Ahead of tomorrow night’s crunch European Challenge Cup meeting with Brive, Connacht captain John Muldoon says it is unthinkable the province will not advance in the competition.
A win for Connacht would almost guarantee qualification for the quarter-finals, and the talismanic captain says a home quarter-final remains their focus.
“It’s a big challenge, but we are travelling with confidence. From what we have done this year, it would be unthinkable not to qualify, but it is mathematically possible,” he says.
Connacht have failed to qualify for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals only three times in their previous 10 tournaments — including in 2007 when they lost home and away fixtures to Brive.
And, Muldoon, the only remaining Connacht player from the side who lost in France that season, is preparing for a tougher battle on their home ground, having edged the Sportsground fixture in round two by 21-17.
“Obviously, it is also a different challenge this week in terms of Brive’s sheer size. They have a huge pack, a big maul and a huge scrum, and some big one-out runners, so it’s different to what we have been playing in the last few weeks.
“When you go over there, you know you have to produce more, knowing French teams don’t like losing at home, but I think if we can nail our job, especially in our maul defence and scrum, it can make life a lot easier for you.
“They get their confidence from the physicality of the maul and scrum, and if we can get those things right, it will go a long way to putting ourselves in a really good position to win the game.”
Muldoon is mindful Brive scored a try from a rolling maul in the Sportsground, and says the pack are now on high alert.
“It was the first try from a maul we conceded this year so we were disappointed. When you defend 30-odd mauls in a year, you are going to give one or two away if someone gets their role slightly wrong, so there is definitely a highlighted awareness for us this week.
“We will have to be on the money, and it can be more a mental thing than a physical thing at times, but we have to get them both right.”
Muldoon, who has re-signed for his 14th season with Connacht, says it is a good time to be at the Sportsground.
“I nailed my colours to the mast a long time ago when I committed to the province and to the cause. It’s an easy time to be here. Over the last couple of years we have had a massive transition, and I am proud and glad to be a part of that.
“Obviously when you are getting closer to the end of your career, you want to prolong it as long as possible, but you want to make sure you are adding something to the team and to the environment. At the moment I feel I am still able to do both of those things.”
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