Squeaky Bum Time

Egg was minding his own business contemplating watching Jurassic Park III on <insert rubbish cable TV channel> on Saturday night when he noticed a tweet from a chap he’d never heard of. No, not the Examiner’s chief rugby correspondent, but “Paul Morgan”. Morgan had the following to say for himself: “The key thing since European qualification has changed… People are talking about and caring about the Pro12 more than ever”.

It was only after one of our eagle-eyed followers pointed it out that we noticed Morgan was Communications Director for Premiership Rugby aka the lackey of McCafferty, Craig and co. Sigh. Propaganda justifying a position held for monetary reasons then? Well, in Morgan’s case, yes, obviously. Unless this view, which is his own of course, happily happened to mirror 100% the views of his mates (and paymasters in this case). It’s nice when that happens, isn’t it? – kind of like when Charlie Mulqueen points out that it wasn’t Denis Hurley’s fault that Munster got knocked out of Europe, and his stint at 12 was an unreserved success story. Right.

Anyway, back to Morgan. Problem is, fulminate away, but when you have finished thumping your John Knox-signed bible/infusing your olive oil with white truffle/singing Amhran na bFiann extremely passionately/going to Saw Doctors concerts (delete as appropriate depending upon provincial affiliation), you’ll realize that he’s right. Maybe for the wrong reasons, but he’s right.

Take Friday night’s Cardiff-Connacht game for example – Cardiff’s last minute win was exciting sure, and would have been equally exciting in years gone by, but it meant a whole lot more this time. Cardiff kept their faint hopes of an ERCC slot alive, and kept Connacht close to the chasing pack at the same time – and the huge roar at the final whistle spoke volumes to the importance of the game for the league as a whole, as well as both teams. And the bizarre story Pat Lam had to tell about parking spaces and refereeing bias in the heat of passion would likely not have made it to print were it a meaningless mid-table clash. Less two bald men fighting over a comb, more two thinning on top men fighting over the right to be fed to Toulon in bite-size chunks.

At the top of the Pro12, there are five teams who are more or less qualified for the ERCC – Glasgae, Munster, Ulster, Ospreys and Leinster – and four of them will make the knockouts. Glasgow have the top spot more or less sewn up, but behind them it’s three into four.  The Irish provinces have just come off the back of a torrid weekend, with all four losing to their somewhat less illustrious, regionally composite Welsh counterparts.  A portent of doom for next weekend?  Hopefully not.

Leinster are in a bit of a jam, lying in fifth, but they are still in the reckoning.  They have still to play both Ulster and Glasgae, and are well in the reckoning.  They have made an unusual habit of throwing points away against the poorer teams in the league this year, and chances are they will have to go to Ravenhill and win.  They are also the only team in the competition that has European distractions ahead of them.

Ulster and Munster are locked on have the toughest fixtures, with only two home games and three against fellow top five teams. Their meeting on the penultimate weekend may swing it – not only do Ulster have a good record against Munster, but its in Ravers, so advantage Ulster for that one.

One of the hapless Italians will join the big five in Europe, plus one of Connacht, Scarlets, Embra (or maybe – at a stretch – Cardiff). Scarlets host Embra next, and also have games against both hapless Italians – albeit away. They are entitled to be considered favourites to nab the final spot. From an Irish perspective, Connacht will need to earn it the hard way if they are to qualify – with games against each of the current top 4 to come. Perhaps they should, y’know, reserve a parking spot for the ref at the dog track..

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  1. munstermicko

     /  March 9, 2015

    The Westies really got a double whammy last weekend with the Cardiff lads grabbing it at the death and the Ladyboys being too posh to push.

    Connaught will have to fight all the big boys from here on in and try salvage a win from at least one of them.

    They have only one more pasta dish to enjoy away to the Stripey Ponys i could see as a definite bonus point win for them.

  2. I agree somewhat. Yes the Pro12 is more exciting this year though as a Connacht fan this year would have been exciting regardless.
    If few marginal games had gone our way and have picked up a few more bonus points, we would have been ahead of Leinster at this stage – qualifying as the 3rd best Irish team under the old HCup rules. But we are where we are and we face a uphill claim to qualify.

  3. Rava

     /  March 9, 2015

    Ulster have three home games and two away, as have Munster. Leinster have to travel three times.

  4. Sparking

     /  March 9, 2015

    Connacht are out of the running for automatic qualification I’m afraid, the play-off qualification if the tables stayed as they are right now would mean going to Sale and Bordeaux which isn’t exactly impossible.

    • You might want to check your tables and rulebook*: as things stand Connacht qualify automatically; assuming as seems likely they slip to 7th they then toss for home advantage with the 7th English team, the winner of that tie being guaranteed home advantage against the 7th French side. Unless a lower placed Pro12 side wins the Challenge Cup thus supplanting them in the playoffs…. The new Pro12 world – exciting but incomprehensible.

      *that’s the mid-season rulebook corrected for translation errors in the start-of-season rulebook, of course.

      • Sparking

         /  March 9, 2015

        That’s me told, as a Connacht fan I don’t think I’m being unrealistic to think that we haven’t a notion of qualifying automatically considering the respective last 5 games that Connacht and Scarlets have to play. So here’s hoping we can hold on to 7th and have a bit of luck with the coin toss.

        • You’re not wrong there I suppose. To have any hope of finishing above Scarlets we’d need Edinburgh to beat them next time out, in which case both of them would fancy themselves to overtake us. Hard even to know who to cheer against!

  5. connachtexile

     /  March 9, 2015

    Would be intrigued to hear a neutrals perspective of the ref’s performance in the Cardiff vs Connacht game. Was he and the other coaching officials as bad as we think or did we have on green tinted glasses?
    Regardless of if we got robbed or not I think it is ridiculous that welsh tmo’s and linesman are refereeing a welsh team just like it is dumb having a Irish tmo and linesman doing the same for an Irish team on the pitch. It surely can’t cost that much in plane fees to fly over four officials instead of one? It’s not like there isn’t four nations playing in this league! Thoughts?

    • Yossarian

       /  March 9, 2015

      remember scarlets getting robbed my a munster TMO vs Munster. Easterby was shaking his head in disbelief as the words “no clear and obvious knock on” came through the mike when it was Clear and Obvious to everyone watching at home as munster were awarded a winning try.
      Big pro12 problem.

    • I think Connacht probably lost the game more than the ref did. I wasn’t really watching the game that closely, but the number of times your execution failed you in the red zone (which Ulster fans are experts at recognising these days) is what really did you in I think. You should have won that game comfortably, rather than relying on an assistant ref to make a different decision.

  6. Shelflife

     /  March 9, 2015

    You cant help yourself sometimes can you, the urge to dismiss Connacht just cant be resisted at times.You make the “parking ” incident sound like some jobsworth not doing his job properly when the facts are different.
    Hodges arrived late and tried to enter through a gate which at that stage was set up for supporters to enter on foot. He was told to enter through a different gate 30m away and basically got thick over it and thats when the alleged comment was/wasnt made. The incident was all of Hodges own making.

    So we are fighting to be fed in bitesize pieces to Toulon. Are we to lie down and roll over or are we to aspire to better things, we have come along way this year with 15 points gained over the same games last year and we are in the mix at least for a HC spot.

    Leinster wouldnt want to get too smug as their points tally and and the way they are playing atm could easily find themselves in the qualification fight as well.

    Your blogs are in the main very readable and enjoyable, but at times are very dismissive of Connacht and what we are trying to do. Friday nights game was a horror show,a game we should have wrapped up at half time but failed to do so, then compounded by some poor calls we were mugged at the end.

    Its just too soon to be patting us on the head.

    • Thanks for the full info on the incident, couldn’t source it anywhere. And I think being fed in bite-size chunks to Toulon is quite clearly better than wasting time against Newcastle in the Vase. And tongue in cheek – sure weren’t Ulster fed to Toulon?

      • …and Leinster before them.

      • Shelflife

         /  March 9, 2015

        Fair enough, its been a rough weekend, never so frustrated after a game, my son stormed out of the room at the final whistle banging the door on the way out, hes never done anything like that before, thankfully we dont have a cat or he would have got it too.

