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Tiernan O'Halloran: Connacht's Challenge Cup campaign provides "breathe of fresh air"


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While Munster and Leinster prepare for European Rugby Champions Cup action this weekend, Connacht will be hoping to add a positive note to their own season when they take on Gloucester in the Challenge Cup. 

Victory in the quarter final would be a boost for a province that has endured a difficult campaign in the Guinness Pro 14 during Kieran Keane's first season in charge.

At the heart of their side for the Gloucester game will be Ireland international Tiernan O'Halloran, who has won six international caps over the last two years but missed out on inclusion for the 2018 Grand Slam winning Ireland Six Nations squad.

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Ahead of tomorrow's Challenge Cup game, he took time out to chat to Ger and began by discussing the good form in Europe in comparison to the Pro 14 where six wins and 12 losses have left them second bottom of Conference A, two years on from when they sensationally won the Pro 12 under Pat Lam.

"It's kind of a tricky one, I suppose. A few times this year when we were going into the Challenge Cup blocks, we were actually coming off the back of a couple of tough losses and things like that so it was nearly like every time we faced into the competition this year, it was like a breathe of fresh air nearly and you could see that in a few performances," he said.

Touching on the poor results in the Pro 14, he added: "We know we haven't been far away in the league. I think we've picked up six losing bonus points this year. It's just, I suppose, getting those 80 minute performances and so far in the Challenge Cup we've managed to put those performances together and get a few bonus point wins and get that confidence up."

But on the Pro 14 results, he did acknowledge that they do have a challenge: "We're not at that level of confidence right now or we haven't been throughout different times of the season. It's hard to just pull that out of nowhere."

O'Halloran also discussed his career with Ireland and the historic win over the All Blacks in Chicago when there were many Connacht players involved.   

"That was a very proud time for everyone at Connacht, even I suppose after we won the Pro 12 that year, we had six guys on the tour to South Africa and then last November again we had big representation, in Chicago in that famous win and then this year unfortunately we only got four guys in the squad and it was great to see Quinn [Roux] get a bit more game-time. He picked up two games in the Six Nations but obviously it was just mainly Kieran [Marmion] and Bundee [Aki]," he said.

"It's something that we recognise as a squad. You can't expect to get called up for international recognition if you're not getting results in the league. Joe [Schmidt] watches all the inter-pro games and the European games as well."   

On the areas he feels he has to work on personally, the breakdown and ball-carrying are among the main points of focus.

The Galway native also discussed his time playing Gaelic football in his youth, how he chose between the sports and the benefits Gaelic football can bring to those who go on to take on rugby.


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