After 25 years of “living and breathing” Connacht Rugby, coach Eric Elwood has said it is time for a change. In officially announcing on Wednesday evening that he would step down at the end of the season, Elwood said his decision had nothing to do with any “issues” at Connacht Rugby, but for personal reasons. “I have come to this decision after thinking long and hard about what is best for me and also what is best for Connacht. I have given a big part of my life to Connacht Rugby and I feel that it is time for me to have a change and time for the province to have a change as well.”
News of Elwood’s decision broke earlier this week after he informed his playing squad in an emotional meeting on Monday. Those close to the 43-years-old were hugely disappointed, but not entirely surprised, given his total dedication to the job he took on two seasons ago and his desire to spend time with his young family. “I want to stress that this has nothing to do with any on field issues or performances or anything off the field. Connacht has progressed enormously in the last couple of years and I can only see that continuing, but for me personally the time is right to step aside at the end of this season and let someone else take things on. It is a decision that I have not made lightly and it's an emotional one, but again I would like to make it very clear that it is my decision and no-one elses. I have not been under any pressure to step down and I have always received great support from the IRFU, the Professional Game Board and everyone involved with Connacht.”
Connacht head to Belfast after emphatic victory over Leister
Ravenhill has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Connacht Rugby - their last victory was in 1960 - and Connacht head to Belfast for this evening’s fixture on the back of Eric Elwood’s decision to step down at the end of the season. Connacht could be forgiven for being a little unsettled, but they will find an unbeaten Ulster side, in their first home match since Nevin Spence’s tragic death, in uncompromising form.
Connacht will need to focus on all the positives from last Friday’s victory over Leinster when they outclassed, outmuscled, and outplayed the Heineken Cup champions at the Sportsground. And now they must do it again against a team currently on top of the RaboDirect Pro 12 League.
Elwood said his side would not be “ carried away" with the win, particuarly as they head to Belfast. "We deserved it. We are very proud of how we played and we knew we had it in us. As a collective, it was probably the best performance we have played, but the challenge now is to repeat it against Ulster." Elwood is unlikely to make too many changes to his starting line-up after last Friday’s performance, but there are a number of players putting their hands up for Heineken Cup selection, Irish squad members Ronan Loughney and Brett Wilkinson are likely to start in the front row, while hopes are high John Muldoon will pass a late fitness test to take his place on the bench. And with Eoin McKeon having retired last week with a shoulder injury, Dave Gannon is likely to start on the blindside. With no further injuries in the backline and with Gavin Duffy still unavailable, Elwood is unlikely to make any changes.
Last Friday’s win comprehensive 34 - 6 victory over the Leinster champions has certainly provided a huge boost for Elwood’s squad, and there is great expectation heading into this game. However Ulster welcome back Rory Best, Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris and Declan Fitzpatrick for this evening’s match where more than 8,000 tickets have already been sold.
Big Mayo involvement in Connacht u19s inter-pro win
Connacht claimed the u19 inter-provincal title last weekend with a win over the Lenister Blues 20-15. It was the provinces third win in the competition to claim the title having already beaten an exiles side and the Lenister Whites. There was a big Mayo involvement in the win with four Westport players in the side, Sam McCormack, Andrew McAleer, Matthew Mellotte and Ruben Pepperhobbs. While Lyndon Jones from Westport was the team manager and Bonniconlon’s Paul Ginty the strength and conditioning coach.