Connacht need to string results together


RUGBY ANALYST:DO YOU know that Connacht Youths beat Ulster Youths in Clogher Valley RFC, Fivemiletown, Tyrone, three weeks ago by 11 points to seven? They then went on to beat Munster Youths at home by 29 points to five. The Triple Crown was then secured last weekend by beating Leinster Youths 14 points to eight, writes LIAM TOLAND


It goes a little further, as Nigel Carolan’s Connacht Under-20, one man down, completed a nice double over Munster Under-20 when they defeated them by 19 points to 14. If that wasn’t quite enough Connacht managed for a while fifth place in the Magners League last weekend when they turned a 49-point defeat at the hands of Edinburgh unbelievably into a two-point win over Cardiff.

Cardiff, my perennial team of frustration, have started very poorly with three losses on the trot. But as very unlucky Heineken Cup semi-final losers to the Leicester Tigers last season they are a quality side and Connacht’s achievement in beating them is all the more startling.

With a star-studded side togging out, last weekend’s result will require explanation in Wales. Would the ever expectant Irish public be as patient?

The tie of this weekend is tomorrow’s long drawn out annual visit in Scotland between Edinburgh and Leinster. But the battle of the weekend will be down in the Sportsground tonight. Connacht’s continued goal is to make it into the Heineken Cup.

A recent change to the rules will enhance their chances. If an Irish province wins the cup then a fourth Irish team will automatically qualify. Now wouldn’t that put the cat among the pigeons! Regardless of the great victory over Cardiff last weekend the coaching staff must achieve more.

They have major challenges which in some way can explain the bottom feeding they’ve been doing over the years in the Magners League.

However, Michael Bradley’s men need to string performances together beyond the odd massive victory in order to prove their worth. There is talent in Connacht and around the country, and with three tries from two matches along with second place on the league table last year, Fionn Carr deserves a little focus. To Bradley’s credit Connacht must be doing something right if Carr can come within one place of the top try-scoring table last season. The question still remains, are there more Carrs out there?

Alan Gaffney’s highly successful consultancy position in Leinster could be bent in Connacht and indeed Ulster’s favour. Maybe Irish national coaches Les Kiss, Gert Smal and Mark Tainton have a little spare time on their hands and could follow Gaffney’s lead with a spot of moonlighting.

Connacht for instance don’t appear to have a defensive coach. Kurt McQuilkan’s dedicated defensive role in Leinster has been the rock that won the European Cup last season (remember Harlequins) and ensured victory over the Ospreys this season.

It is an obvious must have and if Connacht can’t afford it maybe the IRFU can ensure it. Off you pop Les . . . to Connacht!

Such a rollercoaster opening with an all Irish wipeout first weekend followed by the old fateful back in harness. This is after only three short weeks and already the Magners League has captured my attention with so much to come. Poor old Osprey James Hook can’t wait to get out of the slump he’s in, already spying a French move.

With Heineken Cup and Autumn Internationals around the corner there’s little time to get in or out of a slump in the Magners League. Eight days from now and the rematch will be upon us.

Judging by Munster’s performance and superb win against the Scarlets last week they are beginning to boil. It was my fixture of the three weeks thus far as both the Scarlets and Munster fought it out, right to the dying seconds. Tomás O’Leary is back and so is the speed of his pass.

A little off target at times but his arrival at the breakdown is swift and created the space and confusion in the Scarlets defence to allow Denis Hurley a chance at the line, which he took brilliantly.

There are big selection questions to be answered by the provincial coaches. There are obvious combinations to be addressed down Munster way. Building their back line around Jean de Villiers will be easy. There are a number of other players burning under the radar. Both Fogartys, Denis and John have been taking their chance very well. Both are shadowed by international hookers but are proving very comfortable in their role. Although capped this summer Ulster’s Darren Cave in many ways has much to prove at Magners League level. He created Clinton Schifcofske’s try last week but it still remains to be seen if he has the game to threaten at international level.

But it is Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip who will have the biggest impact of the four provinces this weekend. For all their excellent work on the deck Leinster need his athleticism and ball carrying in the backrow. As last season tailed off I hoped that Irish rugby could crack on from all it has achieved. I think Heaslip is best placed to lead that charge.

Finally, Gavin Henson continues to drag his feet on a return to rugby. His whereabouts is unknown and Welsh rugby is in real danger of losing him.

The Ospreys have tired of him, so much so that he has been left out of their Heineken Cup squad.

To his loss I’d be very surprised if he was picked up by an English club so maybe France may come calling. What a shame that at 27 he may be confined to the glossy magazines. Will you ever forget that penalty from half way that sunk England?