Underfunding ensures Connacht remain the perennial bridesmaids of Irish rugby
The conditions in Biarritz this week were more like the Connemara than the Cote Basque but Connacht once again disappointed on the road.
Mike McCarthy signing with Leinster has reopened the debate of the role Connacht play within Irish rugby. Firstly, Mike and Joe Schmidt have done nothing wrong. Joe’s job is to look after Leinster not Connacht. Joe needs depth and Irish-qualified players. To not sign Mike for Leinster would be Joe neglecting his responsibility.
Mike is a tough, honest player who wants to win trophies and Leinster have the ability to do this. Regrettably Connacht do not. I feel for Connacht but this is the reality of professional sport.
Here is the Catch 22. The IRFU give Connacht a much smaller piece of the financial pie than the other three provinces. They should get a much better deal from the IRFU. The underfunding means it is harder for them to develop, recruit and retain quality players. Thus their performances are inconsistent.
To place pressure on the IRFU to get a better financial deal they need to perform to a much higher standard away from home and win. To do this they need better players. You get the picture.
The official stance is that Connacht is a development team. The reality is no player develops in a losing environment. Players develop in successful teams.
Years ago Brian Ashton took an Irish development team to tour New Zealand. “The land of the long white cloud” is not the place to go to develop. There, you get unmercifully smacked if you are not on top of your game. The tour was a disaster as the team’s culture was attacked in a losing environment.
Putting a team out that is constantly defeated does no one any good. The habit of poor performances away from home must be addressed by the current Connacht playing group. Money has nothing to do with attitude and away wins are all about attitude.
For rugby to develop in the west, Connacht have to become a winning province. The current players must show the same grit and effort on the road that they do at home. Only by winning will political pressure mount on the IRFU to change its funding model. In winning, Connacht will create the culture that will keep the Mike McCarthys of this world in Galway.