Connacht's recruitment plans over


CONNACHT’S RECRUITMENT drive for next season is over. The meagre rations devoured. That means the only new arrivals will be Dan Parks, a 34-year-old Scottish international outhalf, Willie Faloon, a talented 25-year-old Ulster openside, and Kiwi tighthead prop Nathan White, who arrives from Dublin.

Ray Ofisa, Henry Fa’afili and Brian Tuohy have been released, while several young players along with captain Gavin Duffy have got new deals. That’s the budget spent. “We don’t have anything left,” admitted coach Eric Elwood. “We signed up a lot of young players we wanted to keep. Unfortunately, you can’t keep everyone but we don’t have any more slots to fill now.”

At least they got cover in the three most important positions; an international, albeit ageing, place-kicker, someone to lock the scrum and a genuine scavenger appears like respectable business in comparison to last year when Ian Keatley left to become Ronan O’Gara’s understudy, while Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan effectively returned to the All-Ireland league. Neither can make the Leinster bench at present.

“We are very happy,” Elwood continued. “Nathan is an ex-captain of his home team (Waikato) and has been involved in a quality outfit in Leinster [on the bench ahead of Hagan]. Key positions in any team are three, 10 and seven. That’s no disrespect to the guys we have there already . . . there should be great competition within the squad, like between Johnny (O’Connor) and Willie. But that’s healthy.

“We don’t expect them to win us every game but we are hoping they will add to the culture we are trying to develop down here.”

The next major task for the Connacht Branch is to hire a chief executive officer to replace Gerry Kelly, who retires this summer. The process is ongoing and of no concern to Elwood. “It is nothing to do with me. That’s someone else’s decision.I have good people working alongside me down here in Billy (Millard, attack coach), Mike (Forshaw, defence coach), Dan (McFarland, forwards coach) and Conor McPhilips on our analysis. The CEO decision will be made by the PGB (professional game board) . . . I don’t have a say in it.”

Ideally, the new man will land into another season of Heineken Cup rugby should Ulster or Leinster win the tournament on May 19th. The lessons of this season’s Pool stages having been banked. “Yeah, with two Irish teams left in opposing semis there is a good chance. There is no doubt the experience brought a new dimension to rugby in the West. Now everybody’s got a taste of it we’d love a crack at it again.”

Elwood couldn’t but notice the success of his former boss last weekend. Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh charges have clearly focused all their energies on Europe in contrast to their current 11th-placed standing in the Pro 12, two points behind Connacht. Both teams have five victories from 19 games.

“Credit has to go to Edinburgh. I did fancy them at home as Toulouse are a completely different team on the road as we experienced. Ulster have beaten them (Edinburgh) twice this season – speaking to Brads, he said Ulster were very, very impressive in Edinburgh – they got a bonus-point win. I wouldn’t write off Edinburgh because the high-tempo way they play, they can upset anybody, especially on a big pitch like the Aviva.”