By John O’Sullivan
Connacht defeated the DHL Stormers in a physical encounter at the Sportsground in the United Rugby Championship today.
Tries from Paul Boyle, Tom Daly and Peter Sullivan, as well as two conversions from the boot of Conor Fitzgerald sealed the win in front of a raucous home crowd.
The visitors, through Sergeal Petersen, Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse, notched three tries of their own but it was the home team – through a mix of grit and skill – who deservedly took the victory.
Connacht, with Boyle and Cian Prendergast prominent in the ball-carrying stakes, were the aggressors early on but the visitors' defence held firm in a scoreless opening ten minutes in a blustery Sportsground.
The game featured regular set pieces in the opening half of the first period and Connacht – with their front row of Tietie Tuimauga, Shane Delahunt, and Denis Buckley also impressing in the loose – were more than a match for the South Africans whose pack featured Springbok internationals.
The visitors grew more into the contest as we approached the mid part of the first half and they made it count when Petersen dove over for an unconverted try to open the scoring for the afternoon.
Connacht, though, didn’t panic and they registered their first score of the afternoon after the half-hour mark. Electing to take a quick tap penalty close to the away team's try line, the hosts kept the ball with their forwards and, after multiple phases, Boyle muscled his way over. Fitzgerald added the extras and the home team took the lead, much to the delight of their vocal supporters.
The visitors recovered just in time to take the lead going into the break. A looping garryowen, which was caught in the wind, caused confusion in the home defence and Willemse benefitted by touching down after a hack through. The conversion was wide and the away team went into the interval leading 10-7.
The Stormers started the second half in a similar fashion and, after a fortunate bounce from a Connacht knock-on, they scored their third try when the ball fell sweetly for Libbok to run in. He added the conversion and the away team were 17-7 to the good.
A raft of changes brought new impetus to Connacht and they worked their way back into proceedings near the hour mark. After try scorer Petersen was yellow carded for an intentional knock-on borne out of pressure the home team, Connacht worked their man advantage brilliantly.
Replacement Caolin Blade made a searing break, which fellow sub Conor Oliver continued with a big carry. Oliver then brilliantly offloaded to Fitzgerald, whose line was clever. The out-half then carried close to the line before offloading to Daly to touch down. It was a beautiful try and it exhibited Connacht at their best. The conversion was added by conversion and the deficit was cut to three points, 17-14.
Connacht had the momentum behind them and, with the Stormers being reduced to fourteen men again – this time for a high tackle – they seized the initiative.
A sweeping move saw the ball worked left and Wootton brilliantly offloaded to Sullivan – who had replaced Fitzgerald, who was on the receiving end of the Stormers yellow card tackle, after initially going off – to touch down in the corner. The try gave Connacht a slender lead at 19-17 and it’s one they held to claim a big win.
15: John Porch
14: Peter Sullivan(Tom Farrell)
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald (Peter Sullivan)
9: Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade)
8: Paul Boyle
7: Jarrad Butler (Conor Oliver)
6: Cian Prendergast (Abraham Papali’i)
5: Leva Fifita
4: Niall Murray (Oisin Dowling)
3: Tietie Tuimauga (Jack Aungier)
2: Shane Delahunt (Jonny Murphy)
1: Denis Buckley (Jordan Duggan)
16: Jonny Murphy
17: Jordan Duggan
18: Jack Aungier
19: Oisin Dowling
20: Conor Oliver
21: Caolin Blade
22: Tom Farrell
23: Abraham Papali’i