Connacht 18-27 Bristol Bears
Connacht fell to a narrow 18-27 defeat to the Bristol Bears in a physical Heineken Champions Cup clash at the Sportsground.
Despite scoring tries through Tiernan O’Halloran and John Porch -- as well two penalties and a conversion from Jack Carty’s boot -- the hosts weren’t able to turn the Premiership team over in a keenly fought contest and will exit the competition.
The visitors scored four tries of their own, through Bryan Byrne, Ed Holmes, Piers O’Conor, and Ioan Lloyd, with Callum Sheedy kicking two conversions and a penalty to seal the win.
From the outset, Bristol were intent on attacking, but all of their early efforts were denied by Connacht’s defensive efforts. Ultan Dillane and Bundee Aki, in particular, were prominent in the tackling stakes and last season’s Challenge Cup winners were unable to turn territory and possession into points.
The hosts were looking to play with pace and they almost opened the try-scoring account in the 25th minute from a typically fast break. Kieran Marmion burst through the defence of the English team and made significant yardage and then fed Alex Wootton a pass. The winger kept the move alive and Connacht turned the screw with numerous phases in the Bristol 22.
The visitors, though, managed to turn the ball over and they cleared their lines and escaped the hosts onslaught.
The Premiership team were looking to use their maul at every opportunity and it was through this route that they scored the only try of the half, five minutes before the interval. Turning down the opportunity to kick for goal in the Connacht 22, the visitors opted to go for the line. From the ensuing line out, Byrne touched down at the base of a powerful rolling maul.
The conversion was wide, Carty made no such mistakes from the tee and in the last action of the half and the Roscommon man’s successful penalty saw the home team go into the break 5-3 down.
Bristol started the second period in strong fashion and had their second try soon after the restart when lock Holmes -- a try which fly half Sheedy converted -- powered over for a try in the left hand corner.
With the wind in their sails and a man advantage after Aki was yellow carded, the English team ran in their third try of the evening when O’Conor showed a great burst of pace to break down the flank and dive over for a try built on pace. Sheedy once again slotted the conversion to give the visitors an ideal first ten minutes of the second half.
Connacht weren’t deterred, though, and they scored their first try minutes later in what was proving to be an action-packed period of the half. Replacement O’Halloran, after great work by the pack close to Bristol’s line, was on hand to run in a try which Carty -- despite the difficulty of the angle -- had no issues with converting and the score read 19-10 with 20 minutes left.
After an enterprising break was ended breaks by the hosts was ended by Bristol -- an incident which saw their captain Siale Piutau yellow carded -- the hosts were awarded a penalty and Carty once again kept his composure and he brought the Westerners back to within six with a confidently struck penalty.
The flow of the game was end to end and Lloyd was the next Bears player to score when he dove in the right-hand corner after good work from the visitors pack provided the platform. The conversion was wide and with nine minutes left, the game was still open.
Connacht made it a tense finale when great work from both Carty and O’Halloran created an overload and Porch -- showing great pace and positional nous -- ran in a try in the right corner, tight to the touchline. The conversion drifted narrowly wide and Bristol -- after winning a penalty in the hosts 22 -- ended the scoring through a Sheedy penalty.
15: John Porch
14: Alex Wootton
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Bundee Aki
11: Matt Healy
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Paul Boyle(C)
7: Conor Oliver
6: Sean Masterson
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Eoghan Masterson
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley
Replacements: Jack Aungier for Bealham, Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Shane Delahunt for Denis Buckley, Cian Prendergast for Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler for S.Masterson, Caolin Blade for Marmion, O'Halloran for Wootton, Daly for Healy.