When two brilliant offloads helped Connacht to end a 17-year drought in Dublin

Leinster were unbeaten at Donnybrook in three years when Steph Nel’s men arrived in 2002.

WHEN CONNACHT TRAVELLED to take on Leinster in September 2002, in what was the second-ever season of the Celtic League, they hadn’t beaten their eastern rivals away in Dublin for 17 years.

Leinster hadn’t lost in Donnybrook since 1999, but Steph Nel’s Connacht arrived with their confidence boosted by wins over the Borders and Cardiff in their two opening games of the season. 

Still, what followed was a massive shock victory against Matt Williams’ Leinster in what was the first-ever Celtic League meeting between the provinces, with two brilliant offloads from Michael Swift and Darren Yapp proving vital in Connacht’s 26-23 win.

warwick-waugh-and-david-quinlan-1392002-digital Connacht's Warwick Waugh is tackled by David Quinlan. INPHO INPHO

It was a thrilling night for the western province and their supporters in a game that TG4 will show this evening at 7.15pm in the latest episode of their Rugbaí Gold series of classic matches.

Of course, an 83rd-minute drop goal from fullback Mark McHugh won it for Connacht in the end, while Eric Elwood’s place-kicking was vital, but the two tries from Nel’s team featured superb offloads.

The first came in the ninth minute after a Leinster mix-up had handed the visitors a close-range scrum. With Connacht bouncing back down the short side after a single carry infield off the set-piece, it was blindside flanker Swift who delivered the key offload.


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Scrum-half Chris Keane – who would later move to Leinster – gets the reward for following his pass, receiving the ball back from Swift to sneak into the left corner.

It’s a clever try from Connacht, started by number eight John O’Sullivan showing great control and power to carry off the base of an unstable scrum.


While O’Sullivan is carrying infield [white above], we can see Swift [red] breaking off the scrum and backing away to hold a position in the 15-metre channel rather than chasing the ball.

Elwood, Paul Neville, Rowan Frost, Peter Bracken, hooker Jerry Flannery and lock Warrick Waugh all arrive into the breakdown and Connacht opt to bounce back to their left, with Keane skipping loosehead Dan McFarland to hit Swift in a wider position.

Leinster’s Shane Byrne and Paul Wallace engage into the tackle on Swift, but both tackle him low, meaning Swift can keep the ball free in his right hand [red below].


On the very edge of Leinster’s defence, wing John McWeeney [yellow above] has turned in as the tackle is made.

With Swift staying up on his feet as Keane [white] sweeps across and left wing Wayne Munn arrives on Swift’s outside, McWeeney ends up in behind the tackle, blinded to the calm offload Swift releases to his scrum-half.

Reggie Corrigan [blue below], coming from the inside in the defence, is similarly attracted towards the tackle and can’t react as Keane [white] nips along the touchline to finish.


Elwood’s brilliant conversion leaves Connacht 10-6 ahead and they managed to get to half-time 13-9 in front, leaving them in position for a huge second half.

After Leinster had battled back to level the game at 16-16, Connacht needed another bit of offloading magic to nudge in front in the 72nd minute.

Again, Nel’s side struck from a close-range scrum. 


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Keane hits Elwood, who has right wing Ted Robinson [red below] running a short line on his inside, while captain Tim Allnutt [yellow] runs a direct line outside him.


However, Keane [white above] is coming on the looping line and Elwood drops the return pass behind to his scrum-half on the move.

Leinster initially manage the danger well, with replacement centre Shane Horgan [white below] getting beyond Allnutt to track Keane’s run, meaning outside centre Kieran Lewis [blue] can mark up on opposite number Yapp.


But the Connacht 13 does well to deliver another outstanding offload.


[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

Yapp gets to Lewis’ outside shoulder, making him stretch to tackle, and inviting Leinster fullback Gordon D’Arcy [yellow below] to turn in towards him too.


D’Arcy is looking to tie up the ball in the tackle but Yapp manages to turn and offload just before the Leinster man tags his arms. 

Keane’s work-rate is rewarded as he receives the ball for a third touch in this play. While Connacht fullback McHugh has run a short line off Yapp, left wing Munn is still holding the width.

Leinster wing McWeeney [white below] now has to worry about Keane, though, and is forced to turn in.


Keane fires his pass away to Munn, who has to briefly stoop to gather it.

Denis Hickie is the defender sweeping across in desperation and Munn cleverly uses that against him, stepping hard back to Hickie’s inside off his left foot…


… before driving into D’Arcy, fighting to keep himself alive in that tackle, and stretching out to dot down.


Again, Elwood nailed the conversion for a 23-16 lead, although Leinster’s response ensured McHugh’s drop-goal nerve would be required right at the death.

These two tries played a major role in Connacht ending their 17-year drought in Dublin, the sheer surprise of the brilliant offloads from Swift and Yapp part of the massive shock the western province pulled off in Donnybrook.

The 2002 Celtic League clash between Leinster and Connacht at Donnybrook will be screened on TG4 this evening at 7.15pm.

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