Box­ing clever? Con­nacht punch above their weight, says Peters

The Herald - Herald Sport - - TENNIS, RUGBY UNION -

ERIC PETERS bri­dles in mock in­dig­na­tion at the sug­ges­tion that there was some­thing rather in­con­gru­ous about his pres­ence among the cit­i­zens of Ire­land’s wild west on a protest march through the streets of Dublin.

“A posh boy from Cam­bridge . . . I’m a man of the peo­ple, what are you talk­ing about?” he splut­ters, laugh­ing.

Teas­ing apart, the cir­cum­stances which em­broiled the for­mer Scot­land cap­tain in that battle to save Con­nacht 14 years ago when the Ir­ish Rugby Union was poised to swing the axe in a bid to be able to pro­vide greater fund­ing for Le­in­ster, Mun­ster and Ul­ster makes a strong case for the truth of his claim.

Af­ter sev­eral sea­sons bat­tling se­ri­ous ill­ness and in­jury the back-row for­ward had re-es­tab­lished him­self with a 10-week spell at Rother­ham dur­ing which they won 10 matches, in­clud­ing claim­ing the Pow­er­gen Cup, bring­ing him back to the at­ten­tion of both in­ter­na­tional se­lec­tors and big­ger clubs.

The SRU, set­ting up the ill-fated Bor­ders fran­chise at the time, had spent its money and, in spite of Peters’ hav­ing been re­called by Scot­land af­ter a three year ab­sence dur­ing the tour of North Amer­ica, could not come up with any bud­get to of­fer him a deal, so when Con­nacht got in touch it was the one op­por­tu­nity he had at the ap­pro­pri­ate level, but there was a late twist.

“Just as I was head­ing over there, Wasps came in be­cause some­one had got in­jured, but I’d al­ready said yes to Con­nacht and it was on the morn­ing I was there to sign so, as I’d said I would, I did,” Peters ex­plains.

Which is why, when mat­ters came to a head, he found him­self among those wield­ing plac­ards as they de­manded their prov­ince’s his­tory be re­spected.

“It wasn’t re­motely in­tim­i­dat­ing,” Peters notes. “I think they were mak­ing a point by way of free­dom of speech. It was all very good man­nered. I don’t re­mem­ber any rau­cous be­hav­iour.

“It all sort of fades back, but I think a fair few turned up and did the march. The var­i­ous clubs and com­mit­tees in Con­nacht pulled it to­gether.”

As to his own mind­set as some­one newly pitched into this heady mix of sport and pol­i­tics?

“I guess you’re sup­port­ing the guys. There was a big his­tory and de­spite the lim­ited re­sources and lim­ited fund­ing Con­nacht was punch­ing above its weight back then as well,” says Peters.

“Partly be­cause it’s a hard place to get to, on the At­lantic coast, not so much get­ting four dif­fer­ent sea­sons in a day as in the course of a match as I re­mem­ber, it can be quite an in­tim­i­dat­ing place and they tend to get good re­sults there.

“So there was a strong spirit and they all wanted to carry that on. They ob­vi­ously felt proud about its his­tory and its con­tri­bu­tion and felt they still had some­thing to of­fer.

“I don’t think it [their dis­band­ment] was ever def­i­nitely planned, but it was tabled as a topic of dis­cus­sion within the Ir­ish Union and with the pres­sure they man­aged to raise against it the Union backed down.”

His ex­pe­ri­ence of that sea­son was a good one as part of a trio of se­nior in­ter­na­tion­als, along with Eric El­wood, Con­nacht’s most fa­mous player of the mod­ern era who was in his last sea­son and War­wick Waugh, with whom Peters had pre­vi­ously played at Bath.

“I en­joyed the sea­son there. There was a good bunch of guys. The rest were young tal­ented guys ei­ther from Con­nacht or the other prov­inces, who needed a game and there was a very good spirit. I think we lost in the quar­ters of the Euro­pean Shield that year, but punched above our weight to get there I think. It was good fun.”

Re­mind­ing Peters of his own ad­vanc­ing mid­dle age he also played that sea­son for the Gal­we­gians club along­side a teenage prospect named John Mul­doon who is now him­self the gnarled vet­eran who has led Con­nacht into to­day’s PRO12 Grand Final at Mur­ray­field from the front.

From his home in Sur­rey, then, there is a sense of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the un­der­dog side that has earned its place in this show­piece match against the so-called “posh boys” of Le­in­ster.

“I think sav­ing Con­nacht was re­ally im­por­tant for Ir­ish rugby,” Peters reck­ons. “I’m pleased that they’ve shown the other prov­inces that there is a fourth prov­ince in Ire­land [ca­pa­ble] of punch­ing above their weight.”

He draws en­cour­age­ment from their ef­forts from a Scot­tish per­spec­tive too.

“I was born in Glas­gow and a lot of the Scot­tish guys are there, so I’m glad to see them do­ing well,” he says.

“They won it last year and came close this year. That the Scot­tish teams and the likes of Con­nacht as un­der­dogs are start­ing to do bet­ter is good. Sim­i­larly win­ning the London Sevens at the week­end is tread­ing new ground.”

The rest of Scot­tish rugby gets its chance to­day to wit­ness first-hand what that Con­nacht spirit has brought about. Most neu­trals will doubt­less be won over – as Eric Peters once was.

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