Trophy Time in de Wesht

Wasn’t there a reason it was last weekend Leinster and Munster tried to lose to one another in the Aviva? Isn’t there some important driver as to why they always play just after the Six Nations? There is some reason why we have to endure forests of self-congratulatory articles about the “biggest rivalry in rugby” and such at this time of year, but we just can’t put our fingers on it.

Anyway, it was pretty important in the context of the Pro12, and that’s absolutely the only competition happening right now. Yes sir, nothing else of note going on. Except of course the European Challenge Cup, which for some reason only Connacht get to play in – which seems a bit unfair on Ulster, Munster and Leinster, but there you go. Connacht are going to Grenoble this weekend, and, in truth, are in a bit of a pickle.

Grenoble are about the only French team who bother their hole about this competition, which can surely only be down to the Irish connection – just like Clermont fans had never thought of wearing the team’s colours before playing Munster (right Gerry?), French teams had never thought they could win away until Birch turned up. Montpellier made a fatal error by qualifying for the knockout stages this season, but they won’t over-estimate Cardiff again in a hurry.

If Connacht do win, they get to play a “glamour” (everything is relative) semi-final at the dog track against Quins (or Reading Samoa), but for all the nice pats on the head about O’Shea or Biiiiiiiiiig Bob going back to Ireland, that would be a darn tough game – English clubs are dominating Europe this year. And after that it would be a final against another bunch of proud yeoman – Glaws or Sale probably. Tough run in.

It’s worth asking if, given Connacht’s injury list, particularly in the halves, whether a more plausible route to a trophy is not going through the Premiership’s midtable fillers but through .. um .. Leinster and co in the Pro12.

Still, that path is a little tricky too. There are 3 rounds to go, and a lot of games between the top six still to come, but Leinster, Connacht and Glasgae look pretty much guaranteed playoff slots, with Ulster, Scarlets and Munster in for the final place. You can easily see a scenario where Connacht end up with a home playoff game; this probably hinges on them beating Munster at home.

Pat Lam has delivered an incredible season so far for Connacht, and a trophy would be a fine way to top it off – it’s a measure of how sure-footed they have been and how fantastic their rugby has been that not getting one would feel like a minor disappointment. The major target at the beginning of the year was qualification for something called the “European Champions Cup”, which we’ve never heard of, but it’s been sealed.

After spending hours delving through tinterwebs researching this competition, it appears there are also quarter finals this weekend in it – the English clubs look in the driving seat, and in spite of the confusing semi-final permutations, Saracens are our bet to de-throne Toulon and give Stephen Jones a big smile on his face.

Anyway, getting back to the important stuff – if Lam wants to bring some silverware to Galway, maybe he should think about throwing the kids in on Saturday. Sure, it would prompt a bout of hand-wringing about “integrity of the competition” but it’s not like the French care about it, and when the big clubs change the rules to suit themselves, integrity is a damaged concept anyway. Time to take a dive, Connacht.

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12 Comments

  1. “Listen John, you’re 33 now and you’ve already started 22 games already this season. We’re giving you the weekend off.” Would love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

    More seriously, I can’t see us throwing this.

    Even if Llanelli lose to Glasgow, which is unlikely given their respective form, Connacht could need try bonus points against both Munster and Treviso for the Glasgow game to be a dead rubber. So the way it looks at the moment is that we need to win 3 games to win the Challenge Cup, at least 4 and probably 5 to win the Pro 12.

    Added to that, Grenoble have shipped 25.5 points a game *at home* in the Top 14 this year. You’d think our lot are licking their lips at the thought of getting stuck into that defence. Ther’s also a question whether Grenoble will go full bore; they have injury problems of their own, and are back in contention for a league playoff spot/qualification through the league. See also the other decent teams in the competition (Sale, Montpellier, Gloucs, Quins) for that matter.

    When asked if they had a preference at the presser yesterday, Mul (the realist) said “No”, while Lam (the evangelist) replied “Yes, two trophies.”

  2. Yes but who are those games against – away in France and home to Quins are possibly tougher than *any* game in the Pro12, with the possible exception of a neutral final vs Glasgow (or possibly Ulster, given their “bogey team” status)

    • Why would we (anyone) be afraid of a home semi vs. Quins? They’ve won 2 away from home in the Premiership (Bath, Worcester) and 2 in the Challenge Cup (Cardiff, Calvisano). I think you may be confusing them with another team (maybe Quins 2011-13)?

      In any case, even if Glasgow are the only uber-difficult team left for us in the Pro12, we could yet have to beat them twice just to get to the final, so: full bore this w/e.

  3. labrecha1

     /  April 7, 2016

    Go for both, a conservative mentality coukd backfire spectacularly, go for broke in both competitions is the only way.

  4. Roundy

     /  April 7, 2016

    Grenoble will be going for this one. The trophy would be a big feather in their cap particularly as the final is only down the road in Lyon! Would love a semi final in Galway though.

  5. I reckon they’re going to go for broke and go for both. You’ve done a detailed analysis but at the end of the day conservative choices are no guarantee of success and leave you with little to hide behind if it doesn’t work. Whereas if you go for glory on both competitions the fans and players will back you to the hilt and if you come away with nothing you’re safe in the knowledge that you left it all out there.

    Obviously falling at the final hurdle after such a barnstorming season would be an extremely bitter pill to swallow but, even with the unbelievable out half situation they have found themselves in, I think they’re just going to take on each game as it comes, on its individual merits. Whatever happens, it’s been magic. Connacht Abu!

    • Hear, hear. Nathan White is 34, Mul is 33, Big George and Aly are leaving. Connacht have never been in a final of anything. I can’t see them doing a Munster 2011 and deciding we’re above the Challenge Cup.
      I’d also really like the good karma of winning the Challenge Cup and hauling 7th in the Pro 12 (be that Ulster, Munster, Edinburgh, or Cardiff) into the Big Cup, as Leinster did for us in the past, but that’s just me.

  6. Mary Hinge

     /  April 8, 2016

    No chance of Lam fielding an inexperienced side in Grenoble. It will be flat out now until the end of the season on both fronts. Marmion and O’Leary will start 9 and 10 at Grenoble and with O’leary being ex of that parish, he’ll want to perform there. In fairness to him, he looked accomplished in his 20mins vs Leinster and up in Belfast.
    Jake Heenan will be back for this game too, and Henshaw will start 15. Beat Greoble and a home s/final against the best of LIRFC and Quins is winnable too.
    Then we have Munster in Galway. Win that and we’re half way there to a home semi. Munster will be up for that game, make no mistake, but I think we’ll have enough about us to send them home with a bonus point defeat to show for their efforts – regardless of who they play at 10.

  7. Full-on it is then.
    (15-9): Matt Healy, Niyi Adeolokun, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Danie Poolman, Shane O’Leary, Kieran Marmion.
    (1-8): Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Flashheart, Ultan Dillane, Andrew Browne, SOB v2.0, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon (captain).
    (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, JP Cooney, Quinn Roux, James Connolly, John Cooney, Peter Robb, Fionn Carr.

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