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.