7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
The Welsh Cup holders travel to Ericsson Park in Athlone to face Connacht in the first leg of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP quarter-finals on Saturday evening on the back of a demoralising home defeat by Ebbw Vale in the Welsh Premiership.
A 25-22 defeat by Sale Sharks in the PARKER PEN SHIELD final in Oxford last May cost Pontypridd a coveted European title and an automatic passport into the Heineken Cup tournament.
"We got close last year and this time we would love to go one better," said Howells.
"But we have to go to Ireland and go for the right result from the start - if we don't do that then I think we will come off second best over the two legs.
"We must go into the game looking to win. Anything less and we could come unstuck.
"Knowing what the Irish are like, we are expecting a backlash from Connacht. They will be really up for it and they have some very good players.
"They will be more physical than when we beat them by 40 points in the Celtic League and that result will certainly motivate them.
"We made eight changes from the team who won at Neath and we had hoped they would respond more positively than they did against Ebbw Vale. To be blunt, we were abysmal.
"The good news is that it looks as if we will have everyone in the squad fit for selection. Neil Jenkins has had a minor hand injury but he will be fit and that is a huge plus - not just because of what he does out on the pitch but for his immense influence around the whole team."
Connacht warmed up for the return of the tournament with an inter-pro friendly against unbeaten Heineken Cup side Leinster at Ericsson Park - and hope they will stay firmly in the limelight against the Welsh club.
A floodlight failure meant the match against Leinster finished six minutes early with the visitors 25-3 ahead.
Connacht, thanks to a penalty goal from fly half Mark McHugh, were in touch at 10-3 at half-time as coach Steph Nel used the match to also give his entire replacements bench a run.