Many were expecting Connacht to be on the end of this resounding scoreline for most games in the Heineken Cup over the past two years but it’s taken 11 matches for the naysayers’ predictions to come true.
With more points scored than any other side in Europe, Harlequins’ victory over Connacht guaranteed them a home quarter-final. For Connacht, there is just pride at stake now when they take on Zebre at the Sportsground in the final game.
“We have an opportunity to finish the campaign on a high,” said Elwood.
“We won one game last year against Harlequins, but, if we beat Zebre on Friday, it’s three from six. Considering our pool opponents, it is a good improvement.”
Elwood will hope Danie Poolman, George Naoupu and Dan Parks, who underwent a scan on his hamstring late last week, return for the game. With long-term injured duo John Muldoon and Gavin Duffy missing on Saturday, Connacht’s inexperience was exposed.
“We have lost players in the past and we were confident in the ability of the squad, which we showed in the first 30 minutes.
“But, when you are away from home, you have to take your chances. Losing Parks, Naoupu and Poolman — they are three big players — and we cannot afford to lose quality players like that. So, we are hoping if we have our strongest squad next week, we can finish the campaign on a high.”
Although Connacht battled, they could not stop the Quins’ who racked up a similar 41-13 lesson against Biarritz in their opening pool fixture. However Connacht did not help themselves with three sin-binnings in a second half when the hosts ran in five tries.
“We had enough opportunities in that first half. We had four of five line breaks and didn’t score, so to start the game so brightly but to get no reward for it and go in at half time 16-3 down, that is disappointing.
“It does not help when you get three yellow cards. From my point of view they were harsh and, if you want to have consistency, they had two cynical infringements, but nothing there. It’s hard enough playing with 15, never mind playing with 14, 13 and 12.
“Away from home a quality team is always going to test you. There’s young lads out there who can hardly walk, who have given their everything. They have run the blood to water and you know if they fall off a tackle there is not one more disappointed person than the player. I cannot be critical, the lads work extremely hard for me and always have done.
“’Quins are a good side — one of my three teams to win the cup. We got punished today for our errors, our mistakes, and that’s what good teams will do.”
Connacht were under pressure up front, but after 35 minutes, the score remained 6-3. Former All Black Nick Evans posted two penalties, between Matthew Jarvis’s opener for Connacht. Quins were let off the hook when a break from Tiernan O’Halloran resulted in the concession of another penalty. Quins, however, seized their opportunity, kicking a penalty to touch and, from the resulting reset of a five-metre scrum, Scottish referee Neil Patterson awarded a penalty try. Evans stretched the lead with the conversion and a penalty two minutes later.
Within a minute Quins’ full-back Mike Brown’s weaving run set up right wing Tom Williams for a soft try and, down to 13 men after first Johnny O’Connor and Fetu’u Vainikolo were binned, Williams added his second. During Connacht’s third yellow after fisticuffs between replacement Ethienne Reynecke and Joe Marler, O’Connor did well to dive over from a lineout for his side’s only try before Ugo Moyne celebrated his 200th club appearance with Quins’ fourth try two minutes later. Two late tries from George Lowe and Ben Botica embellished the hosts’ triumph.
HARLEQUINS: M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper, T Casson, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa’asavalu, C Robshaw, N Easter.
Replacements: G Lowe for Hopper (54), T Guest for Easter (54), R Buchanan for Gray (58), K Dickson for Care (66), M Lambert for Marler (67), W Collier for Johnson (66), B Botica for Casson (69).
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; M Jarvis, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White, M Swift, M McCarthy, A Browne, J O’Connor, E McKeon.
Replacements: M Kearney for McKeon (14) B Wilkinson for Buckley (43), M Nikora for Jarvis (49), R Loughney for White (49), E Reynecke for Harris-Wright (54), E Grace for Swift (54), J Loxton for O’Halloran (66), P O’Donohoe for Marmion (66).
Referee: N Patterson (RFU)