Connacht were defeated 29-23 by Leicester Tigers in an entertaining Heineken Champions Cup clash at Welford Road today.
Despite tries from John Porch and Jack Carty – who also added thirteen points with the boot, via two penalties, two conversions and a drop goal – it was the home team who secured the bonus-point victory.
Connacht were strong throughout, however, against the unbeaten English Premiership leaders and earned a deserved losing bonus point.
Connacht employed a clever kicking game early on and this yielded a score when Carty expertly slotted a long-range penalty after the Tigers were penalized for offside.
Connacht’s attack was troubling the host’s defence and they conceded a raft of penalties which brought Connacht lineouts in advanced attacking areas. However, strong defending from Leicester held the away team at try-scoring bay, despite some powerful rolling mauls close to the try line in what proved to be an entertaining opening fifteen minutes.
The visitors were in the ascendancy for the majority of the opening quarter, but Leicester – on their first attack of the game of note – opened the try-scoring. Hooker Nic Dolly dove over the in the corner for an unconverted try after the ball was worked wide after Connacht stoutly defended a rolling maul from the home team.
One try soon became two in what was becoming a profitable five-minute spell from the Tigers. After Connacht excellently repelled an extended spell of pressure, the home team eventually broke their resistance when Bryce Hegarty dove in a try that Freddie Burns converted to make the score 12-3 to the English Premiership team.
To their credit, though, Connacht responded brilliantly and they had their first try not two minutes after conceding. A sweeping move saw the ball worked wide to Porch from Bundee Aki’s sumptuous offload. The Australian then showed searing pace to burst through the gap and touch down under the posts. The conversion was a formality from Carty and the away team narrowed the score to 12-10.
Proactive in defence and eager to blitz, Connacht were looking to force errors from the home team and that is exactly how they scored their second try. Running aggressively together, the away team’s defence made Leicester cough up possession and Carty – intelligently anticipating a spill – picked up the loose ball and ran in unopposed under the posts for a try. The Roscommon man converted it himself and the away team went into the halftime break leading 17-12.
Connacht began the second half in the same manner that they ended the first and they extended their lead to eight points when Carty – after an attacking move was ended by an intentional knock-on from the hosts – expertly struck a long-range penalty between the sticks to continue his 100% record off the tee and stretch the lead to 20-12.
Leicester began to work their back into the game near the hour mark and their pressure, which Connacht stood up manfully to, eventually paid dividends when Finlay Bealham was yellow carded for an infringement close to the try line.
Attacking against fourteen, it didn’t take the Tigers long to take advantage and Freddie Steward soon crossed for a try after a neat move found the England international. The conversion was successful and Connacht’s lead was cut to one point at 19-20.
Another try was soon to follow for the team when Hosea Saumaki showed pace and evasion to touch down after the Westerners initially stopped a Tigers’ maul dead in its tracks and they were forced to run the ball wide. Hegarty added the extras and the English team retook the lead at 26-20.
The momentum was with the home team and they added further to their lead when Hegarty – from over forty metres away – kicked a penalty that brought the score to 29-20.
Connacht kept plugging away in search for scores and their resilience paid off when – with the last kick – Carty’s drop goal gave them a losing bonus point with the final score reading 29-23 to the home team.
15: Tiernan O’Halloran
14: John Porch
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Bundee Aki
11: Alex Wootton
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Jarrad Butler
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Niall Murray
4: Ultan Dillane
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Matthew Burke
16: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan
17: Tietie Tuimauga for Burke
18: Jack Aungier for Butler(temporarily to scrummage with 14) then for Bealham
19: Leva Fifita for Murray
20: Abraham Papali’i for Prendgergast
21: Caolin Blade for Marmion
22: Conor Fitzgerald for O’Halloran
23: Diarmuid Kilgallen for Wootton