Challenge Cup: Connacht v Newcastle Falcons, Sportsground, Saturday, 5.30pm
Newcastle Falcons are the visitors to the Galway Sportsground on Saturday (5.30pm) for this opening European fixture against long-time Challenge Cup competitors Connacht.
Now in their 21st year of Europe’s second tier competition, from which they have advanced to the playoffs on 11 occasions, including three semi-finals, Connacht’s ambition remains Champions Cup rugby.
This year they need to qualify from Pool A as one of eight for the next round of 16. A home win is therefore key, with away fixtures to both Falcons and French side Brive – an unusual repeat of the 2007/8 and 15/16 seasons when the three clubs were drawn in the same pool.
On that last occasion Connacht claimed the home honours, and with a memorable trip to Russia to play Enisei-STM, it was enough to qualify for the quarter-finals, which they lost by a point away to Grenoble.
With no relegation for the English Premiership, David Walder’s side could well arrive in Galway with hopes of getting something out of their season. He has named a XV with much experience, including talented try-scoring right wing Adam Radwan, Argentinian centre Matias Moroni, captain Tom Penny, and the former Bulls, Cheetahs and Bordeaux outhalf Tian Schoeman.
Ireland will be familiar with hooker Jamie Blamire, while the secondrow boasts Greg Peterson and Sebastian de Chave – at 6′8″ and 6′7″ – respectively. The backrow features former Ireland pentathlete and Ulster lock Matthew Dalton.
Connacht coaching director Andy Friend has opted to use a host of players who have not been on duty in recent weeks, with a new-look backline that includes outhalf David Hawkshaw, Adam Byrne and Cathal Forde, while up front Dylan Tierney Martin, Jack Aungier and Shamus Hurley-Langton come into the starting XV, which is captained by Jarrad Butler.
“We’ve been clear from the start that we’ll be using these games to give some players a chance to impress. Our target is to reach the knock-out stages and see what happens from there,” said Friend.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; A Byrne, T Daly, D Kilgallen, C Forde; D Hawkshaw, C Blade; P Dooley, D Tierney Martin, J Aungier; J Murphy, N Murray; J Butler (capt), S Hurley-Langston, P Boyle.
Replacements: S Delahunt, D Buckley, S Illo, S Fifita, C Reilly, C Fitzgerald, T Farrell.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait; A Radwan, M Moroni, T Penny (capt), N Earle; T Schoeman, S Stuart; C Cade, J Blamire, M Tampin; G Peterson, S De Chaves; M Dalton, T Marshall, C Chick.
Replacements: C Maddison, A Brocklebank, R Palframan, J Peters, M Tiffen, J Barton, J Thomas, E Greenlaw.
Referee: Luc Ramos (France).