Connacht will hope that a home win over a 15th different French club at the Sportsground today will not only confirm a home quarter-final in the Challenge Cup but might also be enough to ensure a potential semi-final would also be back in Galway.
Challenge Cup Pool 5
Connacht v Oyonnax
Today: The Sportsground, 2.30pm
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Connacht are on a run of five home wins in a row and hopes of a first ever appearance in an European final would be hugely boosted if they could remain in the Sportsground.
Connacht have secured 22 wins from 29 home games against French opposition in the Challenge Cup, with 14 different clubs being put to the sword in the process.
Oyonnax, bottom of the Top 14, are expected to become the 15th French side to fall in Galway later this afternoon, but backs coach Nigel Carolan said they will be taking nothing for granted against Mike Prendergast’s men.
“We don’t start games well, we don’t get scores on the board early and that can create a sort of dogfight and that’s something we hope to avoid this weekend, particularly against a side who are very dogged and used to fighting for their lives at the bottom of the Top 14.”
Oyonnax have included seven players in their side who started in their last Top 14 game — 38-38 draw at home to La Rochelle — but Carolan dismissed notions they would field a massively understrength side.
“They have got a registered squad so they are not going to pull lads in from the street to travel to the west of Ireland. They are still going to have players with experience,” said Carolan.
Matt Healy’s 100th appearance for Connacht will be honoured this afternoon, although there is confusion when the milestone occurs with the PRO14 and EPCR records showing that he reached that mark when he played against Munster earlier this month.
His return to the left wing in place of Darragh Leader is one of two changes to the backline, with Eoin Griffin coming into the centre for Tom Farrell.
Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and locks Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane, all four who were included in the Irish squad this week, start this afternoon with just one change up front where Naulia Dawai comes in for the injured Jarrad Butler.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved