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The west's awake to new dawn

Eric Elwood said last night that Connacht rugby can now move to a new level after qualifying for the Heineken Cup for the first time following Leinster's remarkable win.

The Connacht coach said their elevation to the top tier of European rugby -- they are the only Magners League side not to have played in it -- would result in many long-term advantages. Leinster's victory means Ireland is entitled to a fourth team in next season's Heineken Cup and Elwood is looking forward to leading them there. And he said the way in which they finally made it to the Heineken Cup did not matter.

"This could have happened over the years through the Magners League or Amlin Challenge Cup or some other format. There is a process in place and that process has taken us to the Heineken Cup for the first time and that makes it a great day for Connacht rugby," said Elwood.

"It will present challenges but these are challenges we have craved for many years. We know it won't be easy but we have assembled a good squad and it is up to us all to step up to the mark. We will need to deal with those challenges on and off the field but these are great problems to have. I'm sure Scarlets were delighted a year ago when they reached the Heineken Cup when Cardiff won the Amlin, and we are the same."

The ex-Irish international is heading into his second year in charge and said he contacted Joe Schmidt to wish him luck. "I'm not just thrilled for Connacht rugby. I'm thrilled for Leinster and for Irish rugby. Their victory, and particularly the manner of it, is great for Irish rugby and having four teams in the Heineken Cup next season can only be good for Connacht rugby," he said.

"This is now our opportunity to develop the Sportsground, to make the Heineken Cup an event for all of Connacht and to move on to the next level and build for the years ahead. This is a huge boost in selling season tickets, attracting sponsorship and for the young people playing the game in our province, this will give them a new goal.

"It is a great day for all the people who have soldiered for Connacht over the years. It's a new beginning and it is a great day for Irish rugby with Leinster becoming the top team in Europe again."

Sunday Indo Sport