Connacht to face English duo
Rugby:Connacht have announced that we will be playing two pre-season games against English Premiership opposition in preparation for the upcoming 2012/13 season.First up will be the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Saturday, August 11th (2.0) to be followed a week later by a clash with Harlequins at the Stoop, Saturday, August 18th (2.45). The fixtures will provide Connacht coach Eric Elwood his first chance to blend in the new summer signings and development players into the squad.
Exeter Chiefs will make their debut in the Heineken Cup, where they have been pitted against champions Leinster, Clermont Auvergne and the Llanelli Scarlets. Last season they performed consistently throughout the year, and finished just outside the play-off positions in fifth place in the Aviva Premiership, the only team outside of the top four to win more games than they lost.
Club captain Tom Hayes, brother of former Munster and Ireland prop John, is one of three Irish players on the books. Outhalf Gareth Steenson hails from Dungannon and is in his third season at the club. This summer the Chiefs signed centre Ian Whitten from Ulster.
Harlequins are familiar opposition to all Connacht fans. The pre-season game will be the first of at least three fixtures against Conor O'Shea’s side as they are once again in the same Heineken Cup pool. The Stoop was the venue for Connacht’s first ever Heineken Cup match where the hosts were put to the pin of their collar, but late penalties from Nick Evans saw Connacht denied a losing bonus point.
The home game will live long in the memory of all Connacht supporters, as a first ever win in the competition was achieved in atrocious weather conditions in January. Following their European elimination, Harlequins lost only two more games in the Premiership as they were crowned league champions for the first time in their history with a 30-23 victory over the Leicester Tigers.