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Rain stops rugby’s play

Rain stops rugby’s play

Rob Murphy

SUNDAY wasn’t a pleasant afternoon for Westport players, officials or this member of the local media. A three-hour round trip to Sligo in the heavy rain proved fruitless with the encounter called off by referee Michael Honan just ten minutes before kick-off due to an unplayable pitch.
Considering the dreadful weather conditions many believed that the game should have been called off that morning. But local officials from Sligo gave the go-ahead and argued that weather conditions deteriorated as the day developed leading to the postponement. 
Blaming anyone for this late postponement is pointless. What needs to be addressed is the rule which states that teams must give up home advantage if games are called off early. 
This rule was introduced in good faith to stop needless cancellations, but it obviously encourages the home team into declaring a pitch playable rather than having to travel a long distance at short notice. You can’t blame Sligo for attempting to push ahead with the game and it’s hard to imagine any other club doing things differently.
Paul Gibbons, secretary of junior rugby for the Connacht Branch, stressed on Sunday that this rule was introduced by the club delegates but pointed out that it in any event it is proving impossible to enforce.
“It’s up to clubs to be up front and honest with regards playable pitches,” he said. “Safety of players is paramount at all times and we understand that there are always going to be cancellations during the season. However, it is a win-at-all cost mentality with clubs at the moment and our hands are tied in what we can do in these situations.”

FOR THE fourth game in a row Connacht were edged out by one score at the weekend and their inability to pull through in close encounter is becoming a serious hindrance. Cardiff won without scoring a try against the airtight defence but profited from some poor discipline at the breakdown to kick two second-half penalties in a 15-13 victory.
Michael Bradley and his assistant Eric Elwood made a number of major changes to their side after conceding five tries away to a poor Glasgow side in the previous week. For the most part, they were vindicated in these key calls.
The defence was superb in the backline where Connacht had been leaking tries at an alarming rate all season. Connacht had conceded an average of 23 points per game before Saturday so there was serious progress made.
Going forward, Bradley’s men started brilliantly with a Matt Mostyn try and a number of incisive first half attacks that should have yielded more than a 13-9 lead at the break. They failed to sustain this momentum in the second half, however, and ultimately were punished for their ill-discipline.
Paul Warwick’s injury early in the second half was a blow as he had been orchestrating most of Connacht’s good moves in the early exchanges. Mark McHugh didn’t have the same impact until Conor O’Loughlin offered him a quicker tempo from the breakdown. At that stage, Connacht were chasing the game.
In the forwards the changes weren’t as effective but weren’t debilitating either. Brendan O’Connor was looking superb from the bench in recent weeks but he is not suited to the blindside role. Perhaps Ofisa at six and O’Connor at seven would have given Connacht more in attack from the back row.
That said, Ofisa was excellent, as was Muldoon at eight, where he seems to offer more control at the base of the scrum. Colm Rigney may well be the answer at blindside although he conceded a crucial penalty late on which proved very costly.
Finally Ray Hogan, who was unlucky to have been dropped after some good form of late, came off the bench in the 62nd minute and made a major impact in the scrums. On three occasions he drove tight head up on Cardiff ball five metres from the line, giving the Connacht defence a platform. The fourth saw him harshly penalised having been pulled down. 
While it is frustrating to have lost five games by less than seven, it is a source of some encouragement that Connacht are consistently competing with some strong sides at this level. One can only hope that if the good form is sustained they will eventually be rewarded with some key victories.
For now Connacht have a nine-point advantage on Munster who have two games in hand. Munster are at home to the Ospreys next weekend before they meet Connacht on Sunday, December 3 in a huge match down in Thomond Park.

THOSE OF you poor Connacht souls who made the long trek to Limerick for the A international between Ireland and Australia on Wednesday will no doubt feel a little despondent. Not because the home side were defeated but because Ray Hogan and Mark McHugh were left twiddling their thumbs with not a minute of rugby to show for their evening.
What is more important in an A international – the result (which, let’s face it, most of us have forgotten already) or the chance of exposure at a higher level for the emerging talent in Irish rugby?  The answer is a no-brainer yet you wonder whether the Irish ‘think-tank’ would agree.
If they do, how in the name of all that is good in rugby can you justify leaving three players on the bench (Ciaran Willis was the third) and not giving them even a 10-minute cameo.  What a waste of times for the players in question and the supporters who travelled to see them. 
It’s this conservative and negative attitude that has many people in Irish rugby worried about the future. And this at a time when the country has more raw natural talent at its disposal than at any time in the history of the game.  God forbid anyone should take a risk.

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