Connacht’s win over Harlequins in the Heineken Cup is probably the most famous in the history of the Irish province. Connacht has a mere 7% of the rugby players registered in Ireland and has long been the poor relation of the four proud provinces. Rugby will always battle with Gaelic Football, Hurling and Soccer in this predominantly rural province. The Irish inter provincial championship was established in the 1920’s and Connacht has a mere 2 wins to it’s name over that time.
Nonetheless, the province was where Warren Gatland cut his coaching teeth during the 1990’s and produced legends of the Irish game such as Ray McLoughlin, John O’Driscoll and 1983 Lions captain Ciaran Fitzgerald.
It is viewed as a development team these days by the national union and as such receives 50% of the funding the three other provinces receive from the IRFU. It also suffers, as other so called development teams do, in losing promising players to stronger teams both at home and overseas.
After threats of closure due to IRFU cost cutting, the province has made huge strides and in recent years has had the highest rate of growth of the four provinces in youngsters playing the game.
This win should not be viewed as a lucky one-off result as Connacht lost narrowly in both HC pool games against Gloucester and the away game against Harlequins. While they will play no further part in the competition this year, this victory will provide the momentum that all developmental teams need.
Well done Connacht, I hope you celebrated late into the night.