By John O’Sullivan
Connacht bowed out of the Challenge Cup at the last 16 stage after a 48-32 defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Despite the Westerners registering tries through Kieran Marmion, Eoghan Masterson, Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle and twelve points from the boot of Jack Carty, it was the hosts who progressed through to the quarter-final.
Connacht began the game looking to play with their trademark ambition and pace and they were rewarded for this approach early on when Marmion touched down.
Sean O’Brien made an incisive break, cutting through Tigers' defence, and Marmion -- running an intelligent trail line -- caught the centre’s offload and showed great pace to sprint in for the try close to the left touchline.
To their credit, Leicester responded well to conceding a try and responded with two quickfire scores of their own. First, from a rolling maul -- a regular source of tries for the English side -- Charlie Clare dotted down.
Then, from a turnover in their own half, the hosts broke quickly and Guy Porter ran in a try down the blindside. This time, the Tigers converted via Zack Henry and -- despite Connacht being in the ascendancy in terms of possession -- lead 12-5.
In an open game, the Westerners scored next when Carty -- showing great accuracy from the tee -- confidently slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four points.
Connacht continued to probe in search of scores and their pressure lead to Care -- the host's first try scorer -- receiving a yellow card for a high tackle. However, despite being a man in arrears, Leicester scored another rapid brace of tries.
First, Matias Moroni reacted first to a spilled high ball and showed good awareness to swoop in for the try. Then, five minutes later, Henry touched down after another counter-attacking move saw Leicester quickly break and score.
A heavy spell of pressure from the visitors followed and -- after four penalties in the 22 -- Carty eventually rewarded their patience when he bisected the posts with a penalty that took the half-time score to 24-11 in favour of the home team.
Connacht started the second half with intent and attacked with gusto right from the start.
A bludgeoning carry from Tom Daly established field position deep in Leicester territory. Masterson intelligently spotted a gap at the next ruck and sprinted into the space Ro touch down for a try borne of quick thinking. Carty added the extras to bring by the visitors back within touching distance.
Leicester responded by opening their second-half account with a Henry penalty, but Connacht didn’t let that change the course of the momentum and they added their second try of the half not long after.
A typically enterprising attack saw substitute Caolin Blade throw a sumptuous, against the grain pass which Wootton — running a sharp line — collected and showed searing pace to burst through and touch down. Carty added the conversion and cut the deficit to two points at 27-25.
The scoring was of a tit-for-tat nature and Leicester were next to bare their teeth with another rolling maul try with Clare touching down for his second. Henry converted and the scoreline read 34:25.
Connacht, though, kept plugging away and captain Boyle personified this when he — like Masterson beforehand — spotted a gap in a ruck and sped in for a try that Carty converted, leaving the score at 34:32.
The Tigers were the next to score when Harry Wells barged over from close range. Henry converted and Leicester broke the forty-point mark and took the game away from the visitors.
The hosts finished off in style when Jasper Wiese smashed his way over the line off the back of a scrum to rubber-stamp the win at 48-32.
15: John Porch
14: Matt Healy
13: Sean O’Brien
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Paul Boyle ©
7: Conor Oliver
6: Eoghan Masterson
5: Gavin Thornbury
4: Ultan Dillane
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley
Replacements: Caolin Blade for Marmion, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Abraham Papali'i for Conor Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty