We continue our in-depth look at the teams in Pool A of the EPCR Challenge Cup with a profile of Connacht Rugby.

EPCR Challenge Cup record

Connacht have yet to get beyond the semi-finals in the competition, falling at that hurdle three times – in 2004 to Harlequins, in 2005 to Sale Sharks and in 2010 to RC Toulon.

Last season

Connacht reached the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 after winning only one of their pool matches, at home to Stade Français Paris, bonus points in their narrow defeats against SFP and Leicester Tigers securing their place.

However, they then ran into an in-form Leinster Rugby, who defeated them 82-41 on aggregate – 26-21 at The Sportsground and 56-20 at the Aviva Stadium.

Head coach

Andy Friend was appointed as the head coach of Connacht on a three-year deal in May 2018, following two years coaching Australia’s sevens squad.

The 53-year-old Australian was an assistant coach at the New South Wales Waratahs and the Brumbies, before he was named head coach at English side Harlequins in 2005.

After three seasons in England, he returned to the Brumbies as head coach and remained there until 2011. The following year he moved to Japan, where he was head coach of Canon Eagles for two seasons and Suntory Sungoliath from 2014 to 2016.

Key players

Experienced Tonga lock Leva Fifita is the sole foreign international at Connacht, with Friend largely relying on a homespun squad that includes some players born abroad but who qualify for Ireland on residency or dual nationality, such as back-row forward Jarrad Butler and wing Mack Hansen.

Record points-scorer and fly-half Jack Carty is ever-dependable, while centre Bundee Aki, scrum-half Kieran Marmion and prop Finlay Belham have all represented Ireland with distinction.

Pool fixtures

Connacht have been paired with Newcastle Falcons and CA Brive. They open their programme at home to the Gallagher Premiership club on December 10 before home and away fixtures with Brive – at Stade Amédée-Domenech on December 16 and at The Sportsground on January 14. They finish against the Falcons at Kingston Park on January 21.