Connacht headline Irish clean sweep
Connacht headline Irish clean sweepSHARE
Perennial underachievers Connacht claimed their most famous scalp in leading a clean sweep of victories for the Irish provinces in European Cup action on the weekend.
The unfashionable Galway-based side, coached by ex-Samoan flank Pat Lam, produced the result of a scintillating three days of rugby, holding on for a 16-14 win over four-time champions Toulouse.
It bucked a losing run of 10 successive matches, Connacht's previous win of the season coming over Italian side Zebre in their opening European Cup pool game.
The three other provinces all recorded bonus-point victories in what was a memorable weekend for Irish rugby fans.
Three-time former champions Leinster put Northampton to the sword, 40-7, two-time champs Munster racked up a 36-8 win over Perpignan and Ulster trounced Treviso 48-0.
Toulouse skipper Thierry Dusautoir was full of praise for Connacht, and said the gulf between the French giants and the "fourth" Irish province was not evident on the pitch.
"Connacht were more aggressive than we were and they played a very good game. We're really disappointed about our performance and about the result – we expected to win this game," Dusautoir said.
"Rugby has nothing to do about the gaps between our budgets. A game is 15 men against 15, and the 15 Irish men were better than us today."
Dusautoir added: "We played them a couple of years ago and, although we got two wins, they were not so easy to get.
"So we were aware of the fact that they are a good team, even if they're ranking last in the Pro12. Irish teams are not the same in Pro12 and in European Cup. This competition is special for them."
Connacht coach Lam said that self-belief had been behind the victory.
"Although we are at the bottom of the table this year, every single game we played we could have won," said Lam.
"We have a team with no superstars, we missed so many opportunities throughout the season, but we still came here confident. We just had to make sure that everyone did their job."
One player to have done his job for Leinster was talismanic Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll.
The 34-year-old was in cracking form in both attack and defence against a toothless Northampton side.
"You would never expect to come to Northampton and get a result like that," Leinster coach Matt O'Connor admitted.
"The way we played in the first 20 minutes was very, very good and they couldn't live with the tempo at that point."
Leinster had bagged a bonus point in 36 minutes and led 26-0 at the break, and then came out firing in the second half.
"That's a quality performance against a very good side, but we don't want to get lost in it – it's cup rugby and every game and every point matters," O'Connor said.
Ulster's win over Treviso was important in that it followed victory over both Montpellier and main Pool Five rivals Leicester, who now have a seven-point deficit on the Northern Irishmen.
"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves this week, we knew we had to be good against a side like that," said Ulster skipper Johann Muller.
"Mentally we were really there, and when you're mentally there, physically it falls into place."
Toulouse apart, all the serious contenders for the continent's biggest club rugby crown posted wins over the weekend.
Defending champions Toulon bounced back from a 23-0 defeat in the Top 14 to Stade Francais with a nervy 14-9 win over Exeter and domestic rivals Clermont waltzed past Scarlets 32-11.
English heavyweights Leicester beat Montpellier 41-32 in an entertaining match, while Saracens thrashed Zebre 39-10 and Harlequins put in a great performance to beat the expensively-assembled Racing-Metro 32-8 in front of 30,000 fans in the western French city of Nantes.
Racing-Metro's directors took a dim view of the result, immediately announcing that they had switched the mouthwatering Top 14 clash with Toulon away from Stade de France to its own much more modest stadium.
"In light of the result against Harlequins on Saturday this has forced us to accept we are not a part of the great teams of the moment," the club said.
"The Stade de France is reserved for such teams and we do not belong there."