Elwood's men facing tough assignment to see off Saxons raiding party
IT doesn't get any easier for Eric Elwood. The Connacht head coach's role is easily the toughest in the Irish professional game and Elwood's additional duties overseeing the Ireland Wolfhounds are proving equally challenging following last week's 32-13 reverse to Scotland 'A' in Netherdale.
Having established a 13-9 half-time lead, the failure to score in the second half was unsettling and there is a need to produce a performance against the England Saxons at Ravenhill tonight (7.30) that will validate Ireland's second-string and provide the senior side with a boost ahead of their Six Nations opener in Rome tomorrow.
The problem is, on paper at least, the Saxons are a stronger outfit than Scotland and go into the game high on confidence after their comprehensive win over Italy 'A' last week. They have some notable performers in their pack in the shape of Lions hooker Lee Mears, No 8 Luke Narraway and Irish-born tight-head prop Paul Doran-Jones.
But it is in the backline where the real danger lies. Nick Abendanon, James Simpson-Daniel and Ugo Monye form a potent back three and they have the youthful power of Manu Tuilagi (19) in the centre.
With out-half Steven Myler a proven points accumulator, this is a Saxon side with the potential to run riot on the scoreboard and the Irish tackles have to be on the money.
Saxons coach Stuart Lancaster is making the right noises about the Belfast game but clearly believes his side have the ability to record another victory.
"We're away from home and Ireland will be on the rebound from their defeat against Scotland, so it's about stepping up our intensity and focus," Lancaster said.
Wolfhounds full-back Dave Kearney is more regularly used on the wing for Leinster and will come in for high-ball attention from Myler, while out-half Ian Humphreys is also likely to be targeted by the heavy English ball-carriers.
The presence of the likes of scrum-half Isaac Boss, hooker Damien Varley, second-row Mick O'Driscoll and flanker Willie Faloon ensures a competitive Wolfhounds performance but it may not be enough to earn the victory Elwood craves.
Verdict: England Saxons
IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS -- D Kearney (Leinster); J Murphy (Munster), E O'Malley (Leinster), N Spence (Ulster), D Hurley (Munster); I Humphreys (Ulster), I Boss (Leinster); B Wilkinson (Connacht), D Varley (Munster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster); D Ryan (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster); M McCarthy (Connacht), W Faloon (Ulster), C Henry (Ulster, capt). Reps: N Brady (Ulster), J Hagan (Connacht), I Nagle (Munster), D Ryan (Leinster), P Marshall (Ulster), I Keatley (Connacht), F Carr (Connacht)
ENGLAND SAXONS -- N Abendanon (Bath); J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tuilagi (Leicester), W Twelvetrees (Leicester), U Monye (Harlequins); S Myler (Northampton), J Simpson (Wasps); A Corbisiero (London Irish), L Mears (Bath), P Doran-Jones (Gloucester); G Kitchener (Worcester), C Day (Northampton); J Gaskell (Sale), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), L Narraway (Gloucester). Reps: J Buckland (London Irish), J Marler (Harlequins), G Robson (Harlequins), A Saull (Saracens), P Hodgson (London Irish), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins).