In the autumn months of 1997, Connacht Rugby was still transitioning into the professional era. Some of the squad were semi-pros, while others still had full-time jobs outside of rugby. Of course, there was some serious rugby star power in the squad too, including Eric Elwood, Mervyn Murphy, Nigel Carolan and even a young Bernard Jackman.
The squad, directed by a relatively fresh-faced Warren Gatland, set out to do at least one thing that season – make their mark in Europe. And boy did they. Not only did they become the first Irish team in the professional era to beat a French team away from home, but they also became the first Irish team to beat both French and English opposition away from home in a European competition.
A sensational European Challenge Cup run began with the club smashing Northampton 43-13 at home on a sunny Tuesday evening. This was followed by a controversial defeat away to Nice, which meant a must-win away game to Bordeaux-Begles was on the cards.
No Irish team had ever come away victorious over a French team away from home before in European competition, but that is exactly what Connacht did, beating Bordeaux 9-15 on Saturday, September 20th, 1997. This lit Connacht on fire in Europe then, as they stormed to a revenge win over Nice at home and beat Bordeaux-Begles at home too for good measure. You can read more about this historic Cup run here.
For Connacht Rugby, this was a pivotal moment in time – the first time in the professional era that the club were serious competitors on the European stage. For our 2022/23 European kit this year, then, we decided to celebrate this with a kit that pays tribute not only to that season, but to the last 25 years of transformation. It is thanks to the hard work, ambition and belief of all players and staff from then to now, as well as the unwavering support of all of our fans that Connacht Rugby not only survived, but thrived.
For our launch, our stars of today (Tom Daly, John Porch and Jack Carty) emulated prominent photography from that era. We also looked back at the records, spoke to experts and, of course, there are still a few familiar faces around the club that we asked too. Keep an eye out for some more appearances and videos over the days to come!
For now though, make sure you get your European kit quickly – it’s guaranteed to be a collector’s item in the years to come.