Last weekend we saw 3 Connacht players starting for Ireland in a 6 Nations match, for the first time ever.
Second rows Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux, along with centre Bundee Aki were joined by outhalf Jack Carty, who made his debut, in the 23 man squad.
This is only the second time in 6 Nations history that Connacht have had 4 or more players in the matchday 23. The other occasion was the match against Italy in the Aviva in March 2016, when there were actually 5 Connacht players in the squad. They were Nathan White, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion, and Robbie Henshaw.
Now let’s have a look at a history of Connacht players who have represented Ireland since the game went professional in 1995.
The Early Years – 1995 to 2003
At the dawn of professionalism Connacht only had 4 players that made it into 6N squads,
Eric Elwood (15 6N caps, 9 con, 37 pen, 2 DG), Simon Geoghegan (22 6N caps, 5 tries), Conor McGuinness (7 6N caps, 6 tries) and Jim Staples (12 6N caps, 1 try). However they racked a decent total of 56 caps and 12 tries between them.
The Fallow Middle Years – 2004 to 2012
In the dark days following the March on Lansdowne Road when Connacht was effectively a development province, only three players were capped, Gavin Duffy (16N cap, 1 try), Sean Cronin (6 6N caps) and Mike McCarthy (7 6N caps). Both Cronin and McCarthy gained further caps once they left for Leinster in 2011 and 2013 respectively.
The Promising Years – 2013 to 2019
Connacht have kicked on from being the development province,winning the PRO12 in 2015-16 season being the culmination of that progress.
That progress in the PRO14 has also been reflected in Connacht having 8 players capped since 2013: Bundee Aki(8 6N caps, 3 tries), Kieran Marmion(8 6N caps),Jack Carty(1 6n cap),Nathan White(5 6N caps),Quinn Roux(5 6N caps, 1 try),Ultan Dillane(7), Finlay Bealham(1), Robbie Henshaw(6 6N caps, 1 try).
Robbie Henshaw also gained further caps once he left for Leinster in 2016.
Connachts representation in the 6N is growing, with Caolan Blade and Tom Farrell being 24th and 25th men in Rome, which will hopefully stand to Connacht in the remaining games of the PRO14 and the semi final of the Challenge Cup.