Elwood deflated by silly penalties
It was a case of mixed emotions for Eric Elwood on Friday night -- on one hand he was extremely proud of the performance produced by his Connacht side, but he was also bitterly disappointed because he knew this was an opportunity lost.
Few people gave Connacht any hope in their first ever Heineken Cup match as they took on a Harlequins side in their own backyard which had won all ten games this season, eight of them in the Zurich Premiership.
Conor O'Shea's men have been scoring for fun in the best ever start by a team in the Premiership but as this game on Friday night entered its final few moments, Quins were on the back foot trying to hold on to an 19-17 lead.
Connacht had enough possession to snatch a lead but they could not muster that extra score and the sting in the tail came when Quins countered and were gifted a couple of penalties in the final four minutes which not only made the victory secure, but also denied Connacht a losing bonus point on a 25-17 scoreline.
"We knew we had a tough challenge ahead of us with Harlequins unbeaten all year but when you outscore them two tries to one you think you'd have a chance but when you give away silly penalties to someone like Nick Evans you are going to get punished. Ultimately, he got 20 points, which is basically the game," Elwood lamented.
"They were rattled, and at 19-17 the game was in the balance. We had a crucial scrum in their half and we turned over the ball.
"It is difficult because the effort was magnificent and you can't fault the commitment, I am very proud of them. But we just got nothing out of the game, so it is difficult."
But Connacht will now go into their first ever home Heineken Cup match -- their 100th game in Europe -- when they entertain Toulouse at the Sportsground on Saturday with renewed confidence after such a fine display at The Stoop.
"The challenge for us was to see if we could play at that level of performance in the Heineken Cup and I think we showed that.
"There are positives out of it. We are looking at this like it is six Test matches. That is one of them and we have five more to go.
"This was our biggest game of the year because it was our first game in the Heineken. Now we have our next biggest game because it is our first home game in the Heineken.
"That is the challenge. There were positives, we were committed, now we have to see if we can back it up next week. That is the challenge.
"I know the lads are hurting now, but we have got to dust ourselves down, check out the injuries and go back to training on Monday. I think everybody will want to play in that big game.
"It is really, really important, but I just hope we can raise ourselves up to that level of performance that we had against Quins. In fact, I think we may have to go a little bit higher," added Elwood.
Conor O'Shea said he wasn't surprised at the performance produced by Elwood -- his former Lansdowne and Ireland colleague -- and his men, and in the end he was just relieved to get the win.
"Our guys had to dig really deep. We knew there would be a fairly special kind of performance coming from Connacht, I certainly did, and we weren't surprised.
"There was a couple of times that we could arguably have gotten a bit of a buffer between us and the game might have eased into something different.
"We knew what was going to come today and we had a couple of chances to put some distance between us and we didn't take them.
"We had a try disallowed, we had a try not given by the TMO and Connacht came back and instead of a 26-10 game it is a bit tighter than that and fair play to them.
"At 19-17, they put us under a lot of pressure but our guys didn't buckle, and we are happy just to get the win," added O'Shea.
Sunday Indo Sport