Connacht finished their season with a 26-19 bonus point victory over the Ospreys in The GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup at the Sportsground tonight.
Tries from Shane Delahunt -- who marked his 100th appearance in style -- Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane, and Peter Sullivan, with Jack Carty tagging on six points from the kicking tee, sealed a deserved win for the Westerners.
The Ospreys, meanwhile, scored three tries of their own -- via Morgan Morris, Tom Botha, and Sam Parry -- in a game they needed to win to keep their Rainbow Cup hopes alive.
The victory also provided the ideal send-off to coaches Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy -- two loyal servants to the province, both on and off the pitch -- who will depart the province before the start of the season.
Both teams looked to feel each other out early with the opening five minutes seeing a lot of kicking. Connacht -- with Ben O’Donnell and Alex Wootton especially impressive in the air -- were safe under the high ball and they used this security to build their way into the game.
After a searing break involving O’Donnell, who burst an initial tackle in his 22, Tom Daly and Caolin Blade, the home team went from their own 22 to the Ospreys’. From there, they won a penalty and, after kicking to the corner, a powerful maul rumbled towards the line. Delahunt then picked and dove over the line. Carty slotted the extras and the home team established a deserved lead.
To their credit, the Welshmen -- who needed a win to qualify for the latter stages of the competition -- responded in kind. Flanker Morgan Morris dove over after picking off the back of a maul. The conversion was wide so the home team still help their lead after a high octane opening to the game.
Connacht dusted themselves off and, from the subsequent kick-off, they scored their second. With Carty hanging the kick in the air, O’Donnell expertly won the possession by tapping it back onto the home team’s side.
After establishing field position, the Westerners went on the attack. Aki and Jordan Duggan carried powerfully, allowing Blade the room to grubber kick through to find Aki to touch down. Carty nailed a difficult conversion and the hosts stretched their lead to 14-5.
With their tails up, the home team went in search for more scores and their ambitious approach yielded another score in a try sodden opening twenty minutes. A huge Cian Prendergast carry punctured through the Ospreys defence and gave Connacht front foot ball in their 22. From there, the forwards carried hard before Dillane eventually touched down from close range. Carty made no mistake once again the Westerners were 21-5 to the good.
The scoring was tit for tat and Ospreys registered their second try when Botha went over from minimal distance to reduce the deficit to 21-12.
The Westerners wrapped up a first-half bonus point when Carty’s beautiful pass found Sullivan and the winger raced home for the try in the right corner. It was the away team who the final say of the half, though, when Sam Parry -- taking advantage of the extra man after Dominic Robertson McCoy was sin-binned -- barged over from close distance for a converted try that left the half time score at 26-19.
If the first half was marked by so many tries, the second period proved to be entirely different.
Defence was the name of the game and with the Ospreys needing the win, the Welsh team continued to turn the screw in search of scores.
However, Connacht -- with Aki particularly strong in his tackling -- resisted all their attempts, both in the set-piece and in open play, held out to end their season with a win and provide the perfect going away present for coaches Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy.
15: Alex Wootton
14: Peter Sullivan
13: Bundee Aki
12: Tom Daly
11: Ben O’Donnell
10: Jack Carty
9: Caolin Blade
8: Eoghan Masterson
7: Jarrad Butler
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Niall Murray
3: Dominic Robertson McCoy
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Jordan Duggan
Replacements: Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Matthew Burke for Duggan, Jack Aungier for Robertson McCoy, Oisin Dowling for Murray, Sean Masterson for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sammy Arnold for Daly.