The 2011/12 season will go down as an historic one in the annals of Connacht rugby, and the province’s captain Gavin Duffy wants to keep that momentum going as they face into a new campaign.
A first season of Heineken Cup rugby combined with a best ever finish of eighth in the RaboDirect PRO12 has whetted Connacht appetites for more.
With Eric Elwood adding some impressive signings to the squad and new Chief Executive Tom Sears confident of a bright future for the province, there is a genuine feel-good factor surrounding the Sportsground as another new season dawns.
Gavin Duffy and his team-mates begin their league campaign at home to the Cardiff Blues on Saturday, and the reappointed captain wants his side to show what they have learnt from being in Europe’s premier competition.
“I think the fact that we’re into the Heineken Cup for a second year in-a-row is a massive boost to the players,” admitted Duffy.
“It’s fantastic for the area and it keeps the players motivated and desperate to do well. It is a long term project but we’re also looking for results in the short term.
“It means so much to Connacht. It hasn’t always been the case but there’s a really buzz around the place this year and last because of the Heineken Cup.”
The 30-year-old full-back added: “The key for us is attention to detail this season. Looking back to last season and our first match in the Heineken Cup at home against Toulouse, the intensity they had and the intensity they played with was a real eye opener.
“We made some poor mistakes that again come down to attention to detail and so that’s what we’re looking to improve on.”
New Connacht out-half Dan Parks will miss the curtain raiser against his former club Cardiff due to a calf injury, but the home fans will be keen to see how the half-back combination of Miah Nikora and debutant Kieran Marmion gets on.
There are a number of new combinations that Elwood will field against the Welsh region – a spate of early season injuries have forced his hand in some areas.
In a considerable boost, he has been able to call upon three of the four Connacht players who toured New Zealand with Ireland in June – Duffy, Mike McCarthy and Ronan Loughney. Prop Brett Wilkinson is the only absentee.
Looking forward to getting things underway in Galway this weekend, Elwood said: “Four points is all that matters come Saturday evening, we’re not looking further than that right now.
“Cardiff have lost a lot of experience and didn’t have a great pre-season, but they like to play a fast, open and high tempo game and it’ll be our job to stop them from playing.
“Also they have a decent record against us, but, we’re at home and looking to kickstart our RaboDirect PRO12 campaign on a high.”
The former Ireland out-half continued: “I was very pleased with our pre-season, it gave a lot of our younger players experience and game-time and I would take losing all the games in return for four points on Saturday.”
Connacht come into their seasonal opener on the back of a 45-11 friendly defeat away to Harlequins, however they were without 12 of their squad members for that game and ‘Quins were at close to full strength. The previous week Elwood’s charges enjoyed an 8-6 win at Exeter.