CONNACHT coach Eric Elwood has lashed out at critics who claim that his side has no right to be in the Heineken Cup.
Connacht suffered their heaviest defeat since Elwood took charge two and a half years ago when they went down 47-8 to Harlequins on Saturday, prompting renewed comments – particularly in the English media – that they had not earned the right to be there.
“I do take exception when people say we haven’t earned the right or that we don't deserve to be in it. We were very competitive last year in a tough pool with Quins, Toulouse and Gloucester,” said Elwood.
"We could and should have won more than one game – we had Gloucester for the taking at home and away and we beat Quins in the Sportsground," added Elwood.
"We talk about learning from the experiences. This season we have won two, we had a great game against Harlequins at home, the weather in Biarritz we couldn't control.
"Now we have an opportunity against Zebre to win another game in Europe, and to win three out of six in the pool.
"I think that's a good return for this team considering the opposition we have.
"People have their own opinions but there are other teams that have just walked into the Heineken Cup.
"At least we have earned it, albeit through a back door, but when we have been in there we have been very competitive, we have gained a lot of respect in how we play the game and we have been very unlucky with certain games."
Connacht will again depend on one of the Irish provinces winning either the Heineken Cup or Amlin Challenge Cup in May if they are to play in the flagship competition next season. The other route is finishing as one of the top three Irish sides in the Pro12, but they are 17 points adrift of Munster with nine games left.
For now Elwood, who will be replaced by Pat Lam at the end of the season, wants them to finish their pool campaign on a high against Zebre on Friday night at the Sportsground.
"We have an opportunity here, playing against a side we have beaten already, to hopefully finish the campaign on a high, and three from six would be a good return."