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Bradley chasing an X-factor hit for Connacht

Connacht rugby gets a glimpse of a brighter future tonight when they take on Jonny Wilkinson and his star-laden Toulon side in front of 8,000 supporters at the Galway Sportsground (7.45pm).

Michael Bradley's men are chasing a spot in the Heineken Cup next season and need to beat the Top 14-leaders in tonight's Challenge Cup semi-final and then win the final against either Cardiff or Wasps to book their place in European rugby's premier competition.

The capacity has been increased from it usual 5,000 and the match been sold out since the start of the week indicating the type of attendances Connacht could regularly attract if they reach the Heineken Cup for the first time.

But all of this depends on beating Toulon tonight and making the final with Connacht rated 9/4 outsiders against the big spending French outfit.

Coach Bradley has named his strongest available side with captain John Muldoon set for a seismic battle with opposite number Joe van Niekerk.

Toulon head to the west as one of the form teams in Europe, having last weekend secured a place in the Top 14 semi-finals.

Wilkinson will start at fly-half, the South African Van Niekerk at flanker and the rampaging Juan Fernandez Lobbe at number eight.

Such is their strength in the depth Argentina's Felipe Contepomi does not even make it on to the bench.

But Bradley warned Toulon a Friday night trip to the Sportsground will really sort the men from the boys.

“Toulon embarked on a strategy which has got them to the top of the Top 14 and they have quality throughout their squad,” he said.

“They are a colourful side with big names and big stars with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson to pick and choose from, but they have to come to Galway and we have the X-factor in terms of our ground. We have a home draw and, while they will bring the stars, we'll bring our support and we'll see who comes out on top.

“We went through the pool stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup unbeaten and we were able to carry that form through into the Bourgoin game.

“That sort of confidence has spilled over into our Magners League performances and we're having a good end to the season.

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“The crowd were very important to us on the day against Bourgoin and obviously in big cup matches home advantage can count.”

Meanwhile, Ulster have confirmed they are now in negotiations with the Stormers regarding the temporary release of Springbok prop BJ Botha for the remainder of the Super 14 season.

While the province have not yet agreed to release Botha to the South African side, the move could still go through with the issue for Ulster being the risk of injury.


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