It’s a measure of the strides made by Connacht rugby that Roscommon native Denis Buckley, who debuted nine seasons ago, has played almost as many European games in the Champions Cup as in the secondary competition, the Challenge Cup, in which they have been for most of the professional era.
No team in Europe has played as many matches in the Challenge Cup as Connacht — 126 — but prop Buckley led the way in the development of local talent able to compete in the premier event, the Champions Cup.
The 29-year-old, a product of Creggs RFC in Roscommon, made his European debut, against Toulouse, in the Champions Cup in 2012.
Of his 34 European appearances, 16 have been in the Champions Cup, along with two play-offs, and the remainder in the Challenge Cup.
Indeed, his first three years of European rugby were in the Heineken Champions Cup and he knows how important it is for the province to be back competing in it and doing well.
Two good performances so far — a home win against Montpellier and a battling display in Toulouse — have left them in the hunt as they prepare for back-to-back matches against a Gloucester side that lost both their opening matches to the same opposition and who are in the midst of a five-match losing sequence.
“It’s an opportunity to put ourselves in a strong position in the group,” said Buckley, ahead of their trip to Kingsholm on Sunday.
It is a pool-defining game for us and if we can go over there and get a result, we are right in the mix and it’s in our hands going into the final set of games.
"So, first and foremost, that’s the goal: to go over there and get a result.”
Gloucester are familiar foes for Connacht and Buckley has played in three of the five defeats to the Cherry and Whites, so he’s hoping that they finally get their first win over them, either on Sunday or at the Sportsground next weekend.
“We have played against them a few times and have been on the losing end. I remember, in particular, the play-off with them that went to extra-time and it was a tough one to take,” added the former Blackrock College student, whose international honours, so far, have been confined to U-20 and Emerging Ireland.
“They got a maul try in the extra-time of extra-time. We could, and should, have won that one. But I don’t think the past really plays a part in this one. It’s 80 minutes of rugby, it’s nil-all, and I don’t think you need to be looking into past fixtures, because they don’t really have any bearing at all and, sometimes, that can do more harm than good.”