Connacht open their Celtic League account with a trip to Scotland to play the new district side Borders who have former All Blacks forwards coach Brad Gilbert in charge
Tony Gilbert, coach of Celtic League newcomers Borders, is banking on the spirit of his untried squad making an impact in the three-nation tournament when it kicks off on Friday.
Borders will start their Celtic campaign at home to Steph Nel’s Connacht and New Zealander Gilbert – a former All Blacks forwards coach – is not setting Scotland’s third professional team any hard and fast targets.
“We are extremely excited to be part of the Celtic League as it seems to be a tournament where most sides want to play adventurous rugby – which is very much the style the Borders will be out to achieve,”said Gilbert, who also made his mark Down Under with Otago.
“As we are a new team, at this stage my main aims are for us to be competitive while enjoying the experience. Every day is a learning day for us, any improvements are going to take time and we have to be patient and build on things as we go along.”
“However, every Irish side I have had anything to do with has wanted to go out and get on with the game – and, as we know extremely little about Connacht, that is exactly what we will be expecting from them at Selkirk on Friday night.”
Irish champions Leinster and Welsh Cup holders Pontypridd are also in Pool B along with Borders and Gilbert is looking to established stars like Gary Armstrong and George Graham to bring on the promising youngsters.
“Leinster are a real class side and when we play them at the end of September, that will be our first match at our new ground in Gala, and all the signs are the new pitch there is going to be superb, the grass is really taking. After Connacht, our second home Celtic League game, against Cardiff, will be played at Hawick but from then on Gala will be our home.
“We have got boys straight out of school, and then others like Gary and George, who have been top class players for a considerable length of time. They will provide the glue to the squad and will bring on the youngsters. Naturally we want to win every match but our ability to perform consistently will be the key to just how well we do – and of course we will be looking for that little bit of luck along the way.
“Ulster were too good for us but then against Newcastle we played a lot better and wit more character so we hope to keep on getting better match by match. You can train until you are blue in the face but there is nothing to replace playing matches.”
“The Borders is a great rugby area and if we work hard we will get the respect and support. If we don’t work hard, we wont deserve that respect and we wont get it.”