By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht will go into next week’s Heineken Champions Cup last 16-second leg at the Aviva Stadium trailing Leinster 26-21 after a physically intense and entertaining affair at the Sportsground tonight. 

 

Despite tries from John Porch and Leva Fifita, it was Leinster who eked out the win and who hold the lead going into the second instalment of the tie. 

 

With the returning Bundee Aki, along with Fifita, Conor Oliver and Porch, instrumental next weekend’s fixture should be similarly enthralling. 

 

Connacht started in a rip-roaring fashion and they made it count after only two minutes. A huge break from Aki, which was facilitated by a Gavin Thornbury offload,  gave the host’s field position, before Tom Farrell – following suit – punctured the visitor’s defence again. Leinster managed to eke a turnover and thought they escaped the danger, but Leva Fifita blocked down their clearing kick. 

 

Regaining possession, the hosts launched another attack, and the ball was worked to Porch on the left wing and the Australian danced over the line to give the home team a 5-0 lead, much to the delight of the loud sell-out crowd. 

 

Leinster attempted to work their way back into the game in what was an open and entertaining opening fifteen minutes, but their attempts were met with staunch Connacht defence. Aki best personified this when he ended a dangerous attack with a textbook breakdown jackal that saw the hosts earn a penalty. 

 

The away team did manage to get on the board near the twenty-minute mark, however, when Sexton kicked a penalty to reduce Connacht’s lead to two points, at 5-3. 

 

And with their tails up, Leinster made it two scores in a profitable few minutes halfway through the first half. Despite an excellent tackle by Finlay Bealham on Josh van der Flier, the eastern province worked the ball to Lowe and the Ireland winger managed to cut through for the try. Sexton added the extras and the away lead 10-5 with fifteen minutes of the opening period remaining. 

 

Leinster’s first-half purple patch continued when Irish international Hugo Keenan found Lowe with a pass and the winger managed to work his way over the line for this second try of the half. Sexton missed the conversion and the visitors lead 15-5 near the half-hour mark. 

 

Connacht weren’t deterred, though, and stuck to the principles, looking to attack. Mack Hansen was key and, after a beautiful kick and field, he made significant yardage before being forced into attack. The home side pressured the resultant line out and were rewarded with a penalty that Carty slotted the bring the score back to 15-7. 

 

Both teams swapped penalties in the minutes before halftime, meaning the score at the interval read, Connacht 11-18 Leinster. 

 

Connacht began the first half in an electric manner, and they began the second period similarly. A searing break from Conor Oliver, with Aki also adding his considerable carrying ability, carved through the Leinster defence and the hosts, on the attack, earned a penalty which Carty nailed to take the score to 14-18 and bring the home team closer to overturning Leinster’s lead. 

 

The away team, however, grew their lead further when Keenan collected a pass from Jamison Gibson Park and touched down. The conversion was wide and Leinster lead 23-14. 

 

The home side’s attitude, despite being behind was exemplary, and they kept their attacking ambitions up, a style that lead to a yellow card for Gibson Park, who tackled Marmion high on a Connacht attack. 

 

Andy Friend’s men didn’t take long to make their man advantage count and, after a line out, Fifita muscled his way over the line from close range. Carty slotted the extras, the scoreline stood at 23-21 in favour with twenty minutes remaining in a pulsating affair. 

 

Connacht, with Porch, Dowling and replacement Abraham Papali’i prominent in the ball carrying stakes, continued to press for the winner but Leinster held firm in defence and when Ross Byrne slotted a late penalty they held on to win 26-21. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Mack Hansen

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1) 

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Leva Fifita 

4: Gavin Thornbury 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Heffernan 

17: Tietie Tuimauga for Burke 

18: Jack Aungier for Bealham 

19: Oisin Dowling for Thornbury 

20: Abraham Papali’i for Butler 

21: Caolin Blade for Marmion 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for O’Halloran 

23: Sammy Arnold for Farrell

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht were defeated 37-31 by Stade Francais in a hugely entertaining Heineken Champions Cup game in Paris today. 

 

Despite securing a try and losing bonus point, thanks to five pointers from Alex Wootton, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell and Jarrad Butler – with Jack Carty adding four conversions and a penalty – the Westerners, who had already qualified for the last sixteen prior to kick-off, lost out to the home team. 

 

The hosts, meanwhile, knew they needed a bonus-point win to potentially qualify for the next round and they kept their end of the bargain up.

