Much more intelligent effort needed for Connacht to complete famous double
Munster’s five tries against Perpignan mask other issues
Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw in action against Toulouse in their Heineken Cup match at Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse. Connacht backs have benefited from the solid platform provided by the pack. Photograph: Inpho
Schadenfreude has never entered my sporting mind especially when watching the vanquished. That is until Northampton Saints injured fullback Ben Foden’s half-time answer to the simple question: “Can you do it, seriously?” “Am . . . I don’t know, it would be a big ask, this Leinster team don’t look like they’re gonna take off the pressure, but am, the boys gotta dig deep and gotta rescue something . . . ’
Final score – 7-40.
Well we are half way between the reverse fixtures and I can’t imagine schadenfreude taking hold of the Irish provinces as the challenges remain huge. That said, for Connacht’s massive task, and to a lesser degree Munster’s, there’s no way an Irish sportsman would enter any second half with Foden’s meek fatalist utterances.
Looking back at the marvel of Connacht’s achievement can bring a sense of patronising punditry. Hence it would be remise not to highlight Connacht’s challenge and Munster’s victory. After all this is a professional environment and having jumped clean out of my chair last Sunday evening with unbridled joy I immediately turned to tomorrow’s rematch.
Connacht will be facing a stiffer Toulouse team selection. Statistically, in nearly every facet of play Toulouse outshone Connacht.
The secret to Connacht’s win is twofold. Firstly, the Kieran Marmion’s 47th-minute try was top-class first-phase attacking play from a half-way line scrum. I’m especially happy for Connacht props Brett Wilkinson and Nathan White for this try as no doubt Marmion, Eoin Griffin, Robbie Henshaw and Fionn Carr got the obvious plaudits but the scrum has been a huge foundation all season.
To balance that, it took Toulouse seven seconds to make contact with a Connacht ball carrier and lost 15 metres in doing so. The world-class Thierry Dusautoir conceded nine of those metres affording Marmion a clean run around the scrum and offload; this is unlikely to reoccur but Marmion brilliantly maximised the opportunity.
Secondly, when Toulouse finally awoke to the danger they progressed like Munster did, direct and around the fringe. That Dusautoir scored was inevitable but that there were 15 minutes remaining implied Connacht’s day was done. Their victory was so impressive as they had so much rugby time remaining (Ireland had 90 seconds against the All Blacks). In that time they conceded huge swathes of possession but gobbled up the tackles, holding concentration.
Tomorrow, bravery in defence is not an issue for Connacht especially when giant Toulouse heavies carry. Connacht’s Achilles’ heel in defence has been a combination of line speed (which was immense last week) and defensive decision-making by Connacht individuals facing juxtapositioned ball carriers, decoy runners in space, narrow or wide.