'Silverware would be huge' - Connacht dreaming big in Challenge Cup

Pat Lam’s side face the highly-fancied Gloucester in Kingsholm this evening.

Gloucester v Connacht, Challenge Cup quarter-final, Kingsholm

Kick-off 19.45 tonight, Sky Sports 2

Kieran Marmion Kieran Marmion starts at scrum-half in a strong Connacht team. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

THE CHALLENGE CUP has been talked down consistently over the past decade, but trophy success in the second-tier European competition would be enormous for Connacht.

Increased investment from the IRFU, homegrown players starring for Ireland, strong top-six contention in the Guinness Pro12. These are all fine signs of growth out west, but one gets the sense that a piece of silverware would intensely accelerate the process.

Connacht have yet to win a trophy in the professional era as they once again find themselves in the knock-out stages of the Challenge Cup. They’ve been here before a fair few times before, with a mixture of memories.

“We’ve had some unbelievable days in France, beating teams away from home in France is great, even beating La Rochelle and Bayonne this season,” says Andrew Browne, now in his fifth Challenge Cup campaign with the province.

Then I remember playing in the quarter-final against Northampton [in 2009] where we were heavily beaten. It’s a hard place to go, but that’s the mix of good and bad. Hopefully we can get another good one in Gloucester.”

Indeed, that’s the hope for this evening’s clash in Kingsholm, although this Connacht squad travels with a degree of confidence and expectation. It certainly wasn’t a ‘give it a lash’ mentality they arrived in England with yesterday.

David Humphreys’ Gloucester won all six of their pool games, are firmly favoured for this evening’s quarter-final clash and, along with Exeter Chiefs, are seen as the most likely outright winners of the competition.

A team including the likes of John Afoa, James Hook, Greig Laidlaw, Jonny May and captain Billy Twelvetrees will provide the home side with further confidence, whatever about their slightly disappointing Premiership season.

Pat Lam Lam gathers his squad during training in Galway. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Lam’s men have identified “a big physical team,” according to Browne, although he points out that “we’ve looked at their strengths and weaknesses and seen where we may be able to exploit them.”

‘Game-by-game’ is the common, worn-out mantra in professional rugby, but Connacht have been refreshingly honest in stating their desire to win the Challenge Cup outright.

Beating Gloucester away this evening would send Lam’s men on to a home semi-final [against the winners of Exeter v Newcastle], suddenly making the prospect of a first-ever Challenge Cup final all the more real.

Connacht rugby, as far as my knowledge goes, has never had any silverware,” says Brown. “That’s huge, it’s a massive incentive. It would be something, without being clichéd, that you’d always remember.

“The incentive is there first of all because we’d have a home semi-final if we won, which would give us an even greater chance of getting to a final. Connacht have never been in a final, which is exciting but is also something you really want.

“The silverware is huge for me as a Connacht man and you can get the impression of how massive it would be for the fans. But also for the players, to win a bit of silverware in a Connacht jersey would be unbelievable.”


15. Mils Muliaina
14. Tiernan O’Halloran
13. Danie Poolman
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Denis Buckley
2. Tom McCartney
3. Rodney Ah You
4. Quinn Roux
5. Aly Muldowney
6. Andrew Browne
7. Eoghan Masterson
8. John Muldoon (captain)

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16. Shane Delahunt
17. JP Cooney
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Mick Kearney
20. James Connolly
21. Ian Porter
22. Craig Ronaldson
23. Darragh Leader


15. Steve McColl
14. Charlie Sharples
13. Bill Meakes
12. Billy Twelvetrees (captain)
11. Jonny May
10. James Hook
9. Greig Laidlaw

1. Dan Murphy
2. Richard Hibbard
3. John Afoa
4. Tom Savage
5. Tom Palmer
6. Sione Kalamafoni
7. Matt Kvesic
8. Gareth Evans


16. Darren Dawidiuk
17. Nick Wood
18. Sila Puafisi
19. James Hudson
20. Ross Moriarty
21. Dan Robson
22. Billy Burns
23. Henry Purdy

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).

– First published 06.15

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Murray Kinsella

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