Connacht put in a huge, determined effort in front of a packed out Sportsground tonight as the game went down to the wire. The Aviva Premiership leaders were forced to fight hard for a tight victory in the opening game of the Heineken Cup campaign.

The visitors came out of the blocks faster with an early try from centre Chris Wyles on five minutes. British & Irish Lion Owen Farrell set up the conversion kick and added the two points.

Connacht responded quickly with a fine penalty kick from Dan Parks, but Saracens doubled their lead almost immediately from the kick off with a try from England international wing Chris Ashton following a spell of determined pressure on the Connacht line.

But Connacht fought back when Man of the Match Kieran Marmion collected a loose ball and ran in 30 metres to touch down. Parks added the conversion to reduce Saracens lead to four points.

A further penalty from Farrell put Mark McCall’s men seven points ahead but they were reeled in when winger Danie Poolman crossed for a well-worked team try. Parks’ conversion kick levelled the scores and the outhalf had a chance to take the lead with a late penalty but the ball went wide.

Half time: Connacht 17 – 17 Saracens

A second Farrell penalty put the visitors ahead again in the 53rd minute. Connacht continued to test the visitors and a huge defensive effort kept them out despite them dominating possession and territory.

A pulsating game of rugby remained in the balance. Farrell’s drop goal effort went wide and there was still time for an upset, despite the fifth successful kick of the night from Farrell to bring them six points ahead.

With five minutes on the clock, Connacht piled their bodies on the line in an effort to grab a match saving try. Replacements Aly Muldowney and Paul O’Donohoe looked to have chances but were held up short through some vital work from the Sarries who won the penalty to finish the game.

Full time: Connacht 17 – 23 Saracens

CONNACHT: G Duffy; F Carr (T O’Halloran 59 mins), R Henshaw, C Ronaldson (C So’olialo 67 mins), D Poolman; D Parks, K Marmion (P O’Donohoe 71mins); B Wilkinson (JP Cooney 73 mins), S Henry (J Harris-Wright), R Ah You ; M Swift (A Muldowney 59 mins), C Clarke; J Muldoon ( A Brown 55 mins), J Heenan; G Naoupu.

SARACENS: A Goode; C Ashton (M Tagicakibau 77 mins), J Tomkins ( D Taylor 60 mins), C Wyles, S Strettle; O Farrell, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth 53 mins); R Gill, S Brits ( J Johnson 73 mins), M Stevens; S Borthwick, G Kruis ( A Hargreaves 57 mins); K Brown, W Fraser (E Joubert 36 mins), B Vunipola.

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