Perpignan v Connacht
European Challenge Cup, Pool 3, Round 4
Stade Amie Giral, Perpignan @7:00pm, Friday 14th December 2018
Andy Friend has mixed youth with experience for Connacht’s trip to the south of France to face a Perpignan side still looking for their first win this season. Connacht won the reverse fixture at the Sportsground last Saturday by 22-10, in what can only be described as atrocious conditions. The French visitors struggled against the conditions in the first half, but with the wind at their back in the second half, they showed enough to suggest that tomorrow evenings game will be a different proposition.
The Perpignan coaching team of Patrick Arlettaz, Perry Freshwater and Francois Gelez have made ten changes to strengthen their side ahead for this round 4 match. Former Irish international Paddy Jackson returns to the side at no.10, it will be his first appearance against an Irish side since his well-documented departure from Ulster last season. Perpignan are still searching for their first win of the season and it looks as if they are targeting a win against a weakened Connacht side. They have been unlucky to fall just short in a number of their games in the Top14 having picked up five losing bonus points, they also drew 25-25 away to Bordeaux in round 2 of this competition.
For Connacht, most of the changes to last weeks side come in the pack, where there are five new faces this week. Finlay Belham is rested as Dominic Roberson-McCoy comes in at loosehead. Quinn Roux and Joe Maksymiw make way for James Cannon and Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while Sean O’Brien and Robin Copeland come into the back row for Colby Fainga’a and Eoghan Masterson.
Highlights of the round 3 clash between Connacht and Perpignan.
In the only change in the backs, Conor Fitzgerald, who made an appearance off the bench last week, starts a no.10, while David Horwitz moves from out-half to centre this week. Bundee Aki who featured at no.12 last week has travelled back to New Zealand to get married and is expected to return in time for the InterPro against Leinster in the R.D.S. on December 22nd.
Connacht coach Andy Friend spoke prior to the home fixture about the importance of building squad depth and giving younger players experience and this game is sure to be a real test for some of the fringe players in the squad as Stade Amie Giral is known for its intense atmosphere. The 150 or so visiting fans that occupied the Grant Thornton stand in the Sportsground last week created a fantastic atmosphere despite the inclement conditions and if they replicate that at their 15,000 seater home venue then it will be a fantastic spectacle.
At first glance, the form guide would favour a Connacht side who have won 4 of their last 5 against a Perpignan side that have lost 13 out of 14 games this season. However, the home team have named a strong side against a weakened Connacht side and in my book, they will be favourites to get their first win of the campaign. The home side are available 7/5 and Connacht are 4/5, while the draw is priced at 12/1.