Western gale blowing through Irish ranks

“They’re all Irish players to me”, said Joe Schmidt on Saturday evening.

Western gale blowing through Irish ranks

Maybe, but try telling that to anyone in Connacht’s rugby fraternity this week as they digest the import of Saturday’s Six Nations meeting with Italy: one which ended with five of their number wearing a different shade of green together for the first time.

There have been some churlish naysayers. Aren’t there always? Birth certificates stamped in Hawera in New Zealand, the Australian capital of Canberra, Paris, Barking and even Athlone have and can be used to poke holes in the feelgod factor.

Let’s not go there. Everyone knows that Connacht has always been home for Robbie Henshaw, for example, and it was only fitting that the centre got to be part of such an historic occasion alongside Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane, Finlay Bealham and Nathan White before joining Leinster.

The fact is that Schmidt’s assertion about how his squad’s provincial loyalties are meaningless is actually the ultimate compliment to the western body given affiliation to Connacht was a passport to the international wilderness for so long in the modern era.

“They’re still at the top of the Pro12,” said Schmidt. “Leinster might have a game in hand, but those two teams are right up there so therefore some of those players must be doing a good job and that’s reflected in some of the selections that were made.”

It’s all the more remarkable given it is just 13 years since the IRFU proposed shuttering the doors on the province entirely only for a march 2,000 people strong on the Lansdowne Road offices that helped secure a stay of execution and lay the foundations for today’s blossoming branch.

Marmion was still living in Brecon at the time and yet to encounter his teenage years by the time that drama played out, but he has witnessed the latter years of that transformation since arriving in Galway via the Exiles pathway in the UK back in 2012.

“Its credit to how Connacht have played this year and credit to Pat and the coaches there to be able to develop the players and push them on. Lads have seriously stepped up their game, there are more lads in Connacht pushing for places as well so in the future there will be more there as well.

Lads know they can get into the Irish team.

“In Connacht at the moment, if a lad gets injured, another one steps up, and it doesn’t make a difference for us and I think that’s huge for us going forward.”

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