Thursday 14 December 2017

Toulouse offer chance to 'make a statement for the future' -- Swift

Hugh Farrelly

CONNACHT are planning to rock Europe by beating Heineken Cup heavyweights Toulouse in Galway tomorrow and say they are no longer prepared to be considered the "afterthoughts" of Irish rugby.

Second-row Michael Swift, who has played more than 200 games for the province and remembers when Connacht were nearly ended as a professional entity eight years ago, is relishing the chance to go up against the four-time European champions and says it is an opportunity to make a powerful statement about rugby in the west.

"For years, Connacht has been an afterthought in Irish rugby," said Swift. "This is our chance to show what we are all about. There is an incredible buzz about the place, there are flags everywhere, people getting geared up for the match, there has been massive media coverage and the ground is being readied for a huge occasion.

"There will be 9,000 there to see us perform and a big television audience -- it is an opportunity to put the Connacht brand out there and make a statement for the future."

For their first Heineken Cup match against Harlequins at The Stoop, bookmakers were predicting a 25-point hammering for Connacht at the hands of the unbeaten English Premiership side. However, Eric Elwood's side rattled their hosts by crossing for two tries and were unlucky not to come away with at least a losing bonus point.

However, while it was generally regarded as an encouraging performance by Connacht, Swift said that was no compensation for losing and that it has steeled determination for tomorrow.

"We were really disappointed after the Harlequins match," said the 34-year-old. "People have been coming up saying 'well done' and 'you have done the province proud' but it doesn't feel that way because we got nothing from the game.

"Saturday is a chance to put that right and we are confident going in. We are at home, we have a good home record in Europe and the attitude among the players and the management is all geared towards beating Toulouse.

"Obviously. we are very aware of their pedigree and of how strong they are but they are coming to our patch and the way we are looking at it is that nothing short of a victory will do."

There was a boost for Connacht yesterday when Toulouse coach Guy Noves said that Springbok props Guthro Steenkamp and Daan Human were unavailable for tomorrow's match.

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