A battling display but sadly not enough as Connacht’s 2022/23 season came to an end in Cape Town against the defending BKT United Rugby Champions, Stormers.
The stats from this game will show a lot of good reading for Connacht but it’s the scoreboard that matters and that is where the South African side came out on top.
Playing against a strong wind in the first half, Connacht began the brighter in this game. Three minutes on the clock, Stormers knocked a ball on in within their own 22 which led to a scrum where Connacht would go on to win a kickable penalty which Jack Carty converted to give the away side the lead.
The home side looked a bit shaky with handling errors being seen within the opening ten minutes.
Nine minutes into the game, the leading lineout stealer in the URC Niall Murray brought his party piece to town which gave Connacht a chance to gain territory which Carty went for with an impressive kick to leave the Stormers defending their own 22.
Connacht looked the far more comfortable side in this opening period and extended their lead when Mack Hansen finished superbly in the corner after a number of phases in the lead up.
Eight up with eleven minutes on the clock, the home side needed to settle into this game soon. Damian Willemse sparked the blues into life when he cut through the Connacht defence which then saw ball recycled to fly-half Manie Libbok who found Angelo Davids on the wing with a nice kick to get their first try of the game.
24 minutes on the clock, the hosts would take the lead when Libbok converted a penalty and it wouldn’t be long before the fly-half was scoring a try of his own. A quick counter attack where Willemse had Libbok running off his shoulder to go own and make it 17-8 after he converted his own try.
It was a tough spell for Connacht and made even harder when Stormers got their third try of the game. Winger Davids burst through a few tackles where Libbok was on hand to receive and get his second try.
Heading to half-time and sixteen points down Connacht needed something before the break. Tom Farrell found a gap through the Stormers defence to go on a run where he made good ground. It led to a promising attack inside the 22. Denis Buckley would be provider to Conor Oliver who powered his way over the line to make it 24-13 at the break.
Looking back at the first half, Stormers were playing off scraps and Connacht knew they were still in this game.
With the belief and skill the men from the West have, they got themselves right back in this game after Shamus Hurley-Langton went over for their third try of the game. Jack Carty converted and suddenly there was only four points in it with thirty to play.
The fight from this Connacht side could never be questioned and Stormers knew they were in a game.
Like all good champions though they found a way to calm the storm and got their fourth try of the game from replacement Paul de Wet to bring it back to eleven.
A lot of teams might have gave up after that try but not this group of Connacht players, they knew they could still get back into this and with 74 on the clock, Byron Ralston was on hand to score their fourth try of the game and bring Connacht to within six points.
The final say of the game however would be the Stormers who crossed over for two late tries and ending Connacht’s hope of a URC final.