With a €20m boost in funding for their Sportsground redevelopment project in the bag, Andy Friend’s Connacht need to secure victory against French champions Toulouse to keep their hopes of reaching the Champions Cup quarter-finals alive.
It would be understandable if Connacht’s Sean O’Brien was feeling sorry for himself this week as he underwent surgery for a shoulder injury suffered within minutes of coming on last weekend against Leinster in his first game in almost a year.
This time 12 months ago, Munster and Leinster felt bulletproof as they approached their respective Champions Cup semi-final deciders against Racing 92 and Scarlets, with both squads densely fortified with players from Ireland’s all-conquering Grand Slam team.
As key stakeholders in rugby convene in Dublin tomorrow about a ‘world’ league that seems more concerned with concentrating and increasing the wealth for its bluebloods than spreading the word to the unconverted and the cash to the marginalised, it has probably escaped rather than focused their minds that the deciding game in Europe’s biggest international competition is once again between one nation with a population of just 6.6 million and another with just 3.1 million.
It’s fair to say that the selection of Kieran Keane over a year ago as successor to Pat Lam was greeted with a level of shock in the west that has only now been matched by his dismissal two days after leading Connacht to a record win over Leinster.
Their PRO14 form is dodgy to say the least, but Connacht’s pedigree in the European Challenge Cup is obvious and on Saturday night they took a big step not only towards securing a quarter-final spot, but ensuring that they will enjoy home advantage in the last eight.
Of all the difficulties about settling into his new life in Galway, new Connacht coach Kieran Keane hardly envisaged he would get a ribbing about hurling, but his disclosure yesterday that he is of Waterford blood should ensure he will hear plenty about the All-Ireland final in the coming weeks.