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Butler ready to burst into European campaign as Connacht return to the Champions Cup

Montpellier will pose a serious obstacle for Connacht to get around on opening weekend. And the western province know they will have to think their way through.

Image: Ryan Hiscott/INPHO

IT’S ONLY TWO years since Connacht appeared in the Heineken Champions Cup, but that’s two years too long.

The sense of excitement for the return to the top rungs is palpable, not least with captain Jarrad Butler.

The openside, who agreed a new contract last week and will become Irish-qualified next year, has not yet sampled Champions Cup rugby.

“I’ve only heard good stories from players and from fans as well,” says the ex-Brumbie.

“It’s all people want to talk about, really…  when they talk about their fondest memories, it’s beating Toulouse and teams like that.”

He adds: “The guys have been talking about it, that there are tough matches in all the pools.

That’s the point of it, I suppose, you want to be playing against the best of them. That’s what we wanted and we are here now, so we’re not going to complain about it, that’s for sure.”

An away win over Toulouse in Pat Lam’s first season was a landmark success. But their last run in the top tier featured an equally impressive performance, though perhaps not as great a shock, when they beat the French giants in Galway in the opening round.

That pool run also featured a dramatic late win over Wasps – thanks to John Muldoon’s powers of persuasion and Jack Carty’s brilliance off the tee – but ultimately ended with a third-place finish as Toulouse swung the head-to-head record with a nine-point win in France.

At a time in the season when high-pedigree players are either committing to their current employers or looking for opportunities elsewhere, the importance of mixing it with the best in Europe cannot be understated for the western province.

“I think you want to be playing the best rugby you can and to be in the Champions Cup is a big part of that, you want to be playing against the best teams in Europe,” says Butler.

“The year we had last year, as well, being able to perform and win some big games, to make it into the knockout stages there I think it paints a good picture for bringing people in and then for trying to retain guys.”

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jarrad-butler-tackled-by-ross-byrne Butler makes a carry against Leinster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Montpellier first up represent a formidable force for Connacht to contend with. Butler rested on the word ‘opportunity’ when looking forward to locking horns with the Top14 side. For head coach Andy Friend, it’s a chance to show his side’s brains against the brawn inevitably put forward by the visitors.

“They’re an enormous pack,” said the Australian after Friday’s 11-42 loss to Leinster, “they’ll want to keep it nice and tight and have an arm-wrestle. Especially when they see that tonight.

“Well, if it gets into an arm-wrestle we’ll have our work cut out. If we move them around  and play a more open brand and get them moving that’s probably our best chance.”

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Sean Farrell

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