By John O'Sullivan
Despite a brilliant display of attacking rugby that yielded five first-half tries, Connacht fell to a narrow, 41-36, defeat to Scarlets in their final PRO14 game of the season.
John Porch, Abraham Papali'i, Kieran Marmion, Sean O'Brien and Dominic Robertson McCoy all touched down for first half tries for the away team, earning them both try and losing bonus points. Conor Fitzgerald and replacement Jack Carty added eleven points to Connacht's total via four conversions and a penalty.
It was a night for Dylan Tierney Martin as the hooker -- formerly of the Irish under '20s -- made his professional debut as a second-half replacement.
The Scarlets needed a win to help their Champions Cup qualifications hopes and they started with intent. After only two minutes, Aaron Shingler -- the blindside flanker -- touched down in the left-hand corner after a well-crafted move.
Connacht settled themselves thereafter, however, and began to take control of the contest. With a rock-solid set-piece, the Westerners began to string phases of attacks deep in the Scarlets 22 together.
After a typically sturdy scrum, the away launched an attack and Tom Daly combined with Fitzgerald and the fly-halves pass found Porch and the full-back showed great pace to touch down. Fitzgerald slotted the extras to give the away team a deserved lead.
With their tails up, Connacht added a second try not long after. Kieran Marmion’s incisive break gave the Westerners’ field position and, with advantage accruing, Fitzgerald’s beautiful fizzing pass found Papali’i on the right-hand wing. The big number fended off a would-be challenger to touch down for an excellently constructed try.
Two tries soon became three as Connacht showed all their attacking flair and pace. A huge break from O’Brien saw the centre pass to Porch. The full-back then made an incision of his own through the Scarlets defence before offloading back to O’Brien to score. It was a try of beautiful proportions and Fitzgerlad confidently added the conversion to bring the score to 19-5 in favour of the away team.
The flow of the game was tit for tat and Scarlets were the next team to score when Steff Hughes -- after a beautiful offload from Steff Evans -- picked up near the line and dived over for a converted try to bring the score to 12-19.
Connacht were to have the last say in the half, however and scored two quickfire tries to bring their first-half total of tries to five. First, Robertson McCoy -- whose set piece work, as well as his ball carrying, was superb -- smashed his way over from close range. Fitzgerald, once again, made no mistake in adding the extras.
Then, after a huge break from Niall Murray established Connacht field position, Daly offloaded to Marmion and the scrum-half -- so sharp throughout the half -- picked up and scored. Fitzgerald added the conversion and Connacht went into the interval 33-12 to the good.
Needing the win to secure third place, Scarlets started the second half with ambition and they had their first try of the second period five minutes in. Centre Hughes completed his brace and touched for a try which Dan Jones converted.
Another try followed five minutes later when scrum-half Dane Blacker -- following a break and offload from second row Sam Lousi -- ran in the converted score to bring Connacht’s winning margin back to seven points at 26-33.
With the momentum behind them, Scarlets added two more tries -- via Tom Rogers and replacement prop Javan Sebastian -- and a Jones penalty to take the win.
Carty’s late penalty earned Connacht a losing bonus point to go with their try bonus point.
1: Jordan Duggan
2: Shane Delahunt
3: Dominic Robertson McCoy
4: Niall Murray
5: Gavin Thornbury
6: Paul Boyle
7: Conor Oliver
8: Abraham Papali’i
9: Kieran Marmion
10: Conor Fitzgerald
11: Alex Wootton
12: Tom Daly
13: Sean O’Brien
14: Ben O’Donnell
15: John Porch
Dylan Tierney-Martin for Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke for Jordan Duggan, Finlay Bealham for Robertson McCoy, Oisin Dowling for Gavin Thornbury, Sean Masterson for Papali'i, Colm Reilly for Marmion, Jack Carty for Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan for Ben O'Donnell.