Connacht arrive at the RDS with new spring in their step

I have long since felt that Connacht are a potential threat to Munster – both are the only real professional alternative west(ish) of the Shannon, with have a huge (potential) following

 

On Saturday morning April 12th, 2014, I sat on my couch armed with a bowl of porridge flicking between BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and Super Rugby. Between host James Martin, EastEnders actress Kellie Bright and her food heaven – bright calves’ liver with mash potato, cavolo nero, wild garlic and Maderia reduction – I spotted the Waikato Chiefs at home to the Melbourne Rebels.

Waikato’s captain that day and now the World Rugby Player of the Year 2014, 23-year-old Brodie Retallick, was one of the many stars in their line-up. But in a moment of explosive brilliance I noticed their inside centre pick the ball off his toes in tough conditions and burst into life.

I’d never consciously seen this player but was immediately impressed by his physique, gait, hands and comfort on the gain line in heavy traffic. Allied to this abrasive explosiveness was the innate ability to suck in defenders who honey potted around his ball in both hands out in front carrying style. Others reaped the rewards!

Connacht signing

I have long since felt that Connacht are a potential threat to Munster; both are west of the Shannon(ish), both are the only real professional alternative and both have a huge (potential) following. Impressively, Connacht have by stealth been building a professional backroom team that are equipping themselves for a real attack in the future. Yes there was the stumbling block of former Connacht CEO Tom Sears’ resignation after less than two years and the unfortunate €400,000 budget deficit, but like any smart business they made changes when required.

There’s no doubt with the announcement of Dan Carter’s arrival in Europe that continental rugby is driven by money. In the absence of real money, where will future Irish fruit be sourced? Connacht have much work done, as evidenced by their underage representative sides under the baton of Academy director, Nigel Carolan.

Like Anthony Daly’s appointment as head coach to Limerick’s underage hurling academy, Eric Elwood’s appointment as Connacht Domestic rugby manager is a massive lift to the future of both games.

Keeping quality

Tonight, however, the Connacht threat is in Dublin and, based on extremely strong team selections, I can’t wait to see what unfolds. Both teams are stacked for combat with the weather threatening to hold well.

Absentees

If Connacht’s crossed their Rubicon in beating a weakened Scarlets 14-8 then Leinster’s fixture tonight will be the storming of the Roman citadel. Down 3-8 in the first half to Scarlets – courtesy of two terrible own goals off poor fielding which led to eight points in three minutes – they worked their way back to a crucial victory. With any sort of a platform, Connacht, with the obvious backline quality aided by speedsters Matt Healy and co, can do damage to the 11 point spread. That said, their lineout will have to provide the quality and therein lies an Achilles’ heel allied to their poor kick off receptions.

But like Leinster, Connacht don’t have explosive ball carriers up front so the game in many ways will come down to the breakdown, where Connacht have kept themselves in games while Leinster have struggled in this facet.

Up front, it is a massive opportunity for Leinster’s starting tighthead who was shunned last week in the Aviva. Tadhg Furlong has much to prove at scrum time, but so too has the Leinster scrum. No doubt, he was deeply frustrated last week, so aside from the scrum battle, Furlong will offer quite a punch around the park which will make for interesting viewing.

In the end, like all Leinster Connacht matches, it’ll come down to Connacht’s hunger for the fight and Leinster’s ability to negotiate the challenges. And, no doubt Leinster will be extremely conscious of Kieran Marmion’s electric break. PS: If Saturday Kitchen floats your boat and you’re struggling with left over Christmas Pudding check out Tom Kerridge’s Spiced orange cake with plum sauce and Christmas pudding ice cream. Happy Christmas! liamtoland@yahoo.com

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