        I personally counted 13 pens albeit with green tinged glasses against Cardiff in the injury time period, 6 for sealing straight down on the ball, 3 for in at the side one for playing on the ground (cuthbert) one for what looked like a forearm to the face of Masterson and 2 for obstruction at the ruck and the famous knock on. It was very hard to take esp when we shouldnt have been in that position in the first place (that was our own fault).

        • Yeah, it was extraordinarily permissive at time – reminded me of Munster-Saints a few years ago (41 phases or whatever it was). We noted that Carty’s efforts to prevent the winger running infield were woeful – Cardiff still needed the converstion

      • Rava

         /  March 9, 2015

        You could correct the errors in the article instead of having a “dig” at Ulster.

  7. paulhannan

     /  March 9, 2015

    I agree somewhat. Yes the Pro12 is more exciting this year though as a Connacht fan it would have been exciting regardless.
    If few marginal games had gone our way and have picked up a few more bonus points, we would have been ahead of Leinster at this stage – qualifying as the 3rd best Irish team under the old HCup rules. That would have for real been squeaky-bum-time.

  8. The most surprising thing to me is no the poor calls made by the officials but that Hodges seems to have taken the ferry and driven across Ireland to get to the match instead of flying and getting a taxi. Milking the expenses???

    • In fairness to Hodges (much as it galls me to be “fair” to him) he may have flown into Knock from Bristol in which case a hire car is your only real option. Dublin and Shannon are well-connected but the suitability or otherwise of sharing a bus with Connacht fans means hiring a car is again probably the best option.

      In summary I’m more worried about him milking penalties.

  9. The race for the ERCC places obviously provides an extra frisson but actually the argument being put forward was that the new arrangement would drive up the quality of rugby (remember we got to rest, kick back, take things easy and then arrive refreshed to win games against the exhausted Spartans of English and French rugby), which has dropped significantly and I now think the AP is better week to week.

    Ulster are second and we’ve been rubbish with regularity.

    • Funny how the improvement in the Premiership co-incided with Bucharesti Welsh kindly removing the “threat of relegation” for everyone else in that league.

      • Roundy

         /  March 9, 2015

        Haah, that is so true. In general though the Pro12 has been pretty awful this season. The only light for me has been Connacht (and Im a Leinster fan). They have improved immensely and are well worth a look. I wish I could say the same for Leinster who if they are not careful could miss out on a Chumps Cup place.

    • I think you can chalk up Ulster being second to a lot of other teams also being rubbish with regularity and the fact that minnows are starting to take scalps a little more regularly.

  10. kevin

     /  March 10, 2015

    As a Connacht supporter I think it’s very hard to have any sympathy for us. Like Bernard Jackman controversially said, we’re great at getting up for the interpros but when it comes to the crucial matches we fold. Despite great improvement we’ve left 8 points behind us vs an awful Cardiff twice, and an awful Edinburgh at home. Not good enough by any means. Getting BP’d by Scarlets in our most important match says it all. If Carty (our main problem this season) had been even half switched on he’d have buried that Cardiff winger in the corner and we’d have won. Shocking refereeing but it should have never got to that point. Unfortunately I can see us losing 4 of the next 5, though Ulster could possibly be taken too

    • Jackman’s comments should be taken with a big pinch of salt for this is a truism in all sports where derby matches are played. A team that is in a lower position in the league table or is less well resourced that of their rival they will always strive against their local rival with extra vigour. It’s been going on for ages; Cain and Abel and all that.
      And where were the other three provinces playing at the weekend? Munster were at least playing a top of the table clash, but where were Ulster’s and Leinster’s extra vigour?

      I hope Friday’s match and its aftermath doesn’t spoil what has been a great season so far for us fans of Connacht. Yes, some matches didn’t go our way, and a few which we should have closed out and didn’t. But hey, you’re always going to have that. Very few teams have a perfect season.
      And it’s not over yet. With a small bit of luck we well capable of picking up 14 points with wins against Ulster, Zebre, and Ospreys, and bonus points against Munster and Glasgow. So, we’re well in the running. #glassHalfFull

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