A home win has become a major priority for Connacht when they host Harlequins in this evenings return European match at the Galway Sportsground (7pm ). Although Connacht are unlikely to qualify from this year’s Amlin Cup pool, having lost two of their three matches, Elwood believes there is more at stake for his players, particularly as they head into a crucial Christmas period with the traditional interprovincial clashes against Munster and Leinster.
“We need a win,” says Elwood. “It’s as simple as that. We are working extremely hard and we need to get a win to give us the confidence heading into Christmas period.” While Elwood may not accept his chances of qualifying are over - “ It’s not in our hands but there’s still three games to go” - Connacht will always rue their unexpected opening day loss to Italian side Cavalieri. However, given that winning the Amlin is a hugely difficult assignment with the Heineken Cup teams also contesting the quarter-finals, Elwood’s priority has always been about gaining consistency and respect in the Magners League.
“ You have to stay positive. It knocks the stuffing out of you on nights like we had in Harlequins, but we have to stay positive – it’s a home fixture for us, we know the opposition, and it’s a quick turnaround,” he says. “Derby matches in the Magners are very important to everybody, and we’ve got two big ones against Munster and Leinster. They’re big fixtures and there’s no rest now. It’s tough going.”
However Elwood believes he has every reason to be confident going into today’s match, particularly after Sunday’s 20 - 9 first-leg defeat at the Stoop.“We know we are capable of beating Harlequins. The last day out we asked enough questions of them, we stopped them playing their game, and we played well in attack. We will continue to play like that again. “The frustrating part is that we have to work so hard to create our opportunities and get our scores and then you see that, in my view, Harlequins got two soft tries. But we have a lot of young players and it’s part of their development. Hopefully we’ll turn the corner sooner rather than later. We’re doing a lot of good work in defence, but the offensive side of things is a bit frustrating at the moment.”
Harlequins make the trip knowing Connacht tested them on Sunday, but if the home side can secure the same amount of ball they won last weekend, avoid a couple of defensive mistakes that proved costly, and compose themselves a little better in attack, they are capable of overcoming the Londoners. “We had an abundance of ball to cause them problems,” says Elwood. “ We had line breaks and offloads and so on and so on, but we just didn’t have that killer punch to finish things off.” Despite Connacht's endeavours, they gifted Conor O'Shea's team two tries and the Londoners' had sufficient pace and ability to capitalise on their chances and consolidate their lead in pool one. Connacht found themselves 7 - 0 down after eight minutes despite carving three opportunities within the opening five minutes inside Harlequins' 22, but the home side responded with their first real foray. A kick deep into Connacht territory gave them the position, and despite Miah Nikora's clearance, the influential former All Black Nick Evans set up the counterattack from a quick-throw in. No 8 Tom Guest found little resistance from Connacht's poorly scrambled defence and it was one of the softest tries Connacht have conceded this season.
Harlequins relished the opportunities to counter from deep and it resulted in three more points from Evans six minutes later when a Connacht tackler was pinged for not releasing. However Connacht answered two minutes later with the first of three penalties from outhalf Miah Nikora before a second effort shaved the outside upright.
Both outhalves exchanged kicks to leave Harlequins in front by 13 - 6 at the break, but it was Connacht's lack of precision with the ball in hand that provided Harlequins with the opportunity 10 minutes after the re-start. Connacht, always looking to move the ball wide, and having kept the ball in hand through several phases, coughed up possession when Ian Keatley's attempted pass was swept up by man of the match Tom Guest. The barnstorming Guest had enough space ahead of him to charge through from the 10m line before finding fullback Mike Brown in support, and despite Fionn Carr's despairing tackle, Brown was able to stretch over the line to claim try No 2. The 20 - 6 lead proved too much for Connacht. Nikora kicked a third penalty in the 56th minute to reduce the deficit, but, frustratingly, they could not make the necessary breakthrough.