Connacht's first away victory over an Irish province in 13 years, and first away victory over Munster in 29 years was a long time coming. But it's something that had been signposted in the last 12 months. Pat Lam has assembled a talented young squad, and has them playing an exciting brand of rugby.
They entered the Munster game as top of the Pro 12, and they have deserved. But it's only after watching them that people have realised how good the Westerners really are. Connacht have now won nine of their ten games this season in all competitions, and are top of the charts in both points scoring and try scoring. Connacht won't be going away, and there should be more than just Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion, and Nathan White in the Ireland squad based on the squad's form.
Healy is entering his fourth season with Connacht, and the flying winger is a vastly superior player than the one that the Western province plucked from Lansdowne in 2012. The former Ireland U20 scrumhalf ahead of one Conor Murray has made giant leaps in the last 12 months, especially this season. His pace and finishing ability deserves a place in the squad alone. Healy is the source of a lot of Connacht's best moves, and working with Lam has helped his defensive ability and positioning. At the very least, a place in the extended squad should be made for Healy. It's scary how much better he could be once Schmidt gets his hands on him.
The Connemara-born fullback very nearly became the forgotten man. One of the most talented backs that Galway has produced, Eric Elwood threw him into the team aged 18, and it seemed like O'Halloran was destined to greatness. Fast forward a few years, and he was in the darkness under Lam. But O'Halloran was given another chance, and has taken it. Fullback is definitely where he can do the most damage, and he links up with Healy to devastating effect. He's thriving working with Andre Bell as the backs coach, and the freedom that he is afforded means that he's delivering on his undoubted potential. He's been involved in extended squads before, and at 24 still has time to develop and deliver.
What more does Denis Buckley have to do to get recognised? The 25-year-old prop is one of Connacht's best players, and in an age when loosehead props are routinely taken off after 5o minutes, managed to play the full 120 minutes against Gloucester in the European playoff game last May. Buckley is hugely unfortunate that he's in an era with Jack McGrath, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, and James Cronin but his performances are too good to ignore. Buckley is pushing the Leinster incumbents hard, and Schmidt needs to have a look at him. Buckley has also earned the title of the best scrumhalf pass from a prop in the land.
That doesn't even include future stars like Bundee Aki - who we had as Henshaw's partner for Ireland's 2019 World Cup team, 20-year-old Sean O'Brien who has broken into the team in recent weeks, Craig Ronaldson who continues to make strides, and future tighthead pair Finlay Bealham and Conan O'Donnell. The likes of John Cooney, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney, and Eoghan Masterson should all be monitored with international representation in mind as well.
Connacht's squad and play deserves more Ireland internationals, but will they be rewarded?