YOU march and you trudge and you stop and you go again. You rest and you despair and you complain and you go again. You dream and you criticise and you forget and you go again. All for days like this. To win just once.
Here we are. All of Europe is talking about a rugby team from the West of Ireland. A rugby team that doesn’t always get it right, doesn’t always deliver the perfect game, but always manages to relocate the compass when they have veered off path and constantly drags us out of our corners and makes us mighty proud to be from Connacht.
Let’s not hold back, let’s ignore bigger pictures and future obstacles and let’s just contemplate what has been achieved this weekend by a small rugby region producing a phenomenally disproportionate number of young players on a budget that is dwarfed by Europe’s elite teams.
Biblical historians will tell you that the David versus Goliath tail is a bit of a misnomer, that in ancient times, a marksman like David would have practiced that sling shot thousands of times. They’ll argue that David’s diminutive stature belied a deadly skill and that Goliath would have won most of his previous battles on reputation alone. Goliath in a sense, was nothing more than an freakish giant, immobile and short on ideas.
Toulouse are a giant in this competition and while they are hardly immobile, they were very much short on ideas here. They had no way of knowing this beforehand, but they didn’t stand a chance on Sunday. It was only in the final 15 minutes that they realised what they were up against. Up until that point, the thought they were staring at a brave underdog that, in their minds, would surely wilt at some late juncture.
The story begins with the 65th minute restart after Toulouse’s second try and conversion. The score was 16-14 to Connacht, how they had got here was now irrelevant, the inclination for most Irish teams in such a scenario is to stop and contemplate, which is usually where the reputable opponents pounce, but Connacht under Pat Lam are all about the processes and they refused to pause in this situation. For the caldron that they were in, it was the perfect response.
They won possession from that restart and Toulouse didn’t get meaningful ball inside the Connacht half for the rest of the game. They spent the next five minutes frantically defending wave upon wave of attacks. They sighed in relief as Parks just missed on a drop goal and dropped a long range penalty short, and they cranked up the engines for one last surge when the ball was turned over late in the contest. Full match report in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
The Connacht Tribune Group and Heineken are delighted to offer a lucky reader the chance to win two tickets to see Connacht take on four-times Heineken European champions Toulouse at the Sportsground on Saturday 14th December.
Tickets for this high-point of the season are selling fast.
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Question: Which team has won the Heineken European Cup most times?
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Bundee Aki to miss European play-off
Connacht centre Bundee Aki received a three match ban for misconduct this week which means he will miss Connacht’s final two league games and the European play-off game most probably against a French side.
Aki faced a Disciplinary Panel via video link after a Misconduct Complaint was made against him by the Disciplinary Officer of PRO12 Rugby.
The complaint referred to Aki’s behaviour to and remarks directed toward, referee Ian Davies, during and immediately after the Round 20 fixture between Connacht and Leinster.
Aki admitted to the charge of misconduct and the Panel gave him a sanction of a three-match suspension.
That means he will also miss Connacht’s final home fixture against Scarlets tomorrow or in the last game of the regular season against Munster in Thomond Park next week.
The player can return to play on Monday, May 22 which means he would be available to play in a final European qualifier should Connacht win the first one.
Disaster for Wegians as home loss sees Blues relegated
GALWEGIANS’ hugely disappointing All-Ireland League campaign came to a rather ignominious end when they were soundly beaten by their visitors Naas, who in the process secured second place with this victory and earn themselves a home semi-final in the promotion play-offs.
The Blues came into this game knowing that nothing less than a win would save them from the drop, and they were also counting on UL Bohs to do them a favour against Dolphin, so the motivational stakes could not have been higher.
Wegians started nervously and looked like a side bereft of confidence, and it was the Kildare men who dominated the opening quarter, threatening the Wegians line on several occasions. However for all their dominance, the Blues defence held sway and kept their line intact.
Wegians got a boost when an intercept by centre Rory Parata on his 10m line saw him race clear into opposition territory, and his clever kick ahead just eluded winger Alan McMahon. However Parata was impeded on his run which gave a chance for a shot on goal, and out-half Morgan Codyre made no mistake from in front of the posts to give the hosts a 3-0 lead.
With the aid of a stiff cross-breeze, the visitors kept up the pressure, and they finally managed to breech the Wegians rearguard just on the half-hour mark. It looked like Wegians would initially deal with an attacking threat, but when the ball went loose, Naas hooker Warren Larkin found himself unmarked with the line at his mercy and he dived over for the game’s opening score.
Cillian Dempsey scuffed the simple conversion to leave it at 5-3, and shortly afterwards a great hit by Parata on his opposite number Fionn Carr led to a penalty opportunity. Codyre again took full advantage to restore his side’s lead by the narrowest of margins at 6-5.
Arguably the turning point of the game came right on the stroke of half-time. With Wegians prop Martin Fox in the sin-bin, the ever-threatening Carr went on a sortee down the right flank. The ex-Connacht man easily brushed off three attempted tackles before feeding his winger Ben O’Connor who sauntered over unopposed for the simplest of scores. This time Dempsey converted to give his side a 12-6 lead at the break.
Wegians came out of the traps immediately on the restart, and when they were restored to 15 men and with the slight wind advantage at their backs, there were flickers of hope that they could regain their lead. They desperately needed the next score to keep themselves in contention, however the visitors dealt comfortably with the attacking threat and they soon took a stranglehold on the game, working their way back upfield.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Cian Kelleher debuts at full back in Connacht’s season-opener
New signing Cian Kelleher will make his competitive debut lining out at fullback for Connacht against Galsgow tomorrow (5.15pm). The 22-year-old is named in a back three with Niyi Adeolokun and Irish international Matt Healy.
Eoin Griffin has been handed the number 13 shirt for his return to the Sportsground after two seasons with London Irish. The 25-year-old from Galway will partner last season’s PRO12 Players’ Player Bundee Aki in midfield.
In the pack, Denis Buckley makes a welcome return to the front row after his lengthy lay off recovering from an ankle injury. Internationals Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane are also named and Nepia Fox-Matamua returns to start in the back row with Eoin McKeon and captain John Muldoon.
From the bench, Lewis Stevenson is in line to make his full Connacht debut and Kieran Marmion comes in as the replacement scrum half.
Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Pat Lam said:
“What an exciting game to kick off a new season at home where we have two teams who really like to express themselves. Games against Glasgow are always tough and uncompromising and with their impressive selection of international players, we expect that to be no different tomorrow.
“It’s a new season and a somewhat new-look side with just eight who started at Murrayfield in May lining out tomorrow. Today is the last time all 12 teams will be level on points. With five points on offer now our focus is on the process which will give us the best chance of winning.
“Starting the championship at home is a huge boost and we’re looking forward to experiencing the magical atmosphere here at the Sportsground once again come 5:15.”
Connacht team to face Glasgow Warriors, Saturday 3rd September, the Sportsground, 5:15pm
15 Cian Kelleher
14 Niyi Adeolokun
13 Eoin Griffin
12 Bundee Aki
11 Matt Healy
10 Jack Carty
9 Caolin Blade
1 Denis Buckley
2 Tom McCartney
3 Finlay Bealham
4 Ultan Dillane
5 Danny Qualter
6 Eoin McKeon
7 Nepia Fox-Matamua
8 John Muldoon (captain)
16 Dave Heffernan
17 Ronan Loughney
18 JP Cooney
19 Lewis Stevenson
20 James Connolly
21 Kieran Marmion
22 Shane O’Leary
23 Peter Robb
For a full preview of the match and Connacht’s season see this week’s 24 page souvenir supplement free with the Tribune