Connacht will meet Heineken Champions Cup finalists Racing 92 and Challenge Cup winners Bristol Bears in this season’s Champions Cup after the draw was made in Switzerland earlier this morning.

Andy Friend’s side were drawn in Pool ‘B’ with 11 other teams, but as a Tier 3 side will only face the Tier 2 teams home and away, meaning it’s Racing and Bristol who will make trips to The Sportsground.

The other Pool B teams that Connacht will compete against for a spot in quarter-finals are Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins and Gloucester from the Premiership, Top 14 sides Lyon, Clermont and Toulouse, and fellow PRO14 teams Ulster, Munster and Glasgow.

Confirmed fixture details including dates and kick-off times will be announced in the coming days, however the games will take place on the weekends of 11th December, 18th December, 15th January and 22nd January.

The EPCR Board has unanimously agreed that new Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournament formats will be introduced for the 2020/21 season.
 
The decision to alter the formats for next season on an exceptional basis has been made against the backdrop of the COVID-19 public health crisis and its ongoing impact on the professional club game in Europe.
 
The 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup will be competed for by 24 clubs with the eight highest-ranked representatives from the Gallagher Premiership, the Guinness PRO14 and the TOP 14 securing their places.
 
The clubs will be divided into two pools of 12 by means of a draw and the tournament will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage followed by a knockout stage consisting of home and away quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final in Marseille on 22 May 2021.
 
For the purposes of the pool draw, the clubs will be separated into tiers, and clubs from the same league in the same tier will not be drawn into the same pool. The number 1 and number 2 ranked clubs from each league will be in Tier 1, the number 3 and number 4 ranked clubs will be in Tier 2, the number 5 and 6 ranked clubs will be in Tier 3, and the number 7 and number 8 ranked clubs will be Tier 4.
 
The Tier 1 and the Tier 4 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away during the pool stage, as will the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league.
 
The four highest-ranked clubs in each pool will qualify for the quarter-finals, and the clubs ranked numbers 5 to 8 in each pool will compete in the knockout stage of the Challenge Cup.
 
“With an expanded knockout stage and no repeats of domestic matches during the pool stage, this format creates brand new competitive opportunities for Europe’s elite clubs and their fans,” said EPCR Chairman, Simon Halliday. “In this time of change, the Heineken Champions Cup with its global stars of the game, its passionate supporters and its unique match-day atmosphere undoubtedly remains The One to Win.”
 
The 2020/21 Challenge Cup will start with 14 clubs – six from the TOP 14, four from the Premiership and four from the PRO14 – in a single pool. The tournament will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the preliminary stage and again, clubs from the same league will not play against one another.
With no requirement for a pool draw on this occasion, the 2020/21 Challenge Cup fixtures will be available to clubs and fans shortly following the conclusion of the current season.
 
The tournament knockout stage will consist of a round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals with the final in Marseille on 21 May 2021. The leading eight clubs, as well as eight representatives from the Heineken Champions Cup, will qualify for the round of 16.
 
QUALIFIED CLUBS FOR 2020/21 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP
 
PRO14: Leinster Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby, Munster Rugby, Ulster Rugby, Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors, Connacht Rugby, Dragons (Rankings TBC at conclusion of current season)
TOP 14: Bordeaux-Bègles, Lyon, Racing 92, RC Toulon, La Rochelle, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse, *Montpellier or Castres Olympique
Premiership : TBC
 
QUALIFIED CLUBS FOR 2020/21 CHALLENGE CUP
 
PRO14: Benetton Rugby, Cardiff Blues, Zebre Rugby Club, Ospreys
TOP 14: Bayonne, Castres Olympique, Brive, Pau, Agen, Stade Français Paris
Premiership: Newcastle Falcons (A further 3 clubs TBC at conclusion of current season)
*NB If not already ranked number one, the winners of the 2020 Heineken Champions Cup will become the second-ranked club from its league. If not already qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup, the winners of the 2020 Challenge Cup will take the place of the eighth-ranked club from its league.

Start of 2020/21 season: weekend of 11/12/13 December

Ireland international Kieran Marmion has recovered from a back injury to take his place on Connacht’s starting team for the Champions Cup clash away to Montpellier on Sunday (Kick off 3:15pm Irish Time).

The scrum half hasn’t played for Connacht since the win over Ospreys in the Sportsground at the beginning of November. Marmion’s inclusion sees him renew his half back partnership with fellow international Jack Carty.

