Muldoon defends Elwood's decision to go
RUGBY:VETERAN CONNACHT flanker John Muldoon has expressed surprise at the timing of Eric Elwood’s announcement to step down as head coach after this season.
“It is a massive shock,” said Muldoon. “He pulled a couple of us in on the Monday morning (October 1st) to tell us. I was very surprised and I was shocked. I certainly for one would hope he’ll come back into rugby at some stage.”
The 29-year-old defended Elwood from the critical commentary that followed the announcement of his departure, despite seven months remaining in the current campaign.
“It was upsetting to hear that certain journalists and pundits were questioning Eric and calling him selfish,” Muldoon said. “Anyone that knows Eric, knows that is the complete opposite.
“Eric has given everything, probably to the detriment of Eric, because he gives everything and he’d be the first to admit that he can’t sometimes back away and he can’t let the small things lie. That’s Eric’s nature and that’s Eric’s personality, that’s been hard on him and hard on his family.
“And he has decided to be selfish for Eric Elwood for once in his life. He has spent 24 years in Connacht and for once he has been selfish. How could you call him selfish, it is beyond me.”
Connacht begin only their second ever Heineken Cup campaign against Italian club Zebre this Saturday at the Stadio XXV Aprile, with the intention of addressing the comprehensive 25-0 defeat to Ulster last Friday.
“We went up to Belfast with lots of confidence (after victory over Leinster) and were still in the game after 34 minutes without having any ball,” said Muldoon. “In those six minutes before half-time we lost a man to the bin which cost us a try so that was 10-0 and had a chance to get three points, we missed it, and then a stupid indiscipline error by one of our players cost us another try.
“What could have been 10-3 at half-time is suddenly 17-0, which is game over. The referee is against you and they are thinking about bonus points and we are thinking about how we can limit the score. Things could have been so, so different.”
Muldoon also stated Elwood’s impending departure will be used as motivation for the rest of the season.
“It is a long year until Eric finishes. He won’t back away so we are not going to back away. And we know Eric will leave no stone unturned and we want to send him away on a high. He has done a great job but we want to get it higher and higher. For him to walk out and say he has done the best he could, that is certainly a high motivational factor for everyone.”
Elwood’s situation is not uncommon in rugby, as highlighted by yesterday’s confirmation that the Castres coaching ticket of Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers will also step aside next summer.
The French club travel to Ravenhill on Friday night for their opening Pool Four fixture. Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has named Ruan Pienaar and Nick Williams in his extended squad.
Pienaar only rejoined the squad this week having regained the Springboks number nine jersey during the Rugby Championship, which only finished with defeat to New Zealand in Soweto on Saturday, while Williams is struggling with a rib injury.
Pienaar’s return is not permanent as he is due to play for South Africa in the November internationals against Ireland, Scotland and England.
Other scrumhalves, Paul Marshall and Michael Healy, are also included.
A decision on Williams will be made closer to the weekend but Roger Wilson, Ulster’s other number eight signing, makes his return from injury this weekend for the Ulster Ravens in the British and Irish Cup. He could yet be promoted to the senior squad if Williams continues to struggle.
Anscombe must definitely plan without Australian flanker Sean Doyle (broken leg) and prop Declan Fitzpatrick (medial ligament damage).
ULSTER SQUAD –Forwards (16): Rob Herring, Rory Best, Nigel Brady, Neil McComb, John Afoa, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, Callum Black, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Lewis Stevenson, Stephen Ferris, Mike McComish, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams. Backs (11): Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall, Michael Heaney, Paddy Jackson, Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne.