Elwood laments loss of 'huge opportunity'
Connacht 10, Gloucester 14
Published 12/12/2011 | 09:19
Eric Elwood said afterwards that this was a glorious opportunity missed, and few who were in the Sportsground on Saturday would disagree with him.
It is becoming a familiar line after Connacht matches this season, and it remains apt. They just can't seem to get the other side of a tight finish.
Connacht have now lost nine in a row and face the daunting task of going to Kingsholm on Saturday to prevent a record 10th successive loss and achieve there what they failed to do on their own patch.
The crowd of just over 5,000 -- it was full with over 9,000 for the Toulouse match -- sent out its own message as well as the wheels continue to come off what should be a historic season for the province.
"It is difficult because that was a game (when) we felt we had a huge opportunity to get our first win in the Heineken Cup, so now we cannot feel sorry for ourselves," said Elwood.
"We know we are capable of mixing with this opposition. We are frustrated with our performance. That was a huge opportunity missed. I thought when we got within one point we would have pushed on, because we had a bit of momentum, and that is what is disappointing.
"Both teams were in a difficult place. I don't think Gloucester were at their best, but they did enough to win the game, and I wouldn't mind just doing enough to win a game.
"We were both desperate for the win, but I certainly believe that ourselves, as the home team, should have taken the initiative to push on and really go for the jugular, particularly when there was only one point in it."
Connacht's inability to take chances was evident again in the opening quarter. Freddie Burns gave Gloucester a platform with a penalty from 45 metres but Niall O'Connor then missed the chance to cancel that when his elevated kick into the wind drifted wide from 22 metres on the right. Burns opted to use the wind and go for the posts any time Gloucester got a penalty, and while he was inches short with a massive kick from 55 metres, he landed a second from closer range.
The superb Scottish lock Jim Hamilton and Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu gave Gloucester an edge. Inevitably, the pressure exerted by the visitors led to a try, with a superb offload by Fuimaono-Sapolu being the decisive part of the move which put James Simpson-Daniel over in the left corner after 31 minutes.
And while Connacht had justifiable grievances about some of the calls from Scottish referee Neil Paterson, they finally got a break themselves straight from the restart. Flanker Ray Ofisa, who later went off with a serious knee injury, did enough to dispossess Gloucester skipper Luke Narraway and the ball broke kindly for Connacht captain Gavin Duffy, who raced through and side-stepped Olly Morgan before touching down under the posts.
O'Connor added the points to make it 11-7 at the break, and three minutes after the restart he reduced the deficit to the minimum after immediate pressure yielded a penalty in front of the posts.
But Connacht just could not push on from there and get in front even though they had the possession. In fairness, Gloucester responded well and got on top and they extended their lead nine minutes from time when Burns landed his third penalty of the afternoon.
That left Connacht needing a try to win the game but while they forced a penalty to get out of their own half in the final stages, out-half O'Connor opted for a Garryowen rather than try to work the phases and the chance was lost.
That final play summed up a lot about Connacht on Saturday.
Connacht -- G Duffy; M McCrea, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O'Halloran (F Vainikolo 59); N O'Connor, F Murphy (P O'Donoghue 59); B Wilkinson, E Reynecke (A Flavin 65), R Loughney (R Ah You 40); M McCarthy (M Kearney 73), D Gannon; J Muldoon, R Ofisa (E McKeon 37), G Naoupu.
Gloucester -- O Morgan; C Sharples, H Trinder (J May 65), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns, R Lawson; N Wood (R Harden 60), S Lawson (W Cortese 72), D Chistolini; P Buxton (W James 72), J Hamilton; B Deacon, A Hazell (A Qera 55), L Narraway.
Ref -- N Paterson (Scotland)