FRONTING UP; Connacht Will Smash Rivals' Run, Says Duffy

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Byline: by ADAM REDMOND

GAVIN Duffy believes that the ability of new Connacht supremo Eric Elwood to stretch the budget to its limits has been the key to the province's flying start to the Magners League.

This weekend's derby clash with Ulster will pose their biggest challenge yet as the Sportsground pitches Irish rugby's haves against the have-nots. But Elwood's men, with their limited resources, are fresh from their first away win in two years.

Ulster arrive boasting three wins from three and some big summer signings, but confidence is the one trait the two sides will share.

Had Connacht managed to stop Scarlets' Sean Lamont crossing over in the seventh minute of injury-time two weeks ago, they would be defending their own 100 per cent record. Now as Ulster roll out their costly Springbok signings Pedrie Wannenburg and Johann Muller -- Lions scourge Ruan Pienaar will not play until next week -- Duffy explained that the hosts' key summer acquisitions will be sitting in the coach's box.

The new faces in the back room include former scrum half Conor McPhillips as video analyst, Brian Melrose as backs coach and Mike Forshaw as the province's first-ever defence coach. All will play a role in allowing Elwood to focus on the bigger picture.

'Certainly we've got a good backroom staff now and that helps take the pressure off Eric,' Duffy told Sportsmail. 'Whereas perhaps in Brads' case [former coach Michael Bradley] he had to be more handson, especially in terms of video analysis -- we never even had one of those at Connacht until this year.

'So Eric has fought tooth and nail to get the extra staff and he's benefiting from where Brads was let down in terms of budget constraints.

'Eric's made good use of the budget he was given and possibly the biggest difference between himself and Brads is that Brads didn't have the chance to bring in the staff, so it's been a nice shake-up this year.'

The 29-year-old Ballina man hailed the fresh voices on the training paddock and particularly the influence of rugby league legend Forshaw.

'Mike, in fairness to him, has brought in a lot of ideas about how we approach our defence and our attitude as well,' added Duffy. 'We've all got a willingness to work hard but he's got us to work a bit smarter as well. He's certainly brought new ideas, it's going well, but it's going to be another step up again against an Ulster side who are certainly very physical and playing good rugby. …