 October 2014

Round 3: 4/5/6/7 December 2014

Round 4: 11/12/13/14 December 2014

Round 5: 15/16/17/18 January 2015

Round 6: 22/23/24/25 January 2015

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