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Round 3 of the Challenge Cup has arrived as Brive take the trip to Galway to face Connacht on Saturday. Connacht currently sit 4th in Pool A on nine points. The top five teams in pool A are separated by one point while the bottom five teams only have three points between them. Connacht are in a good spot after two wins and one bonus point. A win this weekend and chances are they are through to the knockout stages. The big question around this fixture is what sort of team Brive will send over to Galway.
Brive have one point so far in the Challenge Cup and sit 8th in the pool. More importantly however, is that they sit 13th in the Top 14 table which is one off the bottom. They have found some form since the Connacht game a few weeks ago so they may now focus purely on trying to work their way up that Top 14 table and might not worry about the challenge cup which they are very unlikely to progress in. With all this being said, I believe Connacht should go for the jugular this weekend and make sure they get at least the four points if not five. Taking chances in unnecessary and the potential home field advantage for the knockouts is something worth fighting for.
The Connacht team:
Connacht have gone pretty strong with the team selection. In the front row we see Peter Dooley, Dave Heffernan, and Finlay Bealham. That’s a strong front row for Connacht and should be able to put the hurt on Brive’s scum. Also, I expect a big performance from Finlay as I feel he wasn’t happy with last week’s performance.
A second row pairing of Josh Murphy and Niall Murray is a confidence inspiring one. Both players love getting through work, and we know what a superstar Niall Murray is at line out time. A back row of Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver and Jarrad Butler is a very strong trio. Prendergast will be looking to get back to his flying form and Conor Oliver was immense last weekend. Jarrad Butler brings some needed leadership and seems to be in a rich vein of form and will look to continue that.
A start for Colm Reilly at scrum half is an exciting selection. In his few appearances he has really impressed me and has bags of potential. If Connacht are to lose one of the Blade/Marmion duo, having a talent like Colm somewhat eases the blow. I like how big and aggressive he is and he seems to love getting involved. Hopefully the pack can get him some clean ball. Jack carty starts at ten alongside Colm. I like this selection as Jack will be a calming influence on Colm which should get the best out of Colm. Jack will be looking to control this game and try and find some of the swagger he has been missing.
In the back line we see a rare appearance these days for Alex Wootton on the wing alongside the ever-present John porch. Wootton started off his Connacht tenure so successfully but through injury and a dip in form hasn’t progressed like we all wanted. This game could be the start of some form for him, and Connacht would welcome it gladly. John porch is Mr. Reliable and seems to play every week. I feel like he’s due a few tries so let’s hope this weekend he gets under the posts.
In the centre we see a fairly inexperienced partnership of Cathal Forde and Byron Ralston. Cathal Forde was superb last weekend and will be brimming with confidence to push on again and this game could be perfect for that. Byron Ralston started the year at centre and was more than adequate so nice to see him back starting.
A surprise to see Mack Hansen at full-back but a welcome surprise. We know he can play the position and he has said before he loves playing there. Tiernan has been solid the past few weeks but hasn’t brought much X factor to the position and one thing we know about Mack is he has plenty of X factor.
5:3 split on the bench which is to be expected. Front row replacements of Tierney-Martin, Jordan Duggan and a welcome return of Jack Aungier is a strong bench. Duggan played well last week when he came on so hoping to see more of that this Saturday. Great to see Leva Fifita on the bench, he is a player that we don’t have otherwise and by that I mean a hugely physical player who is a match for any team. Ciaran Booth is set to make his fourth appearance for Connacht. Coming into a game where he will be surrounded by experienced players will be huge for him.
The three backs on the bench are Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly and Conor Fitzgerald. Three experienced and talented players. Having Kieran to come on for Colm Reilly is huge and if the game is in the melting pot than what an asset Kieran will be to come on fresh. Tom Daly is still looking for form, but this weekend could be that game. Finally having Conor Fitzgerald who can cover a few places and add that kicking threat is huge.
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
“We’ve set ourselves a target of reaching the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup and then reassess from there, so our goal is to complete that first step tomorrow. Brive have hit a bit of form since we last played them, so we’re well aware that we will need to put in a strong performance if we’re to realise that goal.
The weather suggests it’s going to be another windy afternoon, so hopefully we can take some of the lessons from last weekend in how to best use the conditions that tend to prevail here in Galway.”
This is a strong Connacht team and should be too strong for Brive. I am glad to see the coaching staff field a strong team and go for that important third win. A big performance for eighty minutes is key here. We can’t continue to see these last twenty-minute collapses where teams find hope. Five points and some ruthless rugby would be just lovely.
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