Monday 27 March 2017

Flash Carr evokes sweet memories of Geoghegan

Connacht's exciting winger Fionn Carr is very much a 'blond bombshell' in the mould of former Irish international Simon Geoghegan.
Connacht's exciting winger Fionn Carr is very much a 'blond bombshell' in the mould of former Irish international Simon Geoghegan.
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

"I want to change people's perceptions of the province. I no longer want to lose well and have people patronise me by saying 'you played a good game'. I want to win and make the province proud so that instead of people talking about there being three provinces plus Connacht in Irish rugby, they'll talk of four provinces."

Those were the fighting words of new head coach Eric Elwood before the opening game of the Magners League season. And while the teams are just about leaving the stadium on the marathon trek towards the final next May, the early omens are good for Connacht and, indeed, for Irish rugby.

With just three games played, Munster, Ulster and Connacht fill three of the top four places, with only Sean Lamont's crushing try at the death in Parc y Scarlets preventing a whirlwind Connacht start in the race for Celtic honours.

Few would have predicted the men from the west setting the pace ahead of the thus far disappointing Celtic champions of 2008, Leinster. Where Connacht under Elwood have hit the competitive ground running, Leinster have spluttered in low gear.

The Connacht formula is simple but, under the restructured management, enthusiastically and effectively applied. The pack continues to be the cornerstone, but with Ian Keatley growing in playmaking and point-scoring assurance.

They also have an attacking X-factor in Fionn Carr, who, though a more compact version, compares favourably with the electrifying Simon Geoghegan in his pomp.

phenomenon

Carr, a former Newbridge College player, is not a try-scoring phenomenon by chance. He doesn't go by the book. He is deceptively quick and well balanced, with a low centre of gravity. More than anything, he is an instinctive runner who sniffs space where others wouldn't find it.

Put simply he is a priceless commodity in today's game of robotic, pre-rehearsed attacking.

For Carr, Keatley and the rest, the spotlight on Saturday will be firmly focused on the Sportsground, with unbeaten Ulster the visitors to town.

The very least Elwood and his in-form team demand and deserve is a reasonable level of support. Connacht rugby's credibility is on the line. The team has played its part in laying down the gauntlet to the fickle a la carte fans.

The march on Lansdowne is a thing of the past; for the future sake of the province, may it be a massive match-day surge on the Sportsground from here on in.

As for Leinster? It would be stretching it to suggest a developing crisis at this early stage. Throw in Leo Cullen, Jamie Heaslip, Jonathan Sexton and Brian O'Driscoll and it represents a different team dynamic altogether.

That said, there were some disturbing elements to another insipid performance on the road in Treviso on Saturday.

Yet again, in a time of crisis, leadership was marked by its absence. The decision-making at critical times and the body-language smacked of just that. Even allowing for Isa Nacewa and Fergus McFadden's inaccuracy with the boot, and the fact that Treviso were down to 14 men at the time, I found the call to go up the line when awarded a clearly kickable penalty (at eight points behind) extraordinarily naive. You bank your losing bonus point and move on.

With two defeats now in three, confidence is on the wane. Apart from his goal-kicking glitches, Nacewa was again the one consistent creative light. He began and finished the second-minute try which, good though it was, led Leinster into the type of mindset they could have done without on this particular night.

Whatever else, Aironi and Treviso will be up for every dog-fight in the search for Celtic League respectability. Not unlike Connacht, I might add, and, as with the game out west, it is good for the national side and for Italian rugby.

One other cause for concern -- and it doesn't just apply to Eoin Reddan -- is an increasing tendency for scrum-halves to crab across field. It could be argued (particularly in the case of All Black Piri Weepu) that this is a deliberate ploy, done to put others into holes.

However, nine times out of 10, it is eating up space and forcing the back line across the field, making it so much easier for the tackling side to defend. It is a negative aspect to his game that Reddan needs to address, as it isn't helping Leinster.

Meanwhile, quietly and efficiently but with a marked return to basics, Munster top the Magners League almost unnoticed. They were by far the better side against an Ospreys unit intent on stopping them play.

As a fan of Ospreys rugby, I found Scott Johnson and Sean Holley's negativity at the breakdown hugely disappointing.

Make no mistake, Munster are again on the march through options aplenty up front.

Marcus Horan and John Hayes will hardly agree, but with neither assured of a place for province or country anymore, the competition is healthy for all concerned.

Certainly on current form one or both will do well to keep Wian du Preez and/or Tony Buckley out of the starting line-up to face Leinster as the precursor to the Heineken Cup.

Niall Ronan continues to grow in influence and, with competition for back-row places so hot, dare we suggest that the incomparable Alan Quinlan consider a twilight shift to the second row?

Just a bonus point separates the 2009 champions from Ulster and here for sure is a team on the rise. Everything about Ravenhill smacks of optimism.

With each passing win comes a further boost in confidence. They haven't yet hit their straps but such is the quality and strength in depth, it seems only a matter time before some unfortunate opposition is on the receiving end of a hiding.

All roads appeared to lead to the Aviva on October 2 when 'the old battle finds new ground' and the real rugby season kicks into gear.

Well, fast-forward a week because, on Saturday at the Sportsground, it will be the full monty when -- IRFU restrictions allowing -- Connacht and Ulster go at it hell for leather.

With Liam and Sam now sorted, Saturday's head-to-head could hardly be better timed. Bring it on.

Irish Independent

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