You can't fire a cannon from a currach
RUGBY ANALYST:Connacht continue to defy the odds, but can't continue to overcome lack of IRFU investment
IN THE end Peter Fitzgibbon blew his whistle for the last time and a pulsating match drew to a close. With that came hundreds of Connacht supporters celebrating not just a win over the European Champions, but a win with style. The very generous supporters were in the hunt for more and after some time spent signing autographs Brian O'Driscoll was heard to say "Sorry, lads, I need to go in to get given out to".
Leinster have been stunted by the events of the last weeks. Their hard-fought winning culture has got them through tough, tight battles this season. Last Wednesday night they came up very short against a phenomenal performance. How will this affect their progress in France?
Leinster are in a unique position with consecutive Heineken Cups and a potential double up with the Magners League up for grabs. They had hoped to secure a home Magners semi-final place last Wednesday. Tonight's Glasgow game is being conceded in advance so it boils down to Toulouse and Edinburgh. The word around the campfire is to play Toulouse in Toulouse equals to lose. I think differently. Toulouse have a very good set-piece, not brilliant and a great blend between backs and forwards. They are very comfortable with ball in hand and adding value. Their greatest strength, however, is pace. They can play the simple game at extraordinary pace. This is where Leinster, like precious few other teams, can match them. Leinster have both the pace and the fitness to live with Toulouse. Leinster's attitude will not be an issue in Toulouse.
Last Wednesday, however, they lacked pace and, worryingly, they also lacked penetration. Time and again Stanley Wright, Nathan Hines, Stephen Keogh and others carried, but with Connacht's aggressive double team defence, they could manage precious few offloads. Conversely, Connacht offloaded at will.
So what of Connacht? In two weeks' time Connacht travel to Ravenhill for the battle of their lives. By then they and Ulster could be level on points or Connacht could even be a point ahead. Ulster will have been exposed to an excellent Edinburgh side in Scotland who are in the hunt not just for a play-off place but a home semi-final.
Meantime, Connacht will have been entertained by an out-of-contention Scarlets. Like Leinster, Connacht will be sending a watered down version to Wales but their numbers dictate just eight changes. It is very probable that Ulster will get nothing from their weekend, Connacht a point from theirs.
Considering Connacht are battling on both fronts - and in each and every case against superior cash opposition - when the circus pulls into Ravenhill who will the IRFU be plumping for? No matter how you dress it up you simply can't fire a cannon from a currach.
This year has brought with it much indecision down West; a new coach, but one-year contracts. Irish-born stars such as Fionn Carr, Gavin Duffy, Frank Murphy, Ian Keatley, Seán Cronin and Jamie Hagan are bubbling for support. One-year contracts attract the predators that bring a serious threat. Any of the big boys, not just in Ireland, can bring cheque books that will test the loyalties of players.
Carr, for one, is from Dublin but his time in Connacht has done wonders for his game. For all his tries this and last season if he was in Leinster his weekend matches would be in a Blackrock jersey. His exposure in Connacht has brought on his game no end, especially in and around contact. The result of two seasons in Connacht has produced a cross between Simon Geoghegan and Shane Williams.
In a sense Connacht may now become a victim of their success. Bottom feeding has afforded them a safe passage. Magners League teams have been quick to accept the challenge in Galway, while believing, with the right attitude, Connacht can be beaten. Opposition sides ignored their individual players. After Wednesday the above players are ripe for the picking.
It may appear convenient to bring up Connacht after such a classic win on Wednesday but I've always maintained the loan system would do wonders not just for Connacht but for Irish rugby. World cups come and go every four years. How can Connacht contribute? World Cup 2015 is five years away. How many Fionn Carrs can Connacht rotate through their gates back to Munster and Leinster in that time?
Last weekend I watched Lansdowne defeat DLSP in the RDS. On the pitch fighting for the Division Two final were many who could develop out west. Aside from Devon Toner who continues to make ground in Leinster, openside Dominic Ryan and winger Matt Healy shone brightly. Healy is the top try scorer. When Carr is ready a straight swap of provinces with Healy would make sense.
Last Wednesday's game no doubt was analysed and with it countless statistics were thrown up. I wonder how many of you watching noticed the ping pong kicking game; precious few, no doubt, because this game had that long forgotten activity, the counter-attack. Gavin Duffy was the main instigator and Michael Swift's try started from such a foray. Connacht's victory over Leinster has ensured a fantastic Magners League finish. With the exception of lonely Scarlets all remaining nine teams have something to play for. The permutations are almost endless.
PS. After Bob Casey's hard luck story highlighting the trials and tribulations of large rugby players on flights, this week's volcano activity made me recall with pleasure travelling to Paris to play the French Defence Forces. We got an Army bus at the Curragh Camp to Rosslare, followed by a boat to Cherbourg. On arrival we were met by a modest French Military bus to Paris and finally trucks out to Fontainebleau. After being summarily hammered by the French we returned by boat. By the time we returned to the Curragh we looked like Easy Company, not after they parachuted into Normandy, nor after landing in Eindhoven, nor even after battling at Bastogne but when they had finally captured The Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden.