No reward for Connacht in high-scoring thriller

Connacht's Caolin Blade tries to fend off Lenister's Noel Reid during Saturday's Guinness Pro12 encounter at the Sportsground. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Connacht 24

Leinster 37

IN twelve short months, Leo Cullen has transformed Leinster and he might just be on the cusp of orchestrating an even bigger upsurge in form for his team than the one Pat Lam masterminded this time last year. Whatever about what lies ahead, based on Saturday’s five try win at a sold-out Sportsground, Leinster supporters have a lot to be excited about right now.

Eleven front line players, including the Connacht produced Robbie Henshaw, were left in Dublin to rest ahead of this weekend’s Champions Cup semi final in France. Despite this, the men in blue continued their incredible Pro12 run of form with a squad of exciting, finely tuned young emerging stars  and playing rugby at a pace and with the kind of accuracy that was sorely lacking last year.

On a wonderful night of high octane rugby, the lead changed hands eight times, there were seven tries, attacks from behind the goal line and countless moments of skill and breathless excitement. This was a fine advert for the Pro12 and it’s hard to focus soley on the negatives from a Connacht perspective despite the fact that this was a fourth home loss of the season.

Last season’s success for Connacht was the culmination of a fascinating project spearheaded by Pat Lam, a man who knows his own potential but also recognises where he needs help. His lieutenants were then crucial in that respect, Andre Bell, Dave Ellis, Jimmy Duffy and Conor McPhilips all had key roles to play

Together, they introduced a novel game-plan while simultaneously getting a level of buy-in from players and supporters like never before and it resulted in a fairytale story that should provide a blueprint for what lies ahead, but all bar one of them have decided to leave or left already.

This was always going to be a hard follow though. As an exercise, sit down and write out a list of reasons why Connacht have failed this year and you’ll need more than a page or two but once done, discard that list and think the bigger picture. It was always going to be this way and we all knew it.

We’ll never know if Lam would have been capable of turning his masterpiece into a collection of triumphs. The next job is to take the profits from this and reinvest. Kevin Keane will start that next season. He’ll have a rich bed of natural resources to tap into but he’ll need to go about it a different way now. The secret door Connacht found to get into the top table has been plastered over.

Take Leinster. Just 12 months ago playing second fiddle to Connacht but now a new force, re-invigorated by the addition of Stuart Lancaster to the backroom team which must have, of course, coincided with a realisation from Cullen that he needed help, ala that he had areas where he was not able to deliver. The gap is all of a sudden wider than ever.

Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune.