It was Lineen who stoked the fires a couple of seasons ago with comments about ‘hating’ playing against the western province adding “at least the other provinces try and play rugby”. Harmless stuff but that was the spark that has led to a bit of bite in the fixture.
We say all that to highlight the niggle that was in this contest and emphasis that while Glasgow clearly had more to battle for and that told in the end, Connacht didn’t just show up in end of season mode. They toiled and probed but unlike the previous three outings, nothing was going right.
The game was lost after half time with Glasgow leading 11-3 but by no means home and hosed, Four successive lineout steals from the monstrous Richie Gray gave the home side – roared on by a huge following – all the impetus needed. Duncan Weir tagged on two penalties in the period.
However, the contest was only fully put beyond Connacht’s reach on 68 minutes when Peter Fitzgibbon came up with a yellow card that only he can explain.
Connacht had won a penalty, Chris Cusiter – Glasgow’s Lions capped scrum half – held the ball and refused to return it. Paul O’Donoghoe pushed him to the ground in the scuffle and was promptly shown a yellow card for the innocuous incident.
So to sum up for the younger rugby players reading, according to highly rated Irish referee Fitzgibbon. Chris Cusiter’s actions in slowing down the game and petulantly holding onto the ball were fine and in the end, earned his side a reversed penalty. O’Donoghoe’s frustrations warranted the only punishment. A nonsense decision in favour of the instigator.
Glasgow had a second try from John Barclay soon after and the game was done, their first half score from Canadian wing DTH Van De Merwe was the game’s key score however, as it epitomised the undoubted edge they had in the contest when it came to phase building attacks.
Highlights from the game from a western point of view include some promising first half counter attacks with Tiernan O’Halloran and Kyle Tonetti to the fore, another barnstorming display from George Naoupu and solid ball carrying from Connacht Clan player of the season Ronan Loughney.
Caption: Ronan Loughney and Michael Swift were a key part of the engine room this season.
And that is that, a season of immense progress done on a sunny evening at the home of Partick Thistle FC. Who would have foreseen such progress at this point twelve months ago when Heineken Cup rugby was a possibility but nothing more, the covered Clan Terrace merely a drawing on paper and the idea of 3,200 season ticket holders fanciful at best.
The RaboDirect Pro 12 attendances alone increased by over 100% this season. Close to 2,500 supporters have already signed up for next season’s well priced season ticket packages with spaces on the Clan Terrace’s running out fast. Jerseys and merchandise can be spotted all over the province.
This isn’t just a Galway thing either, despite far too much talk about that. The city is the perfect home, the Sportsground is becoming a quirky rugby outpost that should prove a graveyard to more sides of the calibre of Harlequins and Ulster in the coming seasons but the growth is province wide.
Putting Connacht on the European rugby map may well prove beneficial in more ways than simply swelling some pub coffers in the province’s capital city. It’s about regional identify and promoting the west of Ireland around the continent. On and off the field, the progress is encouraging.
Next season, Connacht’s emerging players (including the bulk of Nigel Carolan’s under 20 Grand Slam heroes from last September) will be involved with the A squad’s first ever foray into the British and Irish Cup.
It all adds up, and while Saturday night was frustrating, Connacht took to the field with seven home grown west of Ireland natives in their starting line up. A province with just 22 clubs producing the local talent and it’s paying off after years of resistance when it came to giving these young lads a chance.
At Christmas, in the midst of a horrible run, Connacht reached a low point in defeat at Thomond Park in terms of performance and attitude. Munster’s second strong steamrolled their lethargic opponents. At that point we asked for all involved to simply ponder the question “What is the point of Connacht rugby?”
No such pondering is needed now. The tide turned with that narrow, heart stopping win over English kingpins Harlequins that ended the Londoners hopes in the competition and has kicked on in recent months.
A highest ever league finish of eighth is a good note to finish on but with an influx of talent on the way, the targets will be getting more lofty in the coming months.