Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
James Crombie/INPHO Connacht prop Finlay Bealham.
# Challenge Cup
Connacht to rest Irish internationals during European pool games
The province kick-off their Challenge Cup campaign against Newcastle Falcons on Saturday.

CONNACHT, WHO HAVE played more games in the Challenge Cup than any other team in Europe, have genuine hopes of lifting it for the first time this season but it’s expected they will also use the pool stages to give their internationals mandatory rest time.

Aside from four pool games against Newcastle Falcons and Brive, Andy Friend’s men have key URC matches against Ulster, Leinster and the Sharks in the next seven weeks and they must rest their Irish internationals for two of those seven games.

Accordingly, Finlay Bealham, Dave Heffernan and Cian Prendergast are set to sit out Saturday’s clash against the Falcons, while Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen might be rested for the trip to Brive or the post-Christmas games.

“We go into every competition with the aim of winning it, but it has to be taken in stages as well, so the first step in the Challenge Cup is to negotiate the pool stages and qualify for the knockout phase,” said Friend.

“But we also want to make it back into the Champions Cup next season, so we need to manage our resources as well,” said Friend.

Brive are floundering at the bottom of the Top 14 with ten losses in 12 games, while Newcastle, with three wins from nine, are level on points with Bristol and London Irish at the foot of the Premiership.

No surprise then that Connacht will mix and match to give some players game-time while also resting others during a Challenge Cup pool stage that should be negotiated without too much difficulty.

Scrum and contact coach Collie Tucker said they are anxious to continue a good run which has seen them win three of their last four games.

“We went on a decent run in the URC over the past six weeks. This is a change in focus for us but it’s always exciting to play teams outside of the URC and test yourself against Premiership and Top 14 teams. We can’t wait to get out there on Saturday. 

“There is healthy competition for selection. We have a few internationals away on holiday as well. It does open things up to the squad, who have been training very hard. You’ve got to manage guys through the season, it’s something maybe last year towards the end of the season, guys were pretty banged up.

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“We’re very focused this year in terms of managing loads on players. You’ll see some familiar faces out there mixed with some new ones, which is very positive for us,” said Tucker.

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