By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht 14-20 Scarlets

 

Connacht fell to a narrow defeat in their GuinnessPRO14 conference B clash with the Scarlets at the Sportsground.

 

Despite scoring two tries, through home debutant Abraham Papali’i and Ultane Dillane as well as two conversions from Jack Carty, the hosts came up just short as the visitors — thanks to a brace of tries from winger Ryan Conbeer, a try from scrum half Dane Blacker and five points from the boot of fly-half Dan Jones — edged a physical encounter.

 

With the wind at their backs, the visitors started on the front foot and opened the scoring after just five minutes. An enterprising backline move — with Guinness PRO14 man of the match Johnny McNicholl heavily involved — saw winger Conbeer cross for a try in the right hand corner. Jones’ conversion, from a tough angle, drifted wide.

 

Connacht responded well to the concession of a score and had a try of their own not long after. A series of hard carries — with Shane Delahunt and Tom Daly making big yardage with their efforts — gave the hosts field position in the Scarlets 22. The ball was then worked to Papali’i and the New Zealander marked his home debut with a try as he powerfully smashed over from close range. The conversion was a formality for Carty and the Westerners took the lead for the first time in the game at 7-5.

 

To their credit, the Welshmen came back strongly and Conbeer had his second try after McNicholl’s break and subsequent offload gave the 21 year old the chance to touch down in the corner. The conversion fell wide from Jones, but he made amends soon after with a penalty and Scarlets held their 13-7 lead going into the interval.

 

Connacht started the second half with ambition and almost had a try when John Porch’s excellent high ball fielding and run brought the Australian within a few inches of scoring before he was bundled into touch. Paul Boyle, after a brilliant run and kick saw him advance the Westerners from their 22 into the Scarlets’, also came close to a try but the away team managed to fend off the attack and bundle the back row into touch.

 

Encouraged, the home team kept probing, but they conceded their third try when an overcooked kick from a strike move saw the visitors counter and scrum half Blacker ran an intelligent trail line to field a pass and run over to score. Jones made no mistakes with the conversion and the visitors found themselves 20-7 to the good.

 

The hosts didn’t relent in their intensity and kept searching for their second try and they almost had it when Daly’s clever line saw him break through and feed Matt Healy in the 22. Bearing down on the try line, the Irish international was brilliantly tackled by Scarlets captain Steff Hughes, causing a knock on, and the Welsh team escaped unscathed on the scoreboard.

 

Connacht wouldn’t have to wait much longer to register their second try, however, when Ultan Dilllane — in his last piece of action before being replaced by Eoghan Masterson — muscled over from close range. Carty had no issues adding the extras and the home team brought themselves back within touching distance at 14-20.

 

The hosts kept on the attack, but every effort was denied by strong Scarlets defence and the Welshmen held on for the win.

Connacht team:

(15-9)

John Porch
Alex Wootton
Sammy Arnold
Tom Daly
Matt Healy
Jack Carty
Colm Reilly

(8-1)

Abraham Papali’i
Jarrad Butler (C)
Paul Boyle
Gavin Thornbury
Ultane Dillane
Conor Kenny
Shane Delahunt
Paddy McAllister

 

Replacements: Denis Buckley for Paddy McAllister, Jack Aungier for Conor Kenny, Eoghan Masterson for Ultan Dillane, Conor Oliver for Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion for Colm Reilly, Tom Farrell for Sammy Arnold.

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