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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Heineken Cup build-up: Elwood determined to haze the new boys

Connacht will soon be two-year veterans in Europe’s top-tier and winning just once is no longer an option.

Eric Elwood celebrates after Connacht beat Harlequins in January.
Eric Elwood celebrates after Connacht beat Harlequins in January.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

CONNACHT MUST HAVE felt they had gotten away from the word ‘first’ but it continues to dog them as much as their losing record at Ravenhill.

Having come through their first season of Heineken Cup rugby and won their first game, against Harlequins in January, Eric Elwood and his men were looking forward to being one of the boys in the top tier of European rugby.

However, like an Irish twin that tags behind you at school, the fixtures list has thrown them up against Zebre twice in two months.

On 1 September at Stadio XXV Aprile, Connacht defeated the Italians 30-17 in their first ever home game.

On Saturday, yet again in Parma, the westerners take to the field as the opponents in Zebre’s first ever Heineken Cup game.

“It was their first home game,” Elwood recalled about the league encounter. “There was a lot at stake, a lot of pressure on them.”

“We were very chuffed with that win,” he told ”We played extremely well and we had to play well. They are a team, and they’ve proved already in Glasgow (when they lost 22-19), that they’re going to cause upsets.

“They’re capable of it, they’ve got a lot of quality.”

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Making a statement before making a mess

There were plenty of reasons to be hopeful after Connacht battered European champions Leinster 34-6 at the Sportsground a fortnight ago. Since then, however, they were upended 25-0 by a fired-up Ulster.

Dan Parks, the newly signed out-half and former Scottish international, went from heroic deeds in Galway to damaging woes in Belfast but Elwood is convinced that he has signed a player that will win crucial games for the province. He said:

The reason we went for Dan (this) season is that we were very competitive but lost a lot of games by close margins. With his experience of 67 Tests, and he’s played (Heineken Cup) with Glasgow; his expertise, knowledge and international experience, we will need that.

Elwood is buoyed by the early-season promise of younger squad players such as Robbie Henshaw, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Dave McSharry.

Not the new guys

The experience of top-tier rugby against the likes of Toulouse and Harlequins energised the Connacht support so much that captain Gavin Duffy spoke about whole towns being draped in green flags and buntings on match days. It even led to a documentary on their cup campaign.

“Last year,” said Elwood, “there was a lot of gaining respect within the Heineken Cup, maybe, being there for the first time and showing that we weren’t going to be whipping boys.

“We wanted that ‘W’ and we got that at the end to seal off the season.

“But, if we’re being honest, we are looking to get better. One victory wouldn’t be good enough for us.”

On Saturday, from Galway to Parma and everywhere in between, Connacht supporters will be happy to start with one win. They can build on that.

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About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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