Elwood rallies his Connacht charges

Connacht coach Eric Elwood rallied his side for tonight’s clash with Cardiff Blues by urging them to show the spirit they showed in Europe this season.

He wants the type of performance they displayed which saw them finally end their run of defeats with a win over English premiership leaders Harlequins in their final Heineken Cup game.

After a much-needed two-week break from competition, Elwood says his players have returned refreshed and determined.

“We certainly needed the break. We had a lot of broken bodies,” said Elwood.

“The lads had gone to the well for 13 weeks on the bounce and, to be honest, we would put our hands up and say ‘thank god for the rest’.”

Now it is imperative Connacht push on and get a good start against Cardiff.

“The guys have said it themselves this week. What we did against Harlequins counts for nothing now. It’s in the past and we have to kick on. We have to rock up and it’s important that if we prepare properly, we have a good chance.

“We have nine games left in the Rabo and it starts against Cardiff. After the break some teams come back well and some don’t, and it is our challenge to see if we can be one of those teams that bounces back.”

Elwood is missing Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, who had a setback with his facial injury and needs another six weeks, Brian Tuohy, Dave Nolan, Eoin Griffin, Frank Murphy, Rodney Ah You, Dylan Rogers, TJ Anderson, James Loxton and retiree Keith Matthews.

Griffin and Murphy should be available next week, while James Loxton returned to training for the first time after a long-term knee injury. Brett Wilkinson returns from Irish squad training to start in a side which shows just one change from that which overcame Harlequins. Dave McSharry returns after a facial injury, replacing Henry Fa’afili in the centre.

Connacht lost to Cardiff earlier in the season at the Galway Sportsground by 26-20, having squandered a 17-3 lead, while victories in Wales have been scarce. Cardiff, with six wins from 12, face Leinster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final.

Cardiff Blues: B Blair, R Mustoe, C Laulala, G Evans, T James, C Sweeney, R Rees, J Yapp, R Thomas, S Hobbs, M Paterson, P Tito(cpt), M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush.

Replacements: R Tyrell, N Trevett, R Harford, C Hill, M Cook, L Jones, G Davies, T Williams.

Connacht: G Duffy [capt]; F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O’Halloran; N O’Connor, P O’Donohoe; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu.

Replacements: E Reynecke, D Buckley, S Maguire, D Gannon, M Kearney, D Moore, M Jarvis, H Fa’afili.

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