Eric Elwood, Connacht’s record points scorer, faces his first Amlin Challenge Cup contest as the province’s new coach, accepting that they know little about their round 1 opponents.
Italian club I Cavalieri Estra will be making their European debut when they welcome Connacht, who will be playing a record 93rd tournament match, to Stadio Lungobisenzio on Saturday.
Connacht’s new head coach Eric Elwood, who scored a472 points in 53 Challenge Cup appearances for the province, admitted that their analysis of the tournament newcomers is limited.
“We sent a guy over to Italy the weekend before last when they were playing Lazio in the Super 10 and video of that one game is what we will be working off in preparation for Saturday,” he said.
“That was the best we could do, so we have to take our chances from that one game and then hope there are not too many changes in their team.
“However, what it has told us is that they have a couple of good, big ball carriers, big centres and a solid goal-kicker.
“We will have to keep our discipline, not give away any silly penalties and easy points and, if we play to our full capabilities, we should be okay.
“But because it is their first game in Europe they will want to put on a good performance in front of their own fans and we expect them, like all Italian teams, to be very competitive
“I am not at all worried that we start away from home but with just the pool winner going through into the quarter-finals, we know we must get off to a winning start.”
Connacht have been the only ever-present team in the history of the tournament, reaching the knock-out stages seven times in 14 attempts, and if they can qualify for the semi-finals for the fourth time they will be the first side to play in 100 matches in the competition.
“It is really exciting to be going into another European campaign but we know we are in a tough group,” added Elwood.
“We have not played Bayonne before either but they were riding high in the Top 14 while I know Harlequins and John (Kingston) very well, so there is a bit of history there.
“We know how tough the French teams are but we have never feared going to France and, after five Magners League matches in a tournament that is very competitive and physically demanding, that is a great way to prepare for Europe.
“We hope to have our captain John Muldoon back for his first game since breaking an arm on the Irish summer tour and we are very happy with how Ian Keatley is coming on – he is a work in progress but he is developing really well and working extremely hard on his game.
“We go into the Amlin Challenge Cup after losing 22-6 away to the Cardiff Blues but were disappointed we did not get anything out of that match.
“We created a few opportunities but did not take them, and away from home, in particular, that is not acceptable.”
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