Andy Friend’s Connacht can knock down another barrier in Gloucester tomorrow and in the process take a big step towards a new milestone as they continue to grow impressively under the Australian.
Friend has been a breath of fresh at the Sportsground over the past 15 months or so and the infectious positively exuded by the Aussie is rubbing off in all corners as they overcome barriers which even defied the Pat Lam era.
Tomorrow they will hope to get a first win on English soil in a decade and at the same time put themselves in line to reach the quarter- finals of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time.
European rugby may be on the go for a quarter of a century but for most of that Connacht existed in the shadowlands of the Challenge Cup. “I knew Champions Cup but I was unaware of the Challenge Cup until I got here,” admitted Australian international Kyle Godwin, now in his second season in Galway.
It’s hard to fault him. Most rugby fans won’t have a clue what’s happening in the Challenge Cup this weekend as all the concentration will be on the Champions Cup.
Godwin, who chalked up 68 Super Rugby appearances with the Brumbies, is usually a centre but is on the wing for tomorrow’s clash against Gloucester in Kingsholm as Friend shuffles the pack with a big casualty list.
Winger John Porch, an Australian Sevens player, moves to full-back while Jack Carty, is going to miss some of the festive figures due to international demands, starts in place of the in-form Conor Fitzgerald at out-half.
Connacht have not beaten Gloucester in their five meetings to date but this presents a great opportunity to correct that against a Cherry and Whites side who are on a losing run of five matches.
A win at Kingsholm tomorrow for Connacht is likely to see a makeshift Gloucester side being sent to the Sportsground next weekend, where another win would have Connacht in a decent position to have a crack at a quarter-final spot at home to Toulouse and away to Montpellier.
Victory tomorrow would also end a dreadful run of results in England for Connacht. Their last win was 10 years ago against Worcester, having won on their first ever competitive game across the water when a side coached by Warren Gatland stunned Northampton in 1997-98.
Since then it has been a tale of woe. In total, they have played 26 games there, lost 23 of them, and drawn once.
Such a run, though, is of little concern to Godwin and indeed Friend and most of the others in the current squad.
Godwin knows performing at this level is a huge boost for the game in the west of Ireland. “It is a way for Connacht to showcase the quality and what they can offer against the best sides in Europe, especially as 30% of the boys here, I think, are local boys,” added the 27-year old.
“It’s a great sign the way that Connacht is developing and progressing and that so many local boys are competing on a world stage.
“Gloucester are a quality side and we are going in there with full respect for them.”