Soldiers of Connacht's rearguard in losing battle
No more than a month back Connacht backs coach Billy Millard had a glimpse of the future.
“I haven’t said it on record since I’ve been here but the key is recruitment,” said the Australian. “If they (Connacht) want to improve they have to get better players in. End of.”
A few weeks later lock Mike McCarthy’s move north to Leinster was confirmed. Connacht’s blighted history in that regard would have told them not to be surprised with yet another departure but the reaction was splenetic, chief executive Tom Sears angrily coughing out the true feelings of the province.
“Joe (Schmidt, Leinster coach) is perfectly entitled to his views and we wouldn’t expect him to say anything else,” observed Sears on Schmidt’s claims that Leinster had played by the rules.
“It is interesting to note that he sees these actions as good for Irish Rugby. We would take a very different view, that the constant targeting of our senior players, if allowed to continue, will have a detrimental effect on the IRFU’s desire to see four strong provinces.”
No sooner was their vaunted backs coach straight talking about attracting players to strengthen Connacht than Sears was voicing his profound hurt. It wasn’t so much the irony of the talk of building then quickly losing an international player, more the province’s helplessness in being able to stop the asset-stripping process. Sears was like the flapping hen as the fox comes in, a lot of distracting noise and commotion but not enough to prevent a successful raid on the coop.
Almost immediately Connacht announced their prized fullback, 19-year-old Rob Henshaw, had signed up for another two years in the face of, as Sears expressed it, “strong overtures from other provinces while he has been a member or our Academy.”
The purported sniffing of Henshaw would have expedited a contract upgrade. But the reality is Connacht are sitting on a weight of natural resources in backs and half backs, most of whom have come through Mike Ruddock in the Ireland underage set-up before being further moulded by the former Australian 7s coach Millard.
Talented young players
Eric Elwood can choose from a number of talented young players: fullbacks Henshaw and Shane Layden; centres Dave McSharry and Eoin Griffin; wings Conor Finn and Tiernan O’Halloran; scrumhalf Kieran Marmion; and outhalf Jack Carty. They all see themselves as playing for Ireland. Some will, some won’t.