Perennial underachievers Connacht claimed their most famous scalp in leading their three rival Irish provincial sides to wins in Heineken Cup action on the weekend.
The unfashionable Galway-based side, coached by ex-Samoan flanker Pat Lam, produced the standout result in a scintillating three days of rugby, holding on for a 16-14 win over four-time champions Toulouse.
The win bucked a losing run of 10 successive matches, with Connacht’s previous victory of the season coming over Italian side Zebre in their opening Cup pool game. The three other provinces all recorded bonus-point victories in what was a memorable weekend for Irish rugby fans.
Three-time former champions Leinster put Northampton to the sword, 40-7, two-time champs Munster had a 36-8 win over Perpignan and Ulster crushed Treviso 48-0.
Toulouse skipper Thierry Dusautoir was full of praise for Connacht, saying the gulf between the French giants and the “fourth” Irish province was not evident on the pitch.
Connacht coach Lam said self-belief had been behind the victory.
“We have a team with no superstars, we missed so many opportunities throughout the season, but we still came here confident,” he said.
One player to have done his job for Leinster was talismanic Ireland center Brian O’Driscoll.
The 34-year-old was in cracking form in both attack and defense against a toothless Northampton.
“You would never expect to come to Northampton and get a result like that,” Leinster coach Matt O’Connor said.
Leinster bagged a bonus point in 36 minutes and led 26-0 at the break before coming out firing in the second half.
Ulster’s win over Treviso was important in that it followed victories over Montpellier and main Pool 5 rivals Leicester, who now have a seven-point deficit on the Northern Irishmen.
Toulouse apart, all the serious contenders for the continent’s biggest club rugby crown posted wins over the weekend.
Defending champions Toulon bounced back from a 23-0 defeat in the Top 14 to Stade Francais with a nervy 14-9 win over Exeter and domestic rivals Clermont waltzed past Scarlets 32-11.
English heavyweights Leicester beat Montpellier 41-32 in an entertaining match, while Saracens thrashed Zebre 39-10 and Harlequins beat Racing-Metro 32-8.
Racing-Metro’s directors took a dim view of the result, announcing that they switched the mouthwatering Top 14 clash with Toulon away from Stade de France to their own much more modest stadium.
“In light of the result against Harlequins on Saturday this has forced us to accept we are not a part of the great teams of the moment,” the club said. “The Stade de France is reserved for such teams and we do not belong there.”