At least the West’s awake!

It is the first time since 1997/1998 that there will be no Irish province in the knockout stages of Europe’s premier rugby competition. Ulster were the last remaining hope and even though they enjoyed a win over Oyonnax at the weekend, it just wasn’t enough.

  Stade Francais beat Leicester 36-21 in Pool 4 to end any hopes of Irish representation this spring.    So, where has it all gone wrong from an Irish point of view and are we looking at a lengthy stay in the wilderness?

  First of all, it’s worth noting that not one team from Ireland, Scotland or Wales have made the quarter-final draw.

 The last 8 is made up of English and French teams who have simply pulled away from their Celtic rivals. Wasps’ 51-10 demolition of Leinster highlights the gap.  

  There’s no doubt that money talks and the Anglo-French superstars are enjoying the financial advantage, but there is also little doubt that the men who run Irish rugby need to act fast, and that rugby needs a push on from grassroots right up to the senior internationals.

  More money is a start, but youngsters need to be developed if Irish rugby is to enjoy more days in the sun with future golden generations. I have no doubt the provinces are working hard in this regard.

  Connacht, meanwhile, are showing the way. Proudly supported in the west and proving nationwide doubters wrong, Pat Lam’s troops hammered Enisei 47-5 at the Sportsground to book their place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals. 

  They, along with Ulster, have given reason for optimism this season and while they face a tough test against Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble, they can be proud of their season so far.