Elwood: Heineken Cup a new beginning

CONNACHT’S player budget will not be increased for next season despite their qualification for the Heineken Cup for the first time by virtue of Leinster’s magnificent title win on Saturday.

But coach Eric Elwood is confident Connacht’s elevation to Europe’s top competition will result in increased finance and a growth in the game in the western province.

He revealed player budgets had been decided by the IRFU and while they are in the market for a major signing at centre, most of their squad is in place for the new season.

Elwood admitted qualification for the Heineken Cup represented a huge step forward for the province and that it would have many long-term advantages.

“This is now our opportunity to develop the Sportsground, to make the Heineken Cup an event for all of Connacht and to move on to the next level and build for the years ahead.

“This is a huge boost in terms of selling season tickets, of attracting sponsorship and for the young people playing the game in our province this will give them a new goal and a new level of rugby.

“It is a great day for all the people who have soldiered for Connacht over the years. It’s a new beginning and it is a great day for Irish rugby with Leinster becoming the top team in Europe again.

He continued: “It will present challenges but these are challenges we have craved for many years.

“We know it won’t be easy but we have assembled a good squad and it is up to us all to step up to the mark.

“We will need to deal with those challenges on and off the field but these are great problems to have. I’m not just thrilled for Connacht rugby, I’m thrilled for Leinster and for Irish rugby. Their victory, and particularly the manner of it, is great for Irish rugby and having four teams in the Heineken Cup next season can only be good for the game.

He has radically reformed his squad for the new campaign and Connacht face a battle to overcome the departure of Sean Cronin, Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan to Leinster, as well as out-half Ian Keatley to Munster. Elwood will be boosted by the return of No.8 George Naoupu, Saracens Springbok hooker Ethienne Reynecke, New Zealander winger Fetu’u Vainikola and the promising Leinster prop Stewart Maguire.

“It’s a time of change and there isn’t a coach in the world who would say he doesn’t want to strengthen his squad but it is up to all of us now in Connacht, on and off the field, to embrace this challenge and move to the next level,” added Elwood.


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