Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Connacht brought back down to earth

The week following their famous thumping of Leinster were not for celebrating, writes John O’Sullivan


It proved to be a turbulent week, on and off the pitch, for Connacht.

Firstly, off the pitch, to the dismay and utter disbelief of Connacht fans, Eric Elwood announced that he will step down from his post at the end of the season. Elwood, who took over from Michael Bradley at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, has unrivalled respect amongst Connacht supporters-not only for his achievements as a player for Connacht, of which there were many, but also for the unprecedented success and growth he brought Connacht during his coaching tenure.

In the coming years, due to the young players giving their chance by Elwood and the systems implemented by the Mervue man, Connacht will, undoubtedly in my mind, grow beyond current recognition. Success breeds success, and  qualifying for successive Heineken Cups has made interest in the game grow massively in Connacht, thus making a new generation of youngsters consider the game, which will eventually produce more quality players, which is of course good for Connacht and Ireland.

Eric Elwood has contributed to Irish rugby, too, guiding the Ireland under 20's to a Grand Slam in 2007.

Connacht now have the unenviable task of finding Elwood's replacement. Relatively, it will be like the day that Manchester United replace Sir Alex Ferguson; both have built and modernised their respective clubs and their replacements will be under pressure from the get go.

There have been many names linked with the post, but I feel that Connacht need to hire a young and hungry coach with modern ideas rather than a more experienced coach, which means Eddie O'Sullivan is ruled out for me. Logistically, it makes sense for the former Irish coach to take the reigns, he lives in Galway, but I feel he and Connacht aren't ideal bedfellows at this moment in time.

Wayne Smith (pic), in my opinion, Is the ideal candidate for the job. At 55, Smith is no spring chicken, but he possesses all the necessity attributes for Connacht: hunger, experience and modern techniques. Since leaving Northampton in 2004, Smith has been an assistant coach, most impressively to Graham Henry during the All Blacks 2011 World Cup.

This is, of course, hypothetical but should Smith go to Connacht he would bring nous, a desire to prove he can be a top head coach and a contacts list the size of Rodney Ah You to Connacht.

On the pitch, Connacht were upended 25-0 by the Pro12’s form team, Ulster.

Despite the heavy loss, Connacht have many positives to take including the performance of young Robbie Henshaw at full back. He is a tremendous broken field runner and reminds me of Christian Cullen in his style. At only 19, the rugby world is Henshaw’s oyster.

One concerning issue, however, was our scrum, which was obliterated by Ulster’s. I question why Tom Court can't play like that for Ireland, but, of course, John Afoa isn't Irish.

There were lessons to be learned, but, judging by the age of most of their players, time is on Connacht's side.

I’m John O’Sullivan, 20. Part time student, full time sports nut. Love rugby and am currently the PRO of Connemara RFC. I also do some radio work for my local station. One day, I would love to be a Sports Journalist/Broadcaster. I would like to thank Jeff for giving me the chance to cover my beloved Connacht on ‘Harpin2’, looking forward to a great season!

Stay tuned to HarpinOnRugby for our Ulster columnist’s view of Friday night’s match at Ravenhill.

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