We continue our in-depth analysis of the European Rugby Challenge Cup with a look at Pool 3, which contains one winner of the competition in two-time champions Sale Sharks.

Bordeaux-Bègles

Ground: Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux, France.

Challenge Cup record: Bordeaux have never qualified for the knockout stages. The closest they have come is in 1999/2000 and 2001/02, when they won four of their six Pool matches.

Last season: They finished third in Pool 1 on the same number of points as the second-placed Dragons (16), but 12 behind runaway winners Newcastle Falcons. In the TOP 14 they came 10th.
Head coach: Englishman Rory Teague was given the job earlier this year, after Jacques Brunel left to become France’s head coach. Previously, the former Gloucester fly-half worked under England head coach Eddie Jones at the RFU.

Key players: Teague has made a host of signings – including 36-year-old fly-half Brock James, 31-cap Wallabies lock Kane Douglas and ex-All Blacks centre Seta Tamanivalu – to add to such promising French internationals as scrum-half Baptiste Serin and prop Jefferson Poirot.

Connacht Rugby
Ground: The Sportsground, Galway, Ireland.

Challenge Cup record: Three times Connacht have reached the semi-finals – in 2004, 2005 and 2010 – but each time they have been beaten. The first two occasions were on aggregate – to Harlequins (45-49) and to Sale Sharks (27-84) – when the semi-finals were two-legged affairs and the third was when went down 12-19 at home to RC Toulon.

Last season: The Irish province topped Pool 5 after winning five and drawing one of their six matches, but they lost a thrilling quarter-final at The Sportsground 28-33 to eventual finalists Gloucester Rugby. In the PRO14 they came sixth in Conference A.

Head coach: Andy Friend was appointed on a three-year contract in May. The 49-year-old Australian was previously head coach of Australia’s sevens team for two years and prior to that he had spells in charge of English club Harlequins, Australian Super Rugby side Brumbies and Japanese teams Canon Eagles and Suntory Sungoliath.

Key players: Irish international centre Bundee Aki, scrum-half Kieran Marmion and lock Ultan Dillane will be important to Connacht’s challenge, while back-row forward Robin Copeland, signed from Munster Rugby, will bring European Cup experience and new Australian backs Kyle Godwin and David Horwitz should boost their three-quarter line.

Perpignan

Ground: Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan, France.

Challenge Cup record: Perpignan have not appeared in the Challenge Cup since 2012/13, when they reached the semi-finals, only to lose 22-25 to Stade Français Paris.

Last season: They were playing in France’s Rugby Pro D2, so didn’t compete in Europe. However, they were crowned champions after finishing five points clear and so won promotion back to the TOP 14 and the Challenge Cup.

Director of rugby: The 66-year-old Christian Lanta has been in charge at Perpignan since 2016 after coaching spells at Racing 92, Bordeaux-Bègles, Treviso, Lyon and Agen.

Key players: Perpignan have strengthened their promotion-winning squad by signing Fiji sevens star Eroni Sau, Samoa hooker Manu Leiataua and Romania lock Johannes van Heerden.

Sale Sharks

Ground: AJ Bell Stadium, Salford, England.

Challenge Cup record: Sale have won the tournament twice, both at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium – in 2002, when they beat Pontypridd 25-22 in the final, and in 2005, the next time they entered the tournament, when they defeated Pau 27-3 in the climax.

Last season: The Sharks finished third in Pool 3 after winning two and drawing one of their six games, with one of their victories coming against eventual winners Cardiff Blues, whom they whitewashed 24-0 at the AJ Bell Stadium in Round 3. In the English Premiership they came eighth.

Director of rugby: Steve Diamond began his coaching career with Sale in 2001 but left to guide England Saxons for two years in 2002. In 2004 he returned to club rugby as coach of Saracens for two years, before being appointed Russia’s director of rugby in 2010 and leading them to the 2011 World Cup. The lure of Sale, for whom he played over 350 games, proved irresistible, however, when they came calling in 2011, first as CEO and then, a year later, as director of rugby.

Key players: England international wing Chris Ashton, the leading try-scorer in the European Cup, is Sale’s marquee summer signing so far, although Rohan Janse van Rensburg, the South African centre who impressed on loan from the Lions last season, is also expected to catch the eye. They join a squad bristling with internationals including South Africa’s scrum-half Faf de Klerk and England’s Tom Curry and Denny Solomona.