Saturday 26 May 2018

George Hook: Connacht's stunning triumph will echo around the world

George Naoupu, Connacht, in action against Toulouse
George Naoupu, Connacht, in action against Toulouse
Connacht head coach Pat Lam
George Hook

George Hook

On Friday evening as I contemplated the upcoming weekend for Irish provinces, there was the certain win in Belfast, the probable victory in Limerick, the possibility of an upset in Northampton, and no hope for Connacht in Toulouse.

Yesterday, in one of the greatest upsets in Heineken Cup history, the unheralded Westerners beat one the giants of European rugby in their own backyard. It was all the more surprising given that this had hardly been a vintage season under coach Pat Lam.

There have been big days before. Periodically, aided by Atlantic breezes and driving rain, there were one-off victories in the old inter-provincial championship at the Sportsground.

Eddie O'Sullivan masterminded a victory over Fiji and Warren Gatland had a famous victory in Northampton, when he unveiled the 14-man line-out.

This result is different. Toulouse take the Heineken Cup more seriously than any other French club.

Their one-point victory away to Saracens in Round 2 was testament to their ongoing commitment to the competition.

They may have been guilty of underestimating Connacht yesterday, as in the early stages they disdained kicks at goal for try attempts. Kieran Marmion, as he had done to shock Saracens, scored a vital try and Dan Parks continued to show his full range of kicking skills to keep the scoreboard ticking over and put his team in to a 16-7 lead that nobody thought they could hold, with most of the second half left.

Since his arrival, Parks has given the team a sound tactical game which has not had its true reward.

Toulouse's full-strength side was repelled with comparative ease in the closing stages despite Thierry Dusautoir's converted try, which left just a two-point margin.

There will probably be a reality check next week when the French come to Galway and, with a trip to Saracens still to come, expectations of reaching the knockout stages should remain realistic.

However, like the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914, this result will be heard around the world.

Former coaches, administrators and players will be standing a little taller.

In London, Jim Staples and Simon Geoghegan; in Manchester, John and Barry O'Driscoll; and in Dublin, Ray McLoughlin and Ciaran Fitzgerald will have raised a glass last night. Even in far-off Zimbabwe, David Curtis will have heard the news.

Today is a good day to be associated with Connacht rugby.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport