Connacht Rugby are back in the Heineken Champions Cup next season after a two-year gap, having finished third in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14. Here, we take an in-depth look at the Irish province prior to the draw on June 19.
What is their European Cup record like?
Connacht have never qualified for the knockout stages of the competition. Their best season so far of the four they have competed in the tournament was their last entry, in 2016/17, when they won four of their six Pool 2 games and finished third.
Who is on their coaching staff?
Head coach is Australian Andy Friend, who has been in charge since May 2018, having previously bossed English club Harlequins between 2005 and 2008, Super Rugby franchise Brumbies from 2008 to 2011, and Japanese duo Canon Eagles (2012-14) and Suntory Sungoliath (2014-16). His coaching staff comprises Jimmy Duffy (forwards), Nigel Carolan (backs) and Peter Wilkins (defence).
🚨 NEXT SEASON'S DRAW DETAILS 🚨
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 24, 2019
Who are their new signings?
Australia Sevens international John Porch is Connacht’s biggest signing ahead of the 2019/20 season. The 25-year-old wing was recruited into the Australia Sevens programme by Andy Friend when he was boss of that team in 2016 and played in the Rio Olympics that year.
Friend’s other main recruits are props Paddy McAllister and Rory Burke, who return to Ireland from English clubs, McAllister from Premiership outfit Gloucester Rugby and Burke from Championship side Nottingham.
McAllister, 29, made 50 first-team appearances for Gloucester, including 10 in European competition, having previously played 44 times for Ulster Rugby, including nine in the European Cup. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Burke played for Munster Rugby before joining Nottingham in 2017.
Connacht’s three other signings – centre Tom Daly, wing Stephen Fitzgerald and scrum-half Angus Lloyd – have all penned full-time contracts with the province, after featuring on loan for them during the 2018/19 campaign.
Five Connacht players have been named in the Ireland training squad for the Rugby World Cup pre-season training camp.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) May 28, 2019
Who are their top players?
Connacht have five players in the Ireland training squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup – centre Bundee Aki, goal-kicking fly-half Jack Carty, scrum-half Kieran Marmion, prop Finlay Bealham and lock Ultan Dillane – with another lock, Quinn Roux, just missing out.
All but the two locks played in the Challenge Cup quarter-final loss at Sale Sharks in March and Aki is a regular powerful presence in the Ireland midfield.
What are they saying?
Head coach Andy Friend: “Ahead of next season, I am extremely happy with the depth of our squad. We have already announced the signing of Paddy McAllister, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, Angus Lloyd and Rory Burke. We have also had a huge focus on retaining our existing talent, with contract renewals for many of our internationals and more senior players in the squad.”