On the brink of making Connacht rugby history is a huge motivational tool for scrumhalf Caolin Blade ahead of Sunday’s final Heineken Champions Cup pool game against Stade Francais.
The 27-year-old scrumhalf, who has endured a “frustrating” season following an Achilles injury and illness, says times have changed since those early days of European rugby, and there are now real expectations of success within the camp.
“It is being driven by everyone in Connacht, from the top of the professional game. It is also being driven by the community and supporters, and it’s testament to the coaches who have come here and laid the foundations.
“The responsibility is on us as players to represent everyone in Connacht. It’s a great feeling to be going into Champions Cup rugby with a really good chance to win.”
Connacht currently sit in sixth place in Pool B, and although they have every chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages without needing a win, Blade says it is all about moving higher up the table and improving on last weekend’s 28-29 loss to Leicester at the Sportsground, having led by 18 points.
“Everyone has to take it on the chin. It’s no one’s fault. It’s easy to blame people, but as a nine I had a good look at the 20 minutes I played. For me it’s to take the learnings as an individual, and as a collective we need to learn from it and move forward and not let it happen again.
“I am not getting into detail of what went wrong, but when you are up with that amount of points, it is easy to take the foot off the gas. We did a little bit and we got punished. It is not always that you get a second chance in the Champions Cup, and we are looking forward to the weekend and putting in another performance.
“This group is on such an upward curve. No projection is always straight, so to have a dip, we will try to get back on the horse. And no better place than Stade for 23 lads raring to go.”
Connacht have always revelled playing French sides, but none were bigger than their 16-14 win over Toulouse in 2013 – their first win on French soil. And the former Athenry Vocational School student says Connacht have always relished the French teams’ style of play.
“Typically French packs are big, and our lads get up for it, also us as backs. They have stand-out players and you have to raise your game for them. Maybe we should take every game like that and we might have better performances.”
To win would be massive, he says.
“I was lucky enough to be involved the year we won the Pro 12 and one of the biggest things I remember was how much it meant to the fans. I am a player and a fan as well, so I think how proud we are here, and even talking about it shows the growth in the least two years, but we must not let that affect our performance.”
Making history, he says, will be on Connacht’s minds – “for use as motivation, but not to let it take over”.