Connacht were today handed a hugely challenging pool in their first foray into the Heineken Cup next season when they were drawn against the French aristocrats Toulouse amongst others. The pool, which also includes Harliquins and Gloucester was made today at Twickenham.
While the meeting against Toulouse will be the glamour tie for Connacht the pairing of Quins and Gloucester in the group gives some hope that Connacht could finish in second or third place and secure European rugby into 2012.
Speaking today Connacht coach Eric Elwood could barely contain his excitement “This is an absolute dream draw for us in our first season in the Heineken Cup – mighty Toulouse will be coming to Galway, you could not have asked for anything better,” said Elwood.
“The Heineken Cup is the best club competition is Europe and we have been drawn with three fantastic teams, although it might have been nice to have a break from playing Harlequins and coming up against my good friends Conor O’Shea and John Kingston yet again.
“We have played Gloucester in a pre-season friendly in the past and while these three teams present great challenges we also see it as a great opportunity now that we are finally in the Heineken Cup.”
Current Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin is also looking forward to the huge challenege facing Connacht “It’s great to be in the Heineken Cup, it’s the highlight of rugby in the Northern Hemisphere, everyone wants to do well in it and we’ll be no different to that.
“It’s great to see Connacht being drawn against Toulouse, we (London Irish) were the only team to beat them in Europe when they won the Cup in ’03 so I know what the atmosphere can be like playing against them. Playing down there is a completely different experience, the fans, the stadium, the noise; it’s a huge experience.”
Mike McCarthy who played in the Heineken Cup duirng his time at the Newcastle Falcons echos Flavin’s views and is alreday counting down the days until the Heineken Cup starts. “It’s great to play in the top competition as obviously that’s where every team wants to be. You know you are playing against the best teams around.
“The difference compared to Amlin or Magners i would say is that it is slightly faster, more physical and every team you play will raise their game because they are playing in arguably the best club competition in the world. Having Connacht in the Heineken cup means a lot to everyone not just in Connacht but the whole of Ireland.”
“McCarthy is also aware that the serious business begins now “I suppose getting in is the easy part and now we must perform to the best we can. Obviously it’s been a long, long wait for Connacht getting into the Heineken cup but we all feel we deserve our chance having finished above Treviso, Aironi and Glasgow in the Magners League whom are all in the Heineken Cup.
“Even though it’s been our best league finish for a number of years there were a good number of games which we really let slip so we know ourselves that we could have and should have had a better finish but we’re looking forward to the start of next season now and the arrival of Heineken Cup rugby to the Sportsground.”