Connacht keep looking forward
As Connacht prepare for Saturday’s Heineken Cup game against Harlequins at The Stoop, chief executive Tom Sears said yesterday that he was unconcerned by Sean Holley’s revelation that he turned down the opportunity to coach at the Sportsground next season.
The former Ospreys coach confirmed in a BBC radio interview that he had declined an offer to succeed Eric Elwood.
Pat Lam, who was also on the shortlist of six candidates interviewed for the position, is now regarded as the most likely replacement. Holley said that while he was “flattered” with the offer from Connacht, personal circumstances and timing were behind his decision. “I am probably old fashioned but I think a recruitment process should be confidential. So if people want to go to the media and say this, that or the other, it is up to them,” Sears said yesterday.
“I think it is disappointing: we respect the confidentiality and I feel that is the only way to do it. And we are confident that we are going to get someone who will take us forward.”
The issue of who will succeed Elwood remains a distant concern for the squad as they prepare for Saturday’s game in London. Lock George Naoupu, who was carried off the field shortly after scoring a try in Saturday’s win against the Dragons, was an absentee from yesterday’s training session as Eric Elwood waits to see if he can resume training today.
“Yeah, we are still concerned over George – he didn’t train and is still suffering from that stinger that he got. He will be reassessed (today) and we are going to give him every opportunity. Kieran Marmion didn’t train because he was taken off with a dead leg. And Swifty (Michael Swift) didn’t train because of knocks and bruises and old age. Dave McSharry also had a rest day today because he has been going through the mill in the last few weeks. Outside of that, we aren’t too bad.”
Connacht, meanwhile, are expected to confirm today that Naoupu has agreed to sign a two-year extension to his contract.
Last Saturday’s 30-11 victory over Dragons leaves Connacht in a positive frame of mind as they prepare for their penultimate Heineken Cup game. Although their hopes of progression were literally drowned out in the rain in Biarritz before Christmas, Elwood feels that Saturday’s match is of huge significance as a stand-alone occasion.
“It is a massive opportunity for us. Seems like an annual fixture against Harlequins. But this is a big game – we are going to play the English champions. They have blitzed everyone in our group so far and it is going to be a daunting prospect. But we are going with a bit of confidence after our victory last week.
“We had a great game against them here when we both tried to play ball. It was 30 points to 22. And we are going to have the same mindset over there. We are going to play. It is Heineken Cup rugby and we are going to show people what we can do. It is going to be difficult but we do want to go there and play.”
Surge in support
Connacht will play their closing Heineken Cup group game against Italian club Zebre on Friday week. The novelty of the elite competition helped to create a significant surge in local support and when Elwood reflects on the Heineken Cup experience, he can’t but rue the farcically wet conditions that his team had to endure in the Stade Aguilera which Biarritz won 17-0, effectively closing the door on Connacht’s chances of progression.
“Well, we felt we had a huge opportunity for the first time of our history to control a bit of our own destiny in the Heineken Cup. And unfortunately it was a horrendous night – people talk about the Sportsground but for what we wanted to do, that was the worst thing that could have happened and we didn’t get the opportunity. And a game like that . . . Your whole campaign is gone in 80 minutes of rugby. So it was disappointing because we had had a fantastic week and the lads were in a terrific frame of mind. But we are in a very good frame of mind heading to Harlequins as well.”