Thursday, December 13, 2012

Connacht Basque in victory

Fortress Galway proved too much for the former Heineken Cup finalists, writes John O’Sullivan…

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There are no two ways about it, Connacht’s 22-14 victory over Basque side and two time European Cup finalists Biarritz reverberated around the rugby world. No matter what perspective you look at the result from, it was a fantastic result.

Connacht are paupers compared to the Aristocrats that are Biarritz. Indeed, Connacht’s budget is estimated at €2.5 million whereas Biarritz’s is estimated to be closer to €18 million. Additionally, though, Eric Elwood’s team was missing several first team regulars, Naoupu, Swift, Muldoon, White, Duffy, Griffen, whilst the Top 14 was shoehorned full of internationals.

With an average age of just 25, the only over thirty players being Dan Parks and Michael McCarthy, Connacht savaged the Basques-not only in contact but at the breakdown. The fitness and desire that the Westerners showed was immense.

Biarritz started brightly, with their much lauded pack carrying plenty of ball and imposing themselves on the game. Connacht’s discipline slipped, giving the impressive Dmitri Yachvili an opportunity at goal, and, as he invariably does, he slotted the penalty for a 3-0 lead to Biarritz.

While Biarritz’s initial forward player looked bright, their back play was forced and unimaginative, instead of penetrating runs and passes, Biarritz would pass laterally to the point of tedium. It was one such listless attacking move that brought Connacht their and the game’s opening try. Argentina international Marcelo Bosch dallied on the ball for a second too long and was smashed by the thoroughly impressive Dave McSharry, the force of McSharry’s tackle secured the ball for Connacht, McSharry then passes to Fetu’u Vainikolo who ran unscathed for the games first try. The noise levels in the vociferous Sportsground were deafening. Dan Parks duly added the conversion for an unlikely early lead for the Sportsground men.

Connacht’s discipline, though, was testing the patience of referee Greg Garner and, after another infringement at the breakdown, Yachvili slotted the resultant penalty to take Biarritz back to within a point-7-6.

Connacht’s forwards were soon to gain semblance with Biarritz’ and after several picks and go’s they formed the perfect platform for Dan Parks to confidently slot home a drop goal, taking the score to 10-6 to the Galway based side.

Such was the paucity of ideas in Biarritz’s backline, they were left with no alternative but to launch speculative Garryowen’s into Connacht’s 22. However, Biarritz would gain another penalty from the above route as Eoin McKeown was harshly sin binned after he was penalised for taking Yachvili out whilst in the air. Nonetheless, Yachvili made no mistake from the penalty to leave the score 10-9 to Connacht at half time.

Connacht started the second half impressively, with Tiernan O’Halloran and Vainikolo causing Biarritz particular woe, and, soon, Connacht would extend their lead again thanks to another Dan Parks penalty. Jack Isaacs’ charges were caught offside and Dan Parks made no mistake, converting the penalty with aplomb to put further distance between the sides, 13-9.

Biarritz flexed their squads considerable muscle when they introduced Imanol Harinordoquy. For the past seven or eight years, Harinordoquy has been one of the world’s best numbers eights and his ascension from the bench showed the strain that Biarritz were feeling. Connacht would soon add to their lead again.

Dave McSharry, once again, it is an enigma how he’s never been recognised internationally, ran at the Biarritz defence like the proverbial freight train. The Basque’s couldn’t think off a legal way to stop the former Leinster academy player and had to resort to illegal practices; brining Connacht another penalty which Dan Parks, again, not knocked over for 16-9. The vocal home crowd were beginning to sense a shock.

Prior the game, Biarritz’s scrum was much vaunted, but, on the evidence of Friday night, this description was nothing short of delusional. Connacht’s young pack obliterated the Biarritz scrum, leading to a penalty which Dan Parks narrowly missed.

However, Parks would soon make amends with a drop goal and another penalty. Harinordoquy, though, responded for Biarritz with a hotly contested try. The TMO awarded the try to Biarritz, but, to all the world, the try looked to be inconclusive. Yachvili missed the conversion which would have brought Biarritz a scantly deserved losing bonus point.

The final whistle blew with Connacht securing a famous 22-14 victory. Back in 2003, Connacht fans had to march on the IRFU headquarters to ensure that IRFU didn’t go through with their plan to disband Connacht. Nine years later, Connacht defeated the two time European Cup finalists and financial heavyweights Biarritz. Rugby is a funny old game.

(Post written before news of Mike McCarthy’s move to Leinster came to light)

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.

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