Connacht 24-37 Leinster

Connacht fell to a tough defeat at a packed-out Sportsground on Saturday night in a thrilling encounter that saw clinical Leinster take the spoils and book a home Guinness PRO12 semi-final.

With John Muldoon – on his landmark 300th Connacht appearance – leading manfully from the front, Connacht played some scintillating rugby but Leinster were absolutely clinical on the night and took every chance that came their way.

Some ferocious early tackles from Connacht and Kieran Marmion helped to force an early penalty with Ronaldson slotting the long-ranger to make it 3-0 within two minutes.

Leinster responded well and were off the mark before the seventh minute as winger Adam Byrne showed great hands to pop a pass inside for Zane Kirchner to touch down in the right corner.

Byrne soon touched down himself on 10 minutes as he pounced on a Ronaldson pass to run in an intercept try from 60 metres. Ross Byrne knocked over the easy conversion and Leinster led 12-3.

This time, it was Connacht’s turn to muster a riposte, and when Denis Buckley forced the penalty, Ronaldson made no mistake to narrow the deficit to six.

An electric Tiernan O’Halloran break down the right wing then set Connacht up for another attack and an impeccable crossfield kick from Jack Carty found Danie Poolman on the left flank and the winger ran in under the posts for a magnificent try with Ronaldson’s extras giving Connacht a 13-12 lead.

That advantage didn’t last long, however, as Ross Byrne’s first penalty for Leinster moved the visitors back in front on 22 minutes.

A third penalty for Ronaldson on the half hour made it 16-15 to Connacht but Leinster crossed via a Rory O’Loughlin try in the left corner following Luke McGrath’s break as Leinster moved 20-16 in front.

Connacht had the last word of a breathless first half with Ronaldson slotting his third penalty to narrow the deficit to just a single point at the interval, 20-19.

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An incredible break and offload from O’Halloran set up Connacht’s second try after the interval with Carty eventually floating a pass out to Dave Heffernan on the left wing and the hooker had the wheels to cross to move Connacht into a 24-20 lead with half an hour remaining.

Within three minutes, Leinster scored their fourth try as captain Rhys Ruddock touched down from close range and Ross Byrne landed the tricky conversion as the visitors went 26-24 in front.

As Connacht pushed for the next score, they were hit by a sucker punch as Barry Daly hacked a loose pass clear and the ball bounced up perfectly for the replacement to score under the posts with Ross Byrne’s conversion giving Leinster a 10-point advantage.

And a second penalty from Ross Byrne on 76 minutes sealed the win for Leinster.

The home support roared Connacht on throughout and gave Muldoon a hearty reception at full-time as he was presented with a special plaque by Connacht President Pat Piggott to make the incredible achievement of playing 300 games for his home province.

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Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun (Eoin Griffin, 10), Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Danie Poolman; Jack Carty (Steve Crosbie, 70), Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade 36-40, 73); Denis Buckley (JP Cooney, 70), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt, 64), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 70); Quinn Roux (Sean O’Brien, 21), Andrew Browne; Eoin McKeon (Naulia Dawai, h-t), Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (C).

Leinster: Zane Kirchner; Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, James Tracy, Mike Ross; Ross Molony, Hayden Triggs; Dominic Ryan, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock (C).

Replacements: Seán Cronin, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Ian Nagle, Peadar Timmins, Nick McCarthy, Tom Daly, Barry Daly.

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)

Connacht Rugby head coach Pat Lam has made five personnel changes to his starting XV for the rearranged Guinness PRO12 clash against Zebre in Parma tomorrow afternoon (2.30pm Irish time).

With Irish internationals Tiernan O’Halloran and Kieran Marmion on a scheduled rest week, there are four enforced changes to the back line as Connacht look to make it four wins from five in the PRO12.

Ireland 7’s player Josh Rowland comes in for his first Connacht start at full-back, having made his debut from the bench against Glasgow Warriors last weekend. John Cooney starts at scrum-half while Danie Poolman comes on to the right wing.

There is a new midfield partnership as Tom Farrell starts at outside centre with Bundee Aki shifting to number 12 this week.

Up front, there is just one change with Eoin McKeon replacing Jake Heenan, who struggled to shake off a minor shin injury picked up in the last round.

Ivan Soroka, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade and Eoin Griffin are all additions to the bench with Griffin in line to make his first appearance since September 2016.

Ronan Loughney, Niyi Adeolokun, and JP Cooney all picked up minor injuries in training during the week that ruled them out of selection while Naulia Dawai did not travel as he awaits a Visa renewal.

Commenting on tomorrow’s clash, head coach Pat Lam said:

“We have had to make a few changes this week due to unfortunate niggles picked up in training. But we’re going over to Parma with a clear game plan. We are fully focused on putting in a performance against Zebre that will get us the points on offer.”

 

Book your Early Bird Season Tickets for the 2017/18 season here.

 

Connacht team to face Zebre     

Saturday April 1st, kick off 3:30pm (2.30pm Irish Time), Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi     

(Connacht caps in brackets)

15           Josh Rowland (1)
14           Danie Poolman (80)
13           Tom Farrell (6)
12           Bundee Aki (56)
11           Stacey Ili (12)
10           Jack Carty (76)
9             John Cooney (36)

1             Denis Buckley (113)
2             Tom McCartney (60)
3             Finlay Bealham (77)
4             Quinn Roux (52)
5             Andrew Browne (150)
6             Sean O’Brien (35)
7             Eoin McKeon (102)
8             John Muldoon (297) (captain)

Replacements:

16          Dave Heffernan (80)
17          Ivan Soroka (0)
18          Dominic Robertson-McCoy (6)
19          James Cannon (13)
20          Eoghan Masterson (35)
21          Caolin Blade (40)
22          Craig Ronaldson (63)
23          Eoin Griffin (74)

Injured/Unavailable

Ronan Loughney, JP Cooney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Jake Heenan, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Naulia Dawai, James Connolly, Kieran Marmion, Marnitz Boshoff, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Niyi Adeolokun, Cian Kelleher, Darragh Leader, Tiernan O’Halloran.

 

Match Officials
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 6th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Graeme Wells (SRU), Emanuele Tomo (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Roberto Carra (FIR)

Ahead of Saturday’s Guinness PRO12 round 13 game away to Ospreys (1:30pm), the Connacht Rugby medical team have provided the following update.

Finlay Bealham and Matt Healy are both suffering from stomach bugs and will not train today (Tuesday). They will be monitored this week ahead of team selection.

Jack Carty picked up a minor calf injury in training on Monday. He will be monitored this week ahead of team selection.

Ultan Dillane sustained an ankle injury in the final minutes of the Ulster game on December 23rd. The second row, who is unavailable for a number of weeks, will be assessed today by an ankle specialist to determine his treatment plan and length of recovery.

Nepia Fox-Matamua dislocated his rib in the Munster game. He is unavailable this week but his fitness will be monitored by the medical team.

John Muldoon suffered a hamstring injury in training on Monday. He is unavailable for the game with Ospreys on Saturday.

RETURNING

Eoin McKeon and James Connolly have both recovered from last week’s illness and have re-joined training.

John Cooney has been integrated into team training this week following his thigh injury. It is hoped he will be available for selection against Ospreys.

Danie Poolman has returned to team training having passed the return-to-play protocols for concussion.

 

Ospreys v Connacht
Saturday January 7th
Liberty Stadium
Kick off 1:30pm

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