Belfast Telegraph

Biting Back: Connacht progress is grounds for optimism

By Declan Bogue

Most Ulster rugby fans might not be in the mood to hear it, but the state of the provincial game is in exceptional health right now.

The reasons for this are manifold, but one joyous example is the emergence of Connacht as a viable, competitive fourth province in Irish rugby.

Their victory over Munster at the weekend confirms that if they have not quite 'arrived' as a team - only regular wins over the other three provinces would secure that status - then they certainly have paid back the faith invested in them as a sporting entity.

Back in 2003 - yes, that recent - the IRFU were on the brink of closing the province down. Instead of that course, they decided to invest patiently in their development and made a number of astute appointments to management roles, such as former international fly-half Eric Elwood.

Now, they find themselves celebrating not just a second victory over Munster since 1986, but also qualification to next season's European Champions Cup.

In captain John Muldoon, and the exciting young scrum-half Kieran Marmion, they have real talent.

Now, their manager Pat Lam has targeted the upgrading of the Sportsgrounds in Galway to become a 20,000-seater stadium.

It's wildly ambitious but it follows on from Elwood's ambition when he pushed for the construction of the Clan Shed at the same ground.

It has since added immensely to the matchday atmosphere out west.

Should they secure the necessary funds, then they could provide the IRFU bid for the 2023 World Cup with another viable stadium.

In this day of wall to wall Ched Evans coverage, isn't it nice to see a good news story?

Belfast Telegraph

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