Connacht are back in the Champions Cup next season, for the 5th time in their history and only the second time on merit.
The draw is being held on June 19th and Connacht are in Pool 3, which means they automatically avoid trips to some cracking location, namely Paris (Racing 92), London (Harlequins) and either La Rochelle or the slightly less salubrious English east midlands (Northampton), Ulster are also in pool 3, but we can’t draw another Irish team anyway).
Due to the nature of the draw and the rules around keeping teams from the same league apart in the top 3 pools, there are too many permutations to work out exactly who Connacht will get in Pools 1, 2 and 3. The teams we might get are as follows:
Pools 1 & 2
Possible French opposition
- Toulouse – Connacht have a record of W2 L4 against the French rugby aristocrats
- Clermont Auvergne – back in the 2000/01 season while known as AS Montferrand (the name changed to ASM Clermont Ferrand in 2004) the French club won back to back matches against Connacht in the Challenge Cup
- Lyon – a team Connacht have not encountered in European competition, they would become the 24th French to face Connacht if they are drawn together.
- La Rochelle – who Connacht beat with bonus point tries in both matches in the 2014/15 season (depending on the teams drawn in Pool 1)
Possible English opposition
- Saracens – we lost both matches in the 2013/14 season
- Exeter – we lost both matches in the 2014/15 season
- Gloucester – Connacht’s arch-nemesis with 4 defeats in Europe, twice in play-off matches to get into the Champions Cup and in 2 pool matches in the 2011/12 season
- Northampton – a team Connacht have a mixed record against with losses in their first season in European rugby in 1996 as well as a play-off loss in 2017 and a Challenge Cup QF defeat in 2009. On the flip side, they are one of only 2 sides Connacht have beaten on English soil when doing the double of them in 1997.
(depending on the teams drawn in Pool 1)
The final pool is made up of Benetton, Montpelier, Bath, Ospreys and Sale. Connacht can draw any team from that group.
Connacht will be looking to avoid PRO14 opposition as well as a Sale team whom they met 3 times last season. That leaves Montpellier, a team Connacht have beaten 6 times in 7 Challenge Cup matches over the years, and Bath, yet another English side that are yet to lose to the men from the West.
A nightmarishly difficult draw for Connacht would be something like:
While a more fan-friendly draw would be more like:
We will have more info on our Champions Cup draw next week.