Connacht lose thriller to Leinster

Guinness PRO12

Connacht 24-37 Leinster

Connacht fell to a tough defeat at a packed-out Sportsground on Saturday night in a thrilling encounter that saw clinical Leinster take the spoils and book a home Guinness PRO12 semi-final.

With John Muldoon – on his landmark 300th Connacht appearance – leading manfully from the front, Connacht played some scintillating rugby but Leinster were absolutely clinical on the night and took every chance that came their way.

Some ferocious early tackles from Connacht and Kieran Marmion helped to force an early penalty with Ronaldson slotting the long-ranger to make it 3-0 within two minutes.

Leinster responded well and were off the mark before the seventh minute as winger Adam Byrne showed great hands to pop a pass inside for Zane Kirchner to touch down in the right corner.

Byrne soon touched down himself on 10 minutes as he pounced on a Ronaldson pass to run in an intercept try from 60 metres. Ross Byrne knocked over the easy conversion and Leinster led 12-3.

This time, it was Connacht’s turn to muster a riposte, and when Denis Buckley forced the penalty, Ronaldson made no mistake to narrow the deficit to six.

An electric Tiernan O’Halloran break down the right wing then set Connacht up for another attack and an impeccable crossfield kick from Jack Carty found Danie Poolman on the left flank and the winger ran in under the posts for a magnificent try with Ronaldson’s extras giving Connacht a 13-12 lead.

That advantage didn’t last long, however, as Ross Byrne’s first penalty for Leinster moved the visitors back in front on 22 minutes.

A third penalty for Ronaldson on the half hour made it 16-15 to Connacht but Leinster crossed via a Rory O’Loughlin try in the left corner following Luke McGrath’s break as Leinster moved 20-16 in front.

Connacht had the last word of a breathless first half with Ronaldson slotting his third penalty to narrow the deficit to just a single point at the interval, 20-19.

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An incredible break and offload from O’Halloran set up Connacht’s second try after the interval with Carty eventually floating a pass out to Dave Heffernan on the left wing and the hooker had the wheels to cross to move Connacht into a 24-20 lead with half an hour remaining.

Within three minutes, Leinster scored their fourth try as captain Rhys Ruddock touched down from close range and Ross Byrne landed the tricky conversion as the visitors went 26-24 in front.

As Connacht pushed for the next score, they were hit by a sucker punch as Barry Daly hacked a loose pass clear and the ball bounced up perfectly for the replacement to score under the posts with Ross Byrne’s conversion giving Leinster a 10-point advantage.

And a second penalty from Ross Byrne on 76 minutes sealed the win for Leinster.

The home support roared Connacht on throughout and gave Muldoon a hearty reception at full-time as he was presented with a special plaque by Connacht President Pat Piggott to make the incredible achievement of playing 300 games for his home province.

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Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun (Eoin Griffin, 10), Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Danie Poolman; Jack Carty (Steve Crosbie, 70), Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade 36-40, 73); Denis Buckley (JP Cooney, 70), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt, 64), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 70); Quinn Roux (Sean O’Brien, 21), Andrew Browne; Eoin McKeon (Naulia Dawai, h-t), Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (C).

Leinster: Zane Kirchner; Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, James Tracy, Mike Ross; Ross Molony, Hayden Triggs; Dominic Ryan, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock (C).

Replacements: Seán Cronin, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Ian Nagle, Peadar Timmins, Nick McCarthy, Tom Daly, Barry Daly.

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)

End
81
76
Ross Byrne
Penalty
73
Peadar Timmins
Rhys Ruddock
Caolin Blade
Kieran Marmion
73
Dominic Robertson-McCoy
Finlay Bealham
69
JP Cooney
Denis Buckley
69
69
Tom Daly
Rory O'Loughlin
Steve Crosbie
Jack Carty
69
69
Nick McCarthy
Luke McGrath
68
Ross Byrne
Conversion
68
Barry Daly
Try
Shane Delahunt
Dave Heffernan
64
61
Ian Nagle
Hayden Triggs
53
Ross Byrne
Conversion
52
Rhys Ruddock
Try
51
Peter Dooley
Cian Healy
51
Michael Bent
Mike Ross
51
Sean Cronin
James Tracy
Dave Heffernan
Try
49
46
Barry Daly
Dave Kearney
Kieran Marmion
Caolin Blade
40
Naulia Dawai
Eoin McKeon
40
Second Half Start
40
First Half End
40
Craig Ronaldson
Penalty
40
Caolin Blade
Kieran Marmion
35
34
Rory O'Loughlin
Try
Craig Ronaldson
Penalty
28
20
Ross Byrne
Penalty
Sean O'Brien
Quinn Roux
20
Craig Ronaldson
Conversion
18
Danie Poolman
Try
18
Craig Ronaldson
Penalty
12
Eoin Griffin
Niyi Adeolokun
11
10
Ross Byrne
Conversion
10
Adam Byrne
Try
6
Zane Kirchner
Try
Craig Ronaldson
Penalty
1
First Half Start
0
Connacht Leinster
2
5
Tries
543
416
Metres
200
103
Carries
26
10
Defenders Beaten
16
8
Clean Breaks
296
126
Passes
25
10
Offloads
23
11
Turnovers Conceeded