THE GREATEST SHOCK of the year without a doubt, and quite possibly the biggest upset in Heineken Cup history.
Connacht’s wonderful 16-14 victory in Toulouse on the 8th of December, 2013 is a result that will forever be remembered by supporters of the western province. Pat Lam’s determined side not only out-fought the Top 14 giants, but out-played them too and emerged with a fully deserved win.
Amongst the Irishmen in the Stade Ernst Wallon that day was RTÉ commentator Michael Corcoran, a man whose powerful tones have provided the backdrop to so many of the provinces’ greatest wins in European competition, bringing fans at home into the stadium with his vivid descriptions and passionate delivery.
Corcoran says he will never forget Connacht’s success.
“That was incredible. I did a thing on the radio from the stadium before the match and somebody mentioned that Toulouse were 200 to one on to win, which I thought was bizarre considering there were only two teams in it.
The performance that day just drove home to me that if you have everyone pulling in the same direction, or a group of people who believe in what they do, anything is possible really.”
The last three minutes of the game saw Connacht forced to defend through 25 phases of Toulouse possession, with play taking place around the half-way line. Lam’s men were not only dogged, but continued to come off the defensive line with aggressive speed.
Corcoran admits he was worried in those closing stages though, a feeling that was followed by relief and joy for Pat Lam’s men.
“I was almost terrified for them at the end that they were going to give away a penalty and Toulouse would kick it to win. Nobody gave them a chance. It was one of the most unbelievable non-title matches that I’ve ever come across.
Corcoran in the zone on commentary duties for RTÉ. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
“I think Toulouse were probably not at 100% mentally. But to go to the home of the four-time champions and take them on at their own game was incredible; Connacht didn’t just defend.”
Bernard Jackman was on co-commentary alongside Corcoran and attempted to compare those final minutes to the situation Ireland had encountered against the All Blacks the previous month. However, Corcoran was unwilling to entertain the notion and cut across the Grenoble coach before he could curse the westerners.
“I did yeah, because I was trying to forget about the All Blacks game. I didn’t want lightning to strike twice basically.”
There was no repeat of that heartbreak though, and Connacht turned possession over to ensure their magnificent win. Corcoran has seen countless games of rugby during his time with RTÉ, but nothing quite like this one, which he freely admits was one of the greatest shocks he has ever witnessed in the flesh.
I’d say definitely, without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve done lots of matches where you’ve two more heavyweight teams going toe-to-toe with each other and one team beats the other; say like Munster beating Toulouse in Bordeaux years ago or Leinster beating Clermont in Bordeaux, that kind of thing.
“I don’t see that as a shock, just one team beating the other. I think Connacht beating Toulouse was one of the biggest shocks of all time in Heineken Cup rugby.”
The joy in Ireland that greeted the final whistle was widespread, but Corcoran explains that there was a very different reaction in Toulouse. The local supporters were simply in utter shock, having quite probably underestimated Connacht.
“They just couldn’t believe it to be fair. They appreciate their rugby down there, but it’s hard to know if they were happy for Connacht or angry at their own team. If you put down the 15 players side-by-side, Connacht had no right to be competing with Toulouse in terms of quality.
“In Toulouse, they know about Munster and Leinster because they would have competed with them. They know Ulster too, but not so much Connacht. The locals were just in a state of disbelief. It just goes to show that anything is possible.”
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