Connacht welcomed back fans to the Sportsground for the first time in over a year and they didn’t disappoint their supporters with a 34-7 win over the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship.
Despite conceding an early try to Lizo Gqoboka, the Westerners rallied and scored five tries in a brilliant performance of physical dominance and skill.
Tom Daly crossed for two tries, while player of the match Mack Hansen -- on his home debut -- Tom Farrell and Tiernan O’Halloran also dotted down five-pointers. The boot of the impressive Jack Carty tacked on three conversions and a penalty to account for the thirty-four points.
The physical South African team started well and, after only a minute, found themselves in front when their loose-head, Gqoboka, powered his way over for a converted try.
Connacht, though, didn’t panic and soon after levelled the scores up when a rumbling maul gave them territory in the Bulls’ 22. From there, the ball was worked wide with speed. Tom Farrell throw a beautiful offload out of the tackle to Carty and the fly-half picked out O’Halloran to touch down. The Roscommon native then added the conversion to tie the game up at 7-7.
The line out was proving to be an excellent platform for the home team to launch attacks and it was through the set-piece that they took the lead for the first time. After winning a line out, Connacht constructed a move -- which included a Kieran Marmion break -- that was eventually ended when a Bulls player was penalised for not rolling away. Showing composure, Carty made no mistake to take the score to 10-7 in the Westerners’ favour.
The home team started the second half in a similar fashion to what they finished the first and they had their second try not long into the second period. A probing move from the forwards close to the line -- with Abraham Papali’i carrying hard and often -- established field position. Then, the ball was worked to the backs and Daly -- running on an arc -- powered over. Carty once again added the extras and Connacht lead 17-7.
It wasn’t long before it became three tries and it was a score worth waiting for. Fielding the ball in his own half, Hansen -- with pace in abundance -- fired his way down the pitch, evading several tackles, and dove over for a try of individual brilliance. At 22-7, the home team were deservedly ahead.
With the bonus point try in their sights, Connacht continued to play with ambition and a high tempo and their efforts were rewarded with ten minutes remaining. A solid scrum on halfway gave Marmion clean ball to work with. The scrum-half made a burst, fed a pass to Carty and the Roscommon man’s pass was met by Farrell on a clever line. The centre then powered his way through the midfield to touch down for the home sides bonus point. Carty then tacked on the conversion and the Westerners found themselves 29-7 ahead.
The home team weren’t done there, however, and they had a fifth try with the clock in red at the end of the game. Daly, with the aid of team-mates lending their strength close to the line, crashed over the whitewash to seal the win at 34-7.
15: Tiernan O’Halloran
14: John Porch
13: Tom Farrell
12: Tom Daly
11: Mack Hansen
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Abraham Papali’i
7: Jarrad Butler ©
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Oisin Dowling
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Jordan Duggan
16: Shane Delahunt for Dave Heffernan
17: Matthew Burke for Jordan Duggan
18: Jack Aungier for Finlay Bealham
19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling
20: Conor Oliver for Jarrad Butler
21: Caolin Blade
22: Paul Boyle for Papali’i
23: Sammy Arnold for Cian Prendergast