Bravo Connacht but don’t forget where priorities lie

Sports stadiums can be drab places long after the final whistle has blown, when all that humanity has trickled away into the surrounding streets and countryside and left behind are the memories, the cold and the detritus of a day well spent.

Bravo Connacht but don’t forget where priorities lie

Linger long enough after a game, as those of us who inhabit the press box tend to do on a weekly basis, and the odds are you will eventually emerge from that privileged cocoon into a dreary nothingness. Lights have invariably been extinguished, most doors locked and the only living souls are the odd cleaner or caterer flitting about the darkness like a half-imagined spectre.

It’s no big deal unless, as has been the case from time to time, the gates have been bolted too, and exit is all but impossible. In this column’s experience, that has always been more of a risk at GAA grounds and there have been more than a few times when escape has come only after climbing up and over walls that Sergey Bubka would approach with no little respect.

There were no such obstacles leaving Thomond Park last Sunday after Munster’s ultimately comfortable defeat of Perpignan in the Heineken Cup, and the gloom and silence of the deserted Limerick venue was penetrated for a good spell late in the afternoon by events in Toulouse, which had the small press corps in Limerick utterly rapt.

Reports, opinion pieces and impartiality were laid to one side as everyone crowded around one colleague’s screen to watch Connacht confirm a result which has garnered considerable praise — all of it deserved. Needless to say RTÉ’s Michael Corcoran wasn’t the only media type in danger of losing his voice over a result that begs a few debates.

The most obvious, and one already dealt with in some detail this week, is of the potential that lies untapped in the west due to the debilitating financial constraints under which the provincial branch continues to operate. Think of what they could do if they had the bucks of their provincial partners, has been the refrain.

That’s fair enough but Connacht’s heroics in the south of France make you wonder too why a team that can manage such a feat could have approached the trip on the back of a run of form which listed nine defeats in their previous 10 games. Prior to last weekend, the only side they had beaten this season was Zebre. Twice.

That would be less notable if it was a one-off but their first truly great day in the Heineken Cup was 23 months ago when they upturned Harlequins in Galway and that came on the back of a 14-game losing sequence when it was Eric Elwood rather than Pat Lam in charge.

So, different pilots, same puzzling course.

Lam was asked about that discrepancy this week by reporters, about how Connacht can leave Toulouse on the canvas one week and be the ones dumped flat on their back time after time in a Rabo Pro12 in which they lie at the base after nine rounds and just that solitary win, claimed on the opening day in Italy.

The Kiwi’s response zeroed on the minutiae: the proliferation of leaked turnovers, the concession of penalties and a less-than-acceptable goal-kicking ratio, but such tactical nuances ignored the more strategic picture, which is one of a side that, on the basis of last weekend, is routinely failing to do justice to itself and its fans.

That might seem churlish and a tad negative the day before they brace themselves for the return meeting with Guy Noves’ bruised blue bloods in the Sportsground, where the last 300 tickets of 9.000 were sold out last night.

Maybe it is but it is an inescapable, if inconvenient, truth. For now, all this is new. Quins and Biarritz have both been scalped at home and, whatever the result tomorrow, other giants will undoubtedly topple again, but what happens when people are no longer sated by such successes, when the intoxicating thrill of such achievements are no longer such a novelty?

No sporting business model can lean on an erratic supply of positive results if it is to expand, not when the season stretches over nine months and spans almost 30 games. Connacht right now are rugby’s Marie Antoinette, providing the odd crumb of Heineken Cup cake when it is the regular bread and butter diet of the Pro12 that is needed if they are to truly thrive.

They may yet beat Toulouse again and go on to claim what would be a richly-deserved place in the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup, but their future depends every bit as much on what they do in the more mundane waters of the Pro12, starting with the visit of the Dragons eight days from now.

Email: Twitter: @Rackob

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