Elwood expects the unexpected
CONNACHT COACH Eric Elwood knows his side have another tough season to carve out but yesterday suggested this year’s PRO12 campaign may not go as predicted.
As the fixtures for the new season were announced the older and wiser former Ireland outhalf pointed out many of the teams were in a state of flux, with new coaches coming in and some clubs moving grounds.
“It’s going to be a very interesting league campaign this year; if you look at the current clubs there are six new coaches, there are two teams moving to new venues, there’s one brand new team and there’s been a lot of movement of players,” Elwood observed.
Connacht are hoping to kick-off a more competitive year with Cardiff arriving in Galway for the first match of the campaign. Elwood’s side are also the first Irish team to have a crack at the new Italian franchise Zebre, who came in for Aironi whoy went out of business with financial difficulties at the end of last season.
Connacht meet Zebre in Italy in the second round of matches: “We as a team are happy to get a home draw in our first game because everyone’s hoping for a good start to the league,” said Elwood. “We have a tough start against the Cardiff Blues, who did the double on us last season and they will want to impress their new coach.
“Then we are away to Zebre. It will be their first home game at their new ground with their new coach and players who will want to impress their home support in Parma. It doesn’t get any easier after that but at the moment our focus is on working hard in our preseason preparations and that first match against Cardiff.”
European champions and PRO12 finalists Leinster have an opening match on the final weekend of August, against Llanelli Scarlets in Wales, while Munster hope to reverse last year’s away defeat (29-14) to Edinburgh when they travel to Murrayfield for their first match.
The trip to Scarlets will mark the first competition match for Munster coach Rob Penney following pre-season friendlies against Stade Rochelais, Bristol and London Irish.
The match will have an added ingredient for both teams as Munster and Edinburgh also share the same Heineken Cup pool. Ulster also meet Scottish opposition with their new coach Mark Anscombe and host Glasgow at Ravenhill in the opening fixture.
“The fact we are drawn in the same Heineken Cup pool will add a bit of spice to the encounter but that’s a completely different competition under a completely different set of circumstances,” said Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley.
“This is a huge match in its own right and I’m sure the players can’t wait to take them (Munster) on at Murrayfield as we aim to get our league campaign off on the right foot from the outset.”
Pre-season friendlies:Leinster: August 11th – v Gloucester, Tallaght Stadium, 5pm; August 18th – v Northampton, Franklin’s Gardens, 3pm; August 24th – v Sale, Salford Community Stadium, 8pm; Munster:August 10th – v Stade Rochelais, Stade Marcel-Defladre, 7pm; August 17th – v Bristol, Musgrave Park, 7pm; August 24th – v London Irish, Musgrave Park, 7pm; Ulster:August 18th – v Leicester Tigers, Ravenhill, TBC; August 24th – v Newcastle Falcons, Ravenhill, TBC; Connacht:August 11th – v Exeter Chiefs, Sportsground, TBA; August 18th – v Harlequins, Sportsground, TBC.