Elwood targets last interprovincial win as league leaders Ulster visit

Connach coach Eric Elwood expects his pack, including second-row partners Michael Swift and Mike McCarthy (pictured), to provide the necessary grunt against a physical and high-tempo Ulster side tomorrow evening at the Galway Sportsground.

Connach coach Eric Elwood expects his pack, including second-row partners Michael Swift and Mike McCarthy (pictured), to provide the necessary grunt against a physical and high-tempo Ulster side tomorrow evening at the Galway Sportsground.

Interprovincial victories always have always been a little thin on the ground for Connacht, but when they host Ulster tomorrow evening (7.45pm ), the home side has a real opportunity to make it two from three at home this season.

Having stunned Leinster by 34 - 6 last September, Connacht then let Munster off the hook by 12 - 16, but tomorrow Connacht can improve that record and give Elwood the perfect interprovincial farewell in his last derby clash at the helm.

Both sides have incentives. Connacht, after a super win away to Edinburgh last weekend, are still targeting a best league finish for a third successive year; Ulster, of course, are back on top of the RaboDirect Pro 12 league, with a home semi-final up for grabs.

Having been disappointed with their away performances in the derby clashes, Elwood says it is a big opportunity to take another scalp and earn four valuable league points.

“It is huge for us. We have a point to prove in that were nilled up in Belfast and that's a big incentive. Yes, they are a good side and if they get another win, they will get a home semi-final, but we have a proud home record and regardless of who we are playing, we fancy our chances at home.”

Given continuing injuries, Elwood is unlikely to change last weekend’s winning starting XV. His major concern this week is Rodney Ah You with tonsillitis, particularly with Nathan White due to visit a specialist today for a damaged knee, Gavin Duffy with a shoulder injury, and Eoin Griffin who continues to be monitored having suffering a head knock last weekend. It is too early yet for Willie Faloon and Jason Harris Wright, who are making steady progress, while Johnny O'Connor is also unlikely to be fully fit.

In contrast Ulster, bar Stephen Ferris, are at full strength, and they arrive in Galway ready to avenge last year’s 26 -21 loss to Connacht. With a pack that is both physical and mobile, Ulster will be looking to move the ball at pace so Connacht can expect a high tempo game.

"We played really well against them last year and that was done by hard work up front. We need that grunt off the forwards again tomorrow - the breakdown will be a key area,” he says.

Without a home match for seven weeks, the Connacht supporters are expected to be out in full force tomorrow and Elwood wants to reward their loyalty.

“Let’s not be happy we beat Edinburgh away from home last weekend. We have to front up and show it in front of a home crowd. They haven’t seen a home game for a long time and they will get behind us so we need to give them something to cheer about.

“Obviously there is extra spice - it's a derby match and we can expect it will be a ding-dong battle.”

As Connacht continue to seek a third successive best league finish, they have already gone one better than last year's results when their 32-14 win over Edinburgh was their eighth this season, which also represents an improved away record.

Connacht 's unwavering determination spoiled Edinburgh's hopes of winning their first hat-trick of league wins since 2010, and although it looked like Greig Laidlaw’s unerring boot would prevent the Irish province from grabbing their first win in Murrayfield since 2005, Connacht wrested control in the last eight minutes and made it count. Robbie Henshaw grabbed his first try and his side's second try of the evening in the 77th minute to seal a well-merited victory.

When Connacht got on the wrong side of the referee, in his first league fixture, the Scottish outfit capitalised after Parks had opened the scoring in the fourth minute.

Laidlaw put his side 12 - 3 ahead before Connacht were rewarded when Gavin Duffy's superb break was finished by flanker Mick Kearney, with Parks converting.

When Parks was yellow-carded, Laidlaw made it 15-10, but in his absence Duffy struck a super kick on the stroke of half time to close the gap to just two points.

Parks returned just in time to put Connacht ahead for the first time in the contest in the 48th minute and, when Connacht forced Edinburgh to concede at the breakdown, Parks nudged his side further ahead.

However Connacht lost prop Ronan Loughney to the sinbin, and the home side sensed victory, reducing the deficit and retaking the lead with yet another Laidlaw penalty.

Parks, however, struck a drop goal, but, in the nature of this seesawing contest, Laidlaw potted his eighth effort for a 24 - 22 lead heading into the final 10 minutes. Parks missed a 71st minute penalty, but Connacht struck for the winner in the 77th minute. When the home side failed to deal with a kick, Marmion hacked on and from the ensuing ruck, Robbie Henshaw claimed the winner. Parks added the extras, and an 82nd minute penalty to deny the Scottish side even a losing bonus point.

Connacht: R Henshaw, D Poolman, E Griffin, B Murphy, G Duffy (cpt, D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, M Kearney, J Muldoon, G Naoupu. Replacements, E Reynecke for Flavin 53m, F Vainikolo for Griffin (55m ), R Ah You for Wilkinson (63m ), A Browne for Kearney (69m ), M Fifita for Muldoon (71m ).

 

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