Heroic Connacht men pull off their greatest ever win

Date Published: {J}

Connacht 9

Harlequins 8

Rob Murphy at the Sportsground

THE moment came in the 14th minute. Connacht led by four, Harlequins countered a kick and Kyle Tonetti made the hit on Mike Brown. The recycle was loose, Tom Vallejos picked up but was grabbed by Tonetti who had a steam train on his tail. Mike McCarthy first, then John Muldoon, Adrian Flavin and George Naoupu all piled on through.

Turnover. Penalty. Ouch. The roar that followed embellished the moment. Self belief had descended on the Sportsground for this Friday night Heineken Cup tussle in the rain, and you could almost see, in the mind’s eye, the sight of Quins Coach John Kingston and Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea glancing at each other with a look of concern. They know what it’s like when a Connacht team is in that mood.

The search for a permanent, sustainable and lasting identity for Connacht rugby took a major step forward here. Victories like this one-point war of attrition are of the kind that can lay down markers and uncover new paths for teams looking for some sort of long-term direction.

Three Niall O’Connor penalties in the opening 15 minutes were enough for victory on a night of pure drama and enthralling entertainment. With so much at stake and all of European rugby watching, Connacht denied the English Premiership leaders a place in the quarter finals and saved Toulouse blushes in the process. They also helped Ulster for good measure.

All that is irrelevant to Eric Elwood and company, but the manner in which Connacht impacted on this tournament this season should not be lost on people. One win from five doesn’t begin to tell the tale of a first season that has seen the Westerners defy odds and some fairly sound logic to compete in a fashion that would suggest a lot more is possible in the future.

Almost without meaning too, Connacht produced a game-plan over the 80 minutes that seemed to play to the lazy stereotypes often spouted about rugby in the west. Tackle all day, honest as that day is long, full of energy and using the windy and wet Sportsground as a weapon.

They did all that and got their win, simple stuff really. Hassle, harry and frustrate was the plan and it was executed superbly well. Harlequins were aware what was coming and couldn’t resist getting down and dirty. Connacht’s back five in the scrum were ready.

 

Perhaps, that’s been the missing link during this long run of defeats, Connacht have being attempting to play an expansive game from the get go, one which may not suit a team that has no established foothold over any of their regular opponents.

While those who follow the game out west might get a little sensitive to the apparently condescending suggestion that the rovince’s best asset is their ability to frustrate, perhaps it’s time to embrace such a philosophy in the interest of first establishing a winning tradition.

Could this be the key to a brighter future? The game boiled down to a battle of the back five in each scrum and give anyone from Connacht a scenario like that and they’ll back their side on a regular basis, especially when your talking about Swift, McCarthy, Ofisa, Naoupu and Muldoon. Only the best sides in Europe will get through that scenario unscathed.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.