independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

White: We must end campaign on a high

Harlequins 47 Connacht 8

Stand-in skipper Nathan White believes that the arrival of fellow Kiwi Pat Lam in the summer could be great for Connacht, but he warned that his men need to concentrate on all the rugby that has to be played before then.

And the prop said it is vital that their young players learn from this chastening experience at The Stoop, where they suffered a drubbing at the hands of a rampant Harlequins side.

"A different voice could be positive but we have a lot of rugby before that. We have one more Heineken Cup game and we'd like to finish on a real positive back at the Sportsground," he said.

White felt Connacht had a chance of a shock result – and a repeat of last year's heroics, when they sent Quins crashing out of the competition – when they trailed just 6-3 coming up to half-time, but the hosts blew them away either side of the interval.

"We believed it ourselves – we were there, we were in it and we were fighting hard," said White.

"We have talked long and hard about the minutes before and after half-time and not letting teams in and working really hard to get points ourselves.

"We had a couple of opportunities in the first half that we didn't finish, and it would have been a different ball game going into those final 10 minutes if we had finished those."

White believes they can learn from this sort of experience and that the value of playing in the Heineken Cup is huge to Connacht.

" The Heineken Cup is the pinnacle in Europe, for a team like Connacht to get the chance to play in it, that's where you want to be," he said.

"Young guys coming through will remember this game more than the Pro12 ones. They'll remember coming to Harlequins. Games like that, you get a lot more learning than the Pro12 ones.

"You are playing better teams with a lot more internationals involved, those are the ones you want to be involved in."

complaints

Connacht had no answer to the sheer power of the Quins pack and could have few complaints about the six-one try count which sees Conor O'Shea's men sail into the quarter-finals for the first time since their Bloodgate debacle four years ago against Leinster.

One of the key figures in that scandal, winger Tom Williams, crossed for two tries on Saturday as the London club's rehabilitation under O'Shea moves to a new level.

O'Shea's former Lansdowne and Ireland team-mate Eric Elwood will step down from the Connacht hot seat at the end of the campaign, when Lam takes charge, and he wants his men to finish their second Heineken Cup pool campaign with a victory at home to Zebre next weekend.

"We said we have an opportunity to finish off our second Heineken campaign on a high," he said.

"If we can get the win next week it is three wins from six, and that's a big improvement from last year when we got the one victory. Everything is to play for as far as we are concerned.

"We are obviously disappointed and hurting now but if we can bounce back on Monday with a big squad to chose from if our injuries are okay then we'll look forward to next week," said Elwood.

The game turned either side of half-time. A penalty try and the boot of Nick Evans pushed it out to 16-3 at the break and 90 seconds after the restart Mike Brown slit the visitors' defence for Williams to race through for the first of his two tries.

The game took on a farcical turn in the second half as referee Neil Paterson, who called a penalty count of 9-1 to Quins in the opening half, took centre stage with a flurry of yellow cards.

Elwood said he addressed the matter with the Scottish official at the interval.

"I spoke to the referee at half-time and I was very disappointed. It was 12-2 at half-time, allowing for frees as well. There was two teams playing so I thought it was important to have a bit of consistency in the decisions."

At one stage in the second half Connacht were briefly down to 12 men, with Johnny O'Connor, Fetu'u Vainikolo and Ethienne Reynecke all in the bin, along with Quins prop Joe Marler, who was finally issued with a card.

Inevitably, Quins punished Connacht but Elwood's men never give up, and O'Connor redeemed himself on his return when he peeled away from a maul to score in the right corner.

Ugo Moyne crowned his 200th Quins game with a 65th try after he sliced through the Connacht line near halfway to make it 33-8, and it would not have been too bad if it finished at that.

But Quins turned the screw in the closing minutes with tries from George Lowe and Ben Botica, leaving Elwood's men to pick up the pieces against Zebre in a dead rubber next Friday in the Sportsground.

Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper (G Lowe 55), T Casson (B Botica 69), U Monye; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson 67); J Marler (M Lambert 69), J Gray (R Buchanan 58), J Johnston (W Collier 69); O Kohn (C Matthews 77), G Robson; M Fa'asavalu (J Marler 69-70), C Robshaw, N Easter (T Guest 55).

Connacht – R Henshaw; T O'Halloran (J Loxton 67), E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; M Jarvis (M Nikora 49), K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 67); D Buckley (B Wilkinson 44), J Harris-Wright (E Reynecke 55), N White (R Loughney 50); M Swift (E Grace 55), M McCarthy; A Browne, J O'Connor (Harris-Wright 69-70), E McKeon (M Kearney 15).

Ref – N Paterson (SRFU).

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