Having guided Connacht to a record high finish of eighth in the RaboDirect PRO12 and seen them compete in their first ever Heineken Cup, head coach Eric Elwood is determined to keep taking the western province to new heights.
The all-Irish meeting of Leinster and Ulster in last year’s Heineken Cup final ensured Connacht’s involvement in Europe’s premier club competition for a second consecutive season.
The draw for the pool stages last season landed Connacht in one of the toughest pools against European giants Toulouse, Gloucester and Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins.
Despite some impressive performances, particularly away to Gloucester, Connacht had yet to register a win going into the final pool game but on a memorable night in the Sportsground they overcame Harlequins 9-8.
Elwood believes that dramatic victory proved to his players and to other teams around Europe that Connacht have what it takes to mix it in the Heineken Cup.
“It’s been progress,” he told The Irish Times. “Come hell or high water we wanted to get that first win in the Heineken (against Harlequins) so I think we gained respect.
“We showed we could be competitive and I think that kick-started it and to the players’ credit we finished the year strongly.”
In order to maintain the team’s growth Elwood has had to bolster his squad with summer singings including experienced campaigners Nathan White, Danie Poolman, Willie Faloon and most notably former Scottish outhalf Dan Parks.
But with the province now competing in the British and Irish Cup, as well as the PRO12 and Heineken Cup, there was a need for some new youthful singings and Elwood has drafted in Jason Harris-Wright from Bristol and Brian Murphy from Galwegians.
The former Irish outhalf is confident the new additions will strengthen the squad and enable the club to strive for greater things this season.
“We’re very happy with the signings we got in, it will certainly add to our culture and strengthen our squad.
“But I think to get to the next level it’s that attention to detail, setting standards in our training and hopefully getting off to a very good start in our first game against Cardiff.
“From the coaches and the players’ point of view to get a second opportunity in the Heineken straight after our first, is a good thing, and we’re very much looking forward to it.”