Electric Carr driving case for West's survival
At the RDS
Published 29/03/2010 | 05:00
A GUT-WRENCHING defeat for Connacht but a powerful statement in favour of retaining a fourth professional entity in Irish rugby.
The IRFU review into the sustainability of Connacht has been well documented and the province, its players and coaches, are now operating on a year-by-year basis.
Let the arguments end now. Irish rugby needs Connacht and if you want three good reasons why, try Leinster reject Fionn Carr and Munster rejects Frank Murphy and Sean Cronin.
Saturday's hugely enjoyable Magners League clash pitted table-toppers and Heineken Cup champions Leinster against the competition's bottom side -- a side a whopping 22 points behind Leinster going into this clash.
Yet, Connacht played the better and smarter rugby, scored two tries to one (both from Carr) and should have left with four points but for a couple of mis-hit drop goals from replacement Ian Keatley, some dodgy refereeing from France's Jerome Garces and because Leinster, even when playing well below par, are a quality side that know how to close out games.
That it was Jonathan Sexton who hit the injury-time winning drop goal was significant for, though he missed four from seven placed-kicks, his demeanour and striking of the ball was far more assured than in the Six Nations.
Connacht coach Michael Bradley, while ruing the one that got away, struck a positive note afterwards and (on the day of the Green Party's convention in Waterford) used the electric Carr as an example of why Connacht have a crucial role to play in Irish rugby.
"The thing about Leinster is that they don't have patience to let guys develop a little bit," said Bradley, referring to Carr's time with the eastern province.
"They don't have the will to let them try and fail and come back again. Fionn is a fantastic finisher but also the other parts of his game have come on immensely, he's very good now at clearing his lines, he's now reading defensive situations and he gets that because of the fact that he's out playing and he's getting a lot of feedback.
"And there's other guys there, I mean Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Ian Keatley, there's a fortune of them there and they are all benefiting hugely from what Connacht are doing.
"Frank Murphy, Keith Matthews as well, you wonder if they were plugged into a team of stars would they be stars themselves.
"You talk about a role in Irish rugby for Connacht -- that is definitely one, but we've been harping on about that forever."
Leinster head to Thomond Park on Friday with a four-point lead over Munster and a game in hand.
They will welcome back some of their international contingent for that clash and are looking good for a home semi-final but coach Michael Cheika did not try to hide his disappointment at the performance and put particular emphasis on the lack of physicality.
He says it will not be acceptable against Munster or in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Clermont the following week.
"We have to improve our physicality," said Cheika. "They outmuscled us and that is something we've worked on hard over the years to build and I think we're very good at it now but we had an off day.
"We were lucky (to win). Players know we need to improve so much, we can either use it as a positive or we can wallow in it.
"This will fix the minds, it's about how we react to it. In no way am I going to sit here and say 'a win's a win', that was mediocre at best."
Aside from the fact Leinster managed to win without playing well, positives included an excellent performance from Rob Kearney at full-back, powerful scrummaging from Stan Wright and Mike Ross (who had Brett Wilkinson in considerable difficulty), an assured showing by scrum-half Eoin Reddan and Sexton's improved kicking -- which included a 48-metre penalty on 80 minutes which looked like it would be the winner until it cannoned off the cross-bar. A couple of minutes later, he clinched the deal.
Connacht led 14-8 at half-time, courtesy of two scintillating tries from Carr, emphasising both his speed and powers of evasion.
The tidily efficient Miah Nikora converted both with Sexton knocking over a penalty in response and Kearney scorching through for an excellent try, showing the direct running his critics say is not in his armoury.
Connacht failed to score in the second half, although they came agonisingly close through a stunning burst from replacement Cronin (after more excellent work from Carr) which was deemed just short by the TMO. Then there were Keatley's missed drop-goals.
All Leinster's second-half points came from the boot of Sexton and they also benefited from Garces' whistle. The referee penalised the visitors on 15 occasions including an extremely dubious sin-binning for full-back and captain Gavin Duffy.
Connacht need to take this form into next Friday's league clash with Edinburgh in Galway and the following week's Challenge Cup meeting with Bourgoin. They have players to come back from injury -- including regular captain John Muldoon -- and as Bradley pointed out, there is quite literally everything to play for.
"Before, we would have been devastated about this. We know we should have won it, we didn't, move on," he said.
"If we beat Edinburgh and just say on the running order of things if Ulster lose to Cardiff and if we have level scores until the end of the season it all comes down to our match against Ulster for the European slot the following year."
Financial reasons are held as a reason for reviewing Connacht but perhaps IRFU cost-cutting should begin with those expensive junkets handed out to committee members and their wives for Ireland's away trips in the Six Nations.
Connacht gaining Heineken Cup entry for the first time would certainly cause ructions in the corridors of power and secure the future of our fourth province.
How sweet it would be if Cinderella finally got to go to the ball.
LEINSTER -- R Kearney; G Dempsey, F McFadden, S Berne (E O'Malley 69), I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; S Wright, J Fogarty (B Jackman 64), M Ross (CJ van der Linde 48); L Cullen (capt), M O'Kelly (D Toner 64); R Ruddock, S Jennings, S Keogh (P Ryan 27-31).
CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); B Tuohy, A Wynne, K Matthews (T Nathan 41), F Carr; M Nikora (I Keatley 66), F Murphy; B Wilkinson (Morris 80), A Flavin (S Cronin 56), R Morris (J Hagan 56); M McCarthy, B Upton; M McComish (M Swift 56), J O'Connor, G Naoupu. Yellow card: Duffy 68
REF -- J Garces (France).