Elsewhere in the backline, Kyle Godwin comes into the Connacht midfield to partner Bundee Aki. While in the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is named at fullback with John Porch and Connacht’s record try scorer Matt Healy on the wings.

In the forwards, hooker Dave Heffernan who was named in Andy Farrell’s first Six Nations squad during the week, starts alongside props Paddy McAllister and Dominic Robertson McCoy. In the second row Joe Maksymiw and Gavin Thornbury are both selected in the second row, with 20 year old Niall Murray among the replacements.

In the backrow, Eoghan Masterson comes in at blindside with Colby Fainga’a at openside and Captain Jarrad Butler at number 8.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We had a great win over Montpellier in the opening round but we are under no illusion that the return leg will be a huge challenge. We have picked a strong side and are aiming to win the game and regain some momentum ahead of an important block of games coming in the Pro14”.

“We are delighted to see Kieran Marmion back from injury. He has been out since November and has worked really hard to get back on the field. His experience alongside Jack Carty, will be a boost to us on Sunday”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Montpellier (Sun 19 Dec, 3:15pm Irish Time)

(15-9): Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (1-8): Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Denis Buckley, Conor Kenny, Niall Murray, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

The Connacht squad trained at The Sportsground this morning ahead of their final Heineken Champions Cup clash away to Montpellier in France on Sunday.
 
Despite missing out on qualification to the knock-out stages at the weekend, Andy Friend’s side will be looking to finish the campaign on a high before they head into a break for the start of the Six Nations.
 
The squad have been boosted by the return of a further number of players, with the likes of Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell and Peter Robb all training this week after their return from their respective injuries.
 
The side take on Montpellier at 3.15pm Irish time at the GGL Stadium this Sunday.
 

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has recalled a host of Irish internationals for tomorrow’s crucial Heineken Champions Cup clash with Toulouse at the Sportsground (k/o 3.15pm).
 
Jack Carty and Bundee Aki are named at out-half and outside-centre respectively after sitting out the last two weeks, while there are also returns to the starting team for fellow internationals Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Matt Healy.
 
There’s further good news in the back-row where Jarrad Butler and Colby Fainga’a have both recovered from injury, with Butler captaining the side at number 8 and Fainga’a joined by Paul Boyle on the flanks.
 
Ultan Dillane will be partnered by Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while Paddy McAllister and Tom McCartney join Bealham in the front row to complete the pack.
 
Scrum-half Stephen Kerins is handed his first Champions Cup start, with Caolin Blade among the replacements having started the last nine games for Connacht.
 
Bundee Aki is partnered by Peter Robb in the centre, while Matt Healy is joined by winger Niyi Adeolokun and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran in the back three.
 
Commenting on today’s squad announcement, Andy Friend says:

“It’s been a difficult Christmas period for everyone, but we’ve a lot of returning players which is exactly what we need. With our captain Jarrad Butler back in the side and players like Jack and Bundee returning from their break, I believe this is a squad full of quality and experience that can win this game.”
 
Regarding tomorrow’s opponents, Friend added:

“This game is exactly what we need. We’ve got a great opportunity to come up against the French champions and challenge them in our own backyard. We know it’s a must-win tie to keep our quarter-final hopes alive, and with our home crowd behind us I know the players will relish the occasion.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY SQUAD V TOULOUSE (11/1/20 @ 15:15)
15-9: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Stephen Kerins.
1-8: Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (C).
Replacements: David Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, David Horwitz, John Porch.
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE

Situated in the enviable region of the South of France, Montpellier is a charming city steeped in history.
 
Impressive buildings and sun-drenched squares are the main attraction, while the white sandy beaches and lustrous mountains are not far away.
 
How to get there?

There are no direct flights to Montpellier Airport in the winter time, but there is a way to get there thanks to Ireland West Airport in Knock.

It is possible to fly from Ireland West to Toulouse via a stopover in Gatwick Airport, and once you land in Toulouse you can take a train to Montpellier.

Where to stay?

Montpellier is renowned for 17th and 18th century style mansions that can be enjoyed as accommodation. Due to the proximity of the city to the stadium, most people can enjoy a stay in the Place de al Comedie, the main square in Montpellier. There is accommodation for all budgets, from beautiful French mansions to self-catering apartments.

For those who wish to be within in walking distance to the stadium, the closest hotel is the Apart City Confort Ovalie and Clos de l’Herminier,which are both an 8 minute walk to the stadium.

City to Stadium

The city to the stadium is a 15-minute drive. Take Line 2 on the tram in the direction of Sabine Saint Jean de Vedas. There is a free matchday shuttle that brings you from the Sabines tram stop to the GGL stadium. Alternatively, you can walk from the Sabines stop to the stadium.

Tickets

Tickets can be purchased on the Montpellier website HERE.

Tickets in the ground are mostly seated, with some options of standing tickets. The cheapest tickets are behind the goals, while the most expensive are the Eden and Ellis park stands.

Stadium

Eating and drinking in the stadium is done using a pre-loaded card system. You can purchase this prior to the game. There is a wide selection of the bars and restaurants around the stadium.

Bars in the city

There are numerous fantastic authentic bars and restaurants around Montpellier. Be sure to try some of the local wine, Montpellier is the world’s largest wine region.

Los Parigos : a homely tapas bar that serves great wine, tapas and a homely atmosphere.

La Chistera : one of the most bustling bars in Montpellier and happens to be owned by none other than François Trinh-Duc.

O’Carolans and Fitzpatricks Pub: for a creamy Guinness before the game and some post-match Irish craic,

Food in the city

La Petit Jardin: Amazing food with a magical setting and views of the city’s cathedral.

L’Idee Savours: Family run restaurant with a warm comfortable atmosphere.

Burger et Blanquette: Casual and laidback burger restaurant.

Sightseeing

Montpellier is a great little compact city that is very easy to walk around. The tram service is an easy way to roam around the sights. The main points of interest in the city are:
Ag
Place de la Comedie: The tourist heart of Montpellier

Port du Peyrou: Famous Landmark Arch

Promenade of Peyrou: Louis XIV statue with amazing city views

Montpellier Cathedral: Dates back to 1536

Hiking and Wine tasting

Pic Saint-Loup is 30 minutes north of Montpellier, with incredible views of the vineyards, once you descend you can stop for a taste of the local wine, For those who want to experience wine tasting only, you can enjoy a wine tour of this area.

Beach

If you feel like some sea air and a Mediterranean dip, the beautiful beaches are 20 minutes away. The closest beaches are Carnon and Palavas-les-Flots. You can catch a taxi or combine getting the tram with the local bus to the different beaches.

With just a six-day turnaround before the Gloucester return fixture, the squad held a gym session at The Sportsground this morning before returning to on-pitch matters tomorrow.
 
Join them for a simply must-win game in Europe this Saturday!
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE

Check out the best pics from yesterday’s disappointing Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Gloucester here.
 
Don’t forget the return fixture takes place this Saturday at The Sportsground in a simply must-win game. You can book your spot in the link below.
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE

Connacht have been boosted by the return of their captain Jarrad Butler to the starting team to face Gloucester in the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday in Kingsholm (Kick off 1pm).
 
Butler starts at number 8 having come off the bench last week following a knee injury. He joins a back row that includes Eoghan Masterson and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
 
Elsewhere in the forwards, there is a highly experienced front row with hooker Tom McCartney and props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham. In the second row Joe Maksymiw starts alongside Quinn Roux.
 
Bundee Aki has a new partner in midfield with Peter Robb coming into the side, while a late injury to Matt Healy sees John Porch switching from the wing to full back. The former Australian Sevens player, who scored two tries last weekend, is part of a back three with Kyle Godwin and Niyi Adeolokun occupying the wings.
 
Jack Carty comes back in at out half where he renews his half back partnership with the impressive Caolin Blade.
 
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “The back to back fixtures in this competition are always critical and the next two weeks against Gloucester will decide our Champions Cup season. Next week will be a huge occasion but first we have to get a result on Sunday. For now, we are solely focused on that away leg and we are travelling to Gloucester with the belief that we can win the game”.
 
“It is great to have Jarrad Butler back in the side. As our captain he has a massive influence on the group and his presence will be important for such a big occasion. We have also made a few positional changes to our side. Matt Healy picked up a knock in training so John Porch will slot in at full back and Kyle Godwin moves to the wing. We have used over forty players so far this season so we know the depth that we have and that will be tested again in the coming weeks.”
 
Connacht Matchday Squad V Gloucester (SUN 8 Dec, 1pm)

(15-9): John Porch, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Kyle Godwin, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (1-8): Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Robin Copeland, Stephen Kerins, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE

The squad trained at The Sportsground this morning with all the focus on a massive few weeks in Europe, starting this Sunday at Kingsholm away to Gloucester Rugby.
 
Gloucester repay the visit 10 days from now in a game you simply don’t want to miss!
 
FIND YOUR MATCH TICKETS HERE

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