'There is no better feeling than beating a top French team away'
Connacht’s Dan Parks is relishing tonight’s game against Biarritz, writes KEITH DUGGAN
When Connacht met up in the Sportsground for training earlier this week, they spoke about what awaits in Biarritz tonight. Their marvellous home win against the French side guarantees them a scalding reception in the return leg. A seething management, an indignant crowd and a French team with a lot to prove: it won’t be dull.
“Oh, it’s going to be exciting,” Dan Parks said brightly. Connacht had just finished an afternoon training session and outside it was Baltic, but Parks sat in the clubhouse wearing parka shorts and flip-flops and the air of a man who has settled in well to life in Galway.
“These are the games you want to play in. It is going to be hostile and you have to be prepared and it is just . . . different.”
Confirmation that Mike McCarthy will indeed sign and play for Leinster next season has been the one disappointment of a wonderful week for Connacht rugby.
McCarthy’s lion-hearted performances for the western province elevated him to the international ranks, where he duly shone in the autumn Tests: it was inevitable that the reigning European champions would come calling sooner or later.
Losing heavyweight players to Leinster and Munster is nothing new for Connacht even if it is an ongoing source of frustration to the squad and supporters.
But a laughably cruel injury list has forced Connacht to adapt a go-with-what-we-have attitude this season anyway and along with McCarthy, the leadership shown by Parks has been vital to their season.
Parks made his debut in the stunning 34-6 crushing of Leinster, a match which advertised the ongoing struggle for parity of esteem which Connacht faces. “Well, I try not to get caught up in that,” said Parks diplomatically. “It is there and you can see it and you realise it when the derby games are going on. I had missed 11 weeks with injury – the longest of my career – so I was really hungry by the time that game came around. We hadn’t shown anything like that form against Leinster so it was brilliant.
“And then we came rocketing back down to earth against a very good Ulster team. But whether we have won or lost this season, the guys have responded – they want to learn and get better. Everyone saw what it meant to us on Friday after the Biarritz game. Everyone has been buzzing and happy around the ground this week.
“And in the city, anyone you run into on the street is very positive about rugby. The expectations are realistic here . . . people know that the players are doing their best on the pitch.”