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Elwood: Connacht have earned respect the hard way

Guinness PRO12 Editor

15 Feb 2012

Having feasted at the top table of European rugby, Connacht coach Eric Elwood maintains his side are entirely focused their ‘bread and butter’ – the RaboDirect PRO12.

Connacht finished off their first ever campaign in the Heineken Cup with a 9-8 over English Premiership leaders Harlequins – their first victory in a run of 14 games.

It was a performance based on buckets full of grit and no little skill against a team that had previously lost only three times this season.

And it is that sort of display Elwood is asking his side to try and replicate week in, week out in the RaboDirect PRO12.

He said: “It was a nice end to our maiden voyage in the Heineken Cup and now everybody had a rest and it is back to our bread and butter of the RaboDirect PRO12. That’s our primary focus.

“We wanted to be competitive and be given respect and ultimately I think we did that.

“We could have beaten Quins at the Stoop and we get ourselves in it against Toulouse and Gloucester.

“We certainly gained their respect. More importantly we got that first win and now we have got a taste of it we want to taste it again but we have got eight games left and that’s our focus.

“I would never critique the boys’ attitude or competiveness in that 14-game run. You have to do the simple things right and that’s what we did against Quins.

“Discipline in defence was the key and not giving penalties to Nick Evans. If you can marry a strong defence and good discipline then you have got a good chance against anyone.

“I would not have done anything differently earlier in the season. We are very strong on the principles of how we want to play these games.

“We have been leading many games this season but the lesson we are learning is that if you make mistakes you w will get punished.

“We don’t have the luxury of being able to rotate like a lot of teams do. That’s when it gets difficult when you have a couple of knocks but players have to play on. We are not making excuses and the players will never complain but that’s just the way it is.”

The challenge now is for Connacht to make that sort of occasion a regular feature at the Sportsground.

In terms of this season, the equation is out of their hands with Ulster beyond catching in the RaboDirect PRO12 so their fate lies in hands of the other Irish provinces’ adventures in Europe.

The likes of John Muldoon, David McSharry, and Rodney Ah You made their Heineken bows and looked like they belonged on the big stage.

But it is not just the players who relished life in the spotlight as Elwood argues.

He added: “For us coaches it is our day in the sun. Going up against Guy Noves is like pitting your wits against the Sir Alex Ferguson of rugby.

“That’s why you want to play in these big games – you want to test yourself against the best.

“It is important when you coach any team that you allow ambition in individuals and it is nice so see players move forward.

“I would love to boast about how many internationals we have. It does have its drawbacks but I would to see it happen and we have got some good young players who could go onto that level if they fulfil their potential.”