By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht were defeated 33-21 by Cardiff Rugby in their first United Rugby Championship game of the season at Cardiff Arms Park. 

 

Despite a brace of tries from Kieran Marmion and eleven points — three penalties and a conversion — from the boot of Jack Carty it was the hosts who sealed the win. 

 

The Welsh team scored five tries in total, two from Owen Lane and one apiece from Hallam Amos, Willis Halaholo and Liam Belcher, in an open game where both teams were committed to attack. 

 

The Connacht pack showed their prowess early on and — despite Cardiff having the feed to the set-piece — eked out a scrum penalty after a powerful, collective drive. From the kick, Carty made no mistake from just outside the 22 and the away team registered their first points of the new season to take an early 3-0 lead. 

 

Cardiff, though, reacted well to the early concession of the score and they upped the tempo in search of points of their own. The Westerners absorbed plenty of pressure, defending stoutly close to their line, but a looping pass found Welsh international Amos to dive over for a try. The conversion landed accurately and the home team had the lead for the first time at 7-3. 

 

The opening ten or so minutes were played at breakneck speed and it was the Westerners who registered the next score with Marmion showing a customary turn of pace to touch down after a deft pass from Conor Oliver. Jarrad Butler forced a turnover deep in Cardiff territory and, moving the ball quickly, the Westerners fashioned an opportunity that their Irish international scrum-half took with aplomb. Carty once again split the posts and Connacht retook the lead at 10-7. 

 

To their credit, the home team pushed and probed to try and wrestle themselves back into the game, but all of their attacks were met with Connacht resistance. The back row, in particular, of Butler, Oliver and Cian Prendergast were both committed and efficient in the tackle and at the breakdown and they kept the Welsh team at bay. 

 

After weathering the hosts attacking storm, the away team began to knit attacks of their own together. After a searing break from loose-head prop Matthew Burke, Cardiff infringed inside the 22. Carty, once again, showed composure from the kicking tee and Connacht stretched their lead to 13-7. 

 

But it was Cardiff who had the last say in an entertaining half when Willis Halaholo ran a clever line from the back of a scrum in the Connacht 22 to touch down for a try. Replacement Tomos Williams slotted the penalty to take the half time score to 14-13 in favour of the Welsh team. 

 

The Blues began the second half with attacking intent, but Connacht — with centre’s Tom Daly and Tom Farrell prominent in defence — were sturdy in defence for the opening ten minutes of the second period. However, Cardiff’s pressure eventually told and Lane showed pace to collect a pass and touch down. Williams kicked the conversion successfully and the hosts lead 21-13.

 

Connacht didn’t relent, though, and they added the game’s next score when Carty extended his 100% record off the tee with another successful penalty to bring the score back to 21-16. 

With fresh legs and impetus brought from the bench by the replacements, the Westerners had the ascendancy in terms of possession and territory in the middle part of the second half and their pressure yielded several penalties with Cardiff eventually being yellow carded for their role in the penalties. 

 

However, Connacht soon joined them in playing with a reduced number when Carty was penalised for leading with the shoulder at a ruck and then Mack Hansen was cautioned for blocking. 

 

Cardiff took advantage of their superior numbers with ten minutes remaining. Lane completed his brace of tries and wrapped up the hosts’ bonus point after collecting a pass on the blindside from the back of a rolling maul and running in. Williams added the extras to take the score to 28-16 in favour of the home team. 

 

The hosts soon added their fifth try of the evening when replacement hooker Liam Belcher forced his way over from close range. Williams was inaccurate with the conversion, but 13 man Connacht trailed 33-16 with five minutes remaining. 

 

Connacht did have the last say, however, when replacement Conor Fitzgerald’s excellent break cut through the Cardiff defence and the ball was worked — via a beautiful offload by Sammy Arnold — to Marmion to touch down for his second try. It was the final act and the final whistle blew at 33-21 in favour of Connacht 

 

Connacht team (15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Mack Hansen 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1) 

 

8: Jarrad Butler © 

7: Conor Oliver

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

Replacements: Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Paul Boyle for Oliver, Jordan Duggan for Burke, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Niall Murray for Dillane, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty, Sammy Arnold for Porch.

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