Leicester Tigers welcome Connacht Rugby in a knockout contest in the European Challenge Cup Round of 16 this evening (8.00pm).
Connacht make a first-ever trip to Mattioli Woods Welford Road and face Tigers for the first time in a competitive fixture – the only previous meeting was in the pre-season of 2005 – and thus completes a full set for both clubs.
Tigers have previously faced the other three Irish provinces in European competition, while Connacht have been drawn against all of the current Premiership clubs either in the Challenge Cup or Challenge Cup.
Connacht began the season in the Heineken Champions Cup but are the Challenge Cup’s most experienced campaigners as this is their 127th match in the competition. They have reached the knockout stages in 11 previous seasons.
Tigers reached the semi-finals last season before being beaten by RC Toulon in the south of France and qualified for the knockout stages of the revised format this year with successive wins in the preliminary stage over French duo Brive and Bayonne. Tigers have previously reached the quarter-final stages in Europe – in Champions Cup and Challenge Cup – on 14 occasions.
In team news announced by both clubs on Friday, Tigers welcome back Ben Youngs as scrum-half and captain. George Martin is named in the back row and also makes his first starting appearance since the Six Nations.
Internationals Tomás Lavanini and Matt Scott return while front-rowers Nic Dolly and Will Hurd are in line for their club debuts after being named among the replacements.
Connacht finished the Pro14 campaign in second place in their pool behind Munster and collected 13 bonus points from 16 rounds to finish ahead of Scarlets and Cardiff Blues who had won an equal number of fixtures.
Switching their attentions to Europe, Connacht head coach Andy Friend says they need to stick to their game plan at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
“Work rate is going to be really important,” he told the club’s website.
“Not too dissimilar to when we beat Leinster at the RDS, we outworked them and we outworked them early, and we got some scores on the board and then they had to chase.
“Connacht’s form against English sides hasn’t been great, so we get an opportunity to go and correct that. We know we’re up against a very formidable side, but we’re going there to perform because this is the mark of sides that can show the growth that I believe is taking place here.”
International centre Bundee Aki and captain Jarrad Butler miss out due to suspension but there is a recall for Jack Carty alongside fellow Ireland cap Kieran Marmion at half-back while hooker David Heffernan is back in club colours after the Six Nations.
As this is a knockout game, with the quarter-finals scheduled for next weekend, there will be extra-time played in the event of scores being equal at full-time. A penalty kick competition would be used to find a winner of the teams could not be separated after extra time. Click here for full details.
The winners of this Round of 16 clash will be at home in the quarter-final next weekend against the winners of the game between Ospreys and Newcastle Falcons who kick off in Swansea at 3.00pm this afternoon. Full details will be announced by tournament organisers EPCR as soon as possible.
There is live coverage of the Round of 16 meeting on BT Sport 3 as games remain behind closed doors.
PLEASE NOTE The BT Match Pass service for home season ticket holders applies only for Gallagher Premiership fixtures and is therefore not available this evening.
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