Connacht Rugby kick off their European campaign this weekend when French side La Rochelle visit the Sportsground for the opening round of the new Challenge Cup.

Connacht return to the competition for the first time since 2010/11 having playing three consecutive seasons in the top-tier Heineken Cup while La Rochelle’s last appearance in Europe was also in the 2010/11 season, when they progressed beyond the pool stages for the first time in their history.

This is the first time La Rochelle will face Irish opposition in the Challenge Cup and the two sides have never met in any competition.

Having just been promoted to the Top 14 at the end of last season, La Rochelle may be somewhat unfamiliar to all but the French side have been flexing their muscles in the premier domestic league this season. They have taken three big scalps at home – against Lyon, Castres, and Heineken Cup heavy weights Toulouse. On the road, however, La Rochelle, have lost all four games.

La Rochelle notched their first win of the campaign with a 37-25 shock win over Toulouse. The hero for La Rochelle in front of a crowd of over 15, 000 at Stade Marcel Deflandre on the West coast of France was winger Alofa Alofa, fresh from his exploits in helping Michael Cheika’s Waratahs win the Super 15 final in early August. He crossed for two of their three tries to bring Toulouse’s winning start to an end.

Two weeks later and still bottom of the table, La Rochelle hosted an out-of-sorts Castres side who won the French title 15 months ago and were runners-up last season in a final repeat against Toulon. Sereli Bobo was the star for La Rochelle that night, the 38-year-old Fijian crossing for two tries in his side’s 41-16 routing of the former French champions.

On September 20th, La Rochelle suffered their first home defeat to top 4 side Bordeaux Begles. The scoreline of 26 – 29 indicated a tight game with Fijian Kini Murimurivalu touching down for the second week in a row to add to a penalty try for the hosts. Both teams had a couple of players each binned in a fractious encounter, with the losing bonus point taking La Rochelle out of the automatic relegation spots.

Despite a winless run on the road, La Rochelle won their third home game in early October with an impressive 29-10 victory at home to Lyon.

They laid the foundation for victory when they led 17-0 at the interval and ran in four tries in total with Fijian full-back Kini Murimurivalu getting his third try of the campaign and flanker Romain Sazy, scrum-half Julien Aufy and centre Hamish Gard also crossing.

They went down 30-10 to league-leaders Clermont last time out and are currently occupying 11th place in the Top 14 table.

Speaking about this week’s opposition, Head Coach Pat Lam said:

“We’ve studied La Rochelle quite a bit and we are expecting another massively physical game. They are a really big side. They are your typical French side. They have a very strong mauling game, so we are in for a battle there.

“We will be coming up against guys who are in excess of 120kg right across the board – particularly in the forward pack – so we have had to work together on our systems again to come up with the right game plan and tactics to try and expose them.”

Click here for a list of the full La Rochelle squad for the Challenge Cup

Tickets for Connacht’s Champions Cup game v La Rochelle are selling fast. Remaining tickets for the Main Stand, new Seated stand and behind the goals are on sale from www.tickets.ie, the Connacht Rugby office and from Centra & SuperValu stores province-wide.

Connacht Rugby v La Rochelle
Saturday October 18th
Kick off 5pm

Referee: Andrew McMenemy (S)
Assistant Referee: Peter Allan
Assistant Referee: Bob Nevins
4th official: David Connolly
5th official: Karol Collins
Performance Reviewer:  Michael Carroll
Time Keeper: Louis Cunningham

 

 

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