Elwood to go out on a winning note in final Pro 12 match of campaign
Connacht have that extra motivation over Glasgow Warriors
Eric Elwood: has his last game in charge
Farewells aplenty. Leinster-bound Mike McCarthy, the Galway legend that is Johnny O’Connor, Adrian Flavin and of course the long-serving Eric Elwood guarantees an emotionally-charged evening in Galway.
Glasgow couldn’t have picked a worse night to come in search of a bonus-point victory to secure a home semi-final for next weekend.
Head coach Gregor Townsend has clearly read the signs, leaving their recently s-lected Lions – Seán Maitland and Stuart Hogg – on the bench along with Niko Matawalu, Ryan Grant and Josh Strauss. The spine of their team – Alex Dunbar, Graeme Morrison, outhalf Duncan Weir and captain Al Kellock, after his wife recently gave birth – are completely rested, with Townsend seemingly content with a trip to Dublin next week, rather than chasing four tries and risking injury.
The bookmakers appear to have missed a trick here. Connacht were priced at plus-five handicap at 10/11 last night. Bet the house.
“We were delighted with our performance against the Ospreys which secured our play-off spot, but we know we’ll face a big challenge tomorrow night at a ground we’ve not won at since 2007,” said Townsend.
Seán Lamont, Pat MacArthur, Moray Low, Tim Swinson, Rob Harley and John Barclay are the only survivors from the side that secured a semi-final place with their 35-17 defeat of Ospreys on April 19th.
There is also the dying kick of the Elwood era to consider. Connacht have lost just two of their last seven games as they look to finish eighth, which would equal their best finish.
They have already banked their most victories and best away record in Celtic Rugby history.
That at least allows Elwood to pass the crown over to Pat Lam in better shape than he found it. And that’s all he ever wanted to do. He has also uncovered a few gems. Robbie Henshaw isn’t on show tonight, nor is Dave McSharry and Nathan White but that’s a fullback, inside centre and tighthead prop any Pro 12 side would be happy to build around.
McCarthy’s loss seems huge at the moment, but considering he will be on Ireland duty next season, the imminent arrival of Waikato Chiefs lock, the non-Irish-qualified Craig Clarke, things are looking up. That’s an equally proficient lock and a leader as well.
Glasgow’s recent annihilation of Munster and testing of Leinster at the RDS proves they are a good side. It’s just that tonight most of those players are on ice.
Tonight is about the men of the west saluting the man who has done more to put Connacht on the rugby map than anyone else. That should be enough to secure an emotional victory.
CONNACHT: G Duffy (capt); D Poolman, E Griffin, B Murphy, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, R Loughney; M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O’Connor, E McKeon. Replacements: A Flavin, Rodney Ah You, JP Cooney, M Kearney, J Muldoon, M Fifita, P O’Donohoe, M Nikora.
GLASGOW WARRIORS: P Murchie; T Seymour, S Lamont, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; R Jackson, H Pyrgos; M Low, P MacArthur, J Welsh; T Swinson, T Ryder; R Harley, J Barclay, R Wilson. Replacements: D Hall, R Grant, E Kalman, J Eddie, J Strauss, N Matawalu.
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).
Verdict: Connacht win.