CONNACHT Eagles coach Jimmy Duffy insists his side is not just coming to make up the numbers when the Irish province take on Newcastle Falcons.
Saturday’s Kingston Park clash is expected to see the home side secure themselves a British and Irish Cup quarter-final spot, with the unbeaten Pool C leaders ten points clear of nearest rivals Newport.
Connacht’s main provincial side are otherwise engaged on Heineken Cup duty, leaving a youthful Eagles squad to cross the Irish Sea and tackle a Falcons side who were 34-3 winners when the two teams met in Athlone in October.
Duffy, whose Eagles have won just one of their four games in the competition, said: “This is a really good fixture for us and we were delighted when Newcastle were drawn in our group.
“We are going over there wanting to compete and just looking to focus on our own game.
“We can’t do a huge amount about the Falcons, who have a great set-piece and lots of quality players, but there has been a real buzz about the guys because they are looking forward to testing themselves on that stage.”
With his squad again expected to be dominated by youngsters, Duffy added: “We are going with the strongest possible team we have available.
“Most of the lads are either on full-time professional contracts or are part of the Connacht academy set-up and a lot of young guys have made the senior side this year which is really encouraging.
“Three or four of our academy boys are now featuring regularly in the Rabodirect Pro 12 and the British and Irish Cup has given us a taste of the big-time.
“It is a big weekend here for the province with having the Heineken Cup game at Harlequins, and for the guys in the Eagles side it is a huge opportunity to put their hands up for consideration for the senior team.
“If they can make themselves known for selection they stand a chance of coming in the following week against Zebre in the Pro 12 and that will be a big motivation for a lot of them.”
Satisfied in part with their efforts against Newcastle when the two teams did battle in front of a sparse crowd at Buccaneers RFC, he added: “Newcastle had a lot of quality and were a very big physical side that night – probably the biggest we have faced.
“They hadn’t weakened their selection for the game, they are ambitious in their plans to regain Premiership status and the squad they picked against us was full of strong, technically-proficient players.
“It was great for our boys to come up against a team like that, and they were very accurate in everything they did.
“Their set-piece was really solid, in general play they were aggressive and it was a useful experience.
“We made it a decent game, although the score ended up being quite substantial.
“For large portions of the night we did pretty well, but we lacked a bit of decisiveness at key times. That is one thing we hope to address when we come over on Saturday and we know we will have to eliminate mistakes at crucial stages.”