CONNACHT, buoyed by becoming only the third Pro14 team to complete the double over Southern Kings and the Cheetahs in South Africa, shift their focus to nearer home on Saturday when they host struggling French outfit Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup at the Sportsground (3.15pm).
And after a marathon trip home on Monday entailing a five-hour coach journey from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg followed by an 18-hour flight to Dublin with an intermediate stop in Doha, before another bus trip to Galway, Connacht are likely to rest the majority of the touring party.
The whole South African experience was a massive success for the province for, in addition to victories in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein on successive weekends, the squad also enjoyed the benefits of two weeks of warm weather training in Cape Town.
The two wins, and the nine points garnered, leave Connacht nicely positioned for a season-ending play-off in third place in Conference A of the Pro14, trailing only Glasgow and Munster.
They will put their concentration on the league in abeyance for the next two weeks, however, as they face home and away encounters against a Perpignan side who have slipped considerably from their once lofty rank in French rugby — they are seven times champion of the French Top 14 (most recently in 2009).
The visitors are likely to send a weakened squad to Galway as they concentrate on the seemingly futile mission of attempting to avoid relegation from their premier domestic league, having only earned promotion from Pro D2 last season after enduring their first-ever drop in their 116-year history the term before.
Their high-profile pre-season signing, former Ulster No 10 Paddy Jackson, is thought unlikely to be asked to travel, thus denying him a return to play on Irish soil after his native province had dispensed with his services last year in the wake of his trial for rape, a charge he was found not guilty of along with his former colleague Stuart Olding, now also exiled in France with Brive.
Accordingly, Connacht are expected to rest the majority of their senior players in the aftermath of their Southern Hemisphere exertions, though returning Ireland internationals Bundee Aki, Quinn Roux and Finlay Bealham should be available for consideration after their roles in the successful November test matches.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
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