 

Connacht looked to be aggressive from the very first whistle and they played with width and tempo. Their ambition was rewarded after six minutes when Sammy Arnold’s accurate cross-field kick – with an advantage accruing – found Wootton and the winger showed a great step to dart into the defensive gap and strength to dot down the ball. Carty added the extras and the away team were deservedly ahead, 7-0

 

Stade Francais knew that a bonus-point win – plus results going their way elsewhere – would give them a chance to qualify for the last 16 and they continued to pile on the pressure and it reaped rewards when Nicolas Sanchez added a penalty and then, only two minutes later, Adrien Lapegue crossed for a try. Sanchez converted and the home team lead for the first time at 10-7 in what was an entertaining opening twenty minutes in Paris. 

 

The away team were using their accurate line out as a launchpad for attacks and, after turning the screw for a few phases after the set-piece with Cian Prendergast carrying hard, they earned a penalty that Carty slotted to tie the score up at 10-10.

 

Stade Francais thought they had scored a second try when Leo Barre went over in the corner, but – upon a TMO check – the try was correctly disallowed when Tolu Latu was yellow-carded for a dangerous clear-out on Shane Delahunt in the build-up. 

 

With the man advantage, Connacht went for the jugular and their pressure yielded a score close to halftime. Once again, a safely secured line out gave the Westerners a platform, and, from the back of the maul, Blade showed bravery and strength to power over the line from close range. Carty kicked the extras and the away team went into the interval leading 17-10.

 

If Connacht ended the first half well, then Stade started the second period on the front foot and they had a try barely a minute in Laumape – the former All Black – went over in the corner. The conversion was wide, so the Westerners held onto their lead 17-15.

 

The Westerners’ dusted themselves off and looked to work their way back into the game and they had their third try of the afternoon not long into the second half. Latu had received a second yellow for the hosts for dissent and, sniffing blood, the away team looked to move the ball wide. Arnold’s beautiful offload found Farrell and the centre showed pace to canter over in the corner. Carty once again nailed the conversion and Connacht found themselves nine points ahead at 24-15.

 

To their credit, Stade kept fighting with fourteen men and they registered the next try when Kylan Hamdaoui crossed for an unconverted try that meant the Westerners still lead at 24-20.

 

Continuing the tit for tat nature of tries, it was Connacht’s turn next to go under the posts. A beautiful line from Butler saw him dart into space. The back row then combined with Conor Oliver and the openside unselfishly returned a pass to Butler to go in unopposed under the sticks. Carty made no mistake from the tee and the away team wrapped up their try bonus point and lead 31-20 after an hour. 

 

An enthralling fixture had its next big moment when Ryan Chapuis, the back row, went over for a try in the corner. Sanchez kicked the conversion and Connacht’s lead was reduced to four points. The Westerners’ also lost Oliver to a yellow card in what was set up to be a tense finishing ten minutes. 

 

With the numbers even, the Parisians added another try when Lapegue crossed for his second try and the hosts took the lead at 34-31.

 

With their wind in their sails and an even number of players on the field, the hosts slotted a late penalty through Sanchez to give them the bonus point win and six-point margin of victory they needed to potentially qualify for the latter rounds. 

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran

14: Alex Wootton 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Sammy Arnold 

11: Mack Hansen 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Greg McGrath 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dave Heffernan for Delahunt

17: Charlie Ward 

18: Sam Illo for Greg McGrath

19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling

20: Paul Boyle for Prendergast

21: Colm Reilly for Blade

22: Conor Fitzgerald 

23: Diarmuid Kilgallen for Tiernan O’Halloran

The Heineken Cup returns this weekend as Connacht face into a double header with France’s top club and four-time European Champions Toulouse.

Connacht supporters will remember back to 2011 when Toulouse came to Galway and created such a buzz for the first ever Heineken Cup match in the city. With next week’s home match on course to be a sell out, it promises to be an occasion reminiscent of the biggest ever game at the Sportsground two years ago.

Connacht fans across the globe, this is your chance to send in your messages of support to the team. Send in a message to your favourite player or one to the whole team. We will ensure all messages are displayed in the Team Room at the Sportsground for the players and team management to read in the lead up to both games.

How to send in your message:

Email your messages of support to [email protected]

Send your message to us via Connacht Rugby Facebook

Tweet them to us using the hashtag  #BETHERE

Get Your Tickets Now: Connacht v Toulouse – Be There

Clan Stand – Sold Out 

Main Stand – Buy Now

Bohermore Terrace – Buy Now 

College Road Terrace – Buy Now

Enclosed – Sold Out 

Hospitality – Sold Out

Connacht Rugby has received a limited number of tickets for the Heineken Cup game in Toulouse on December 8th.

Tickets are €25 and are available from the Connacht Rugby office. You can purchase your tickets in person between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday in the Connacht Rugby office or you can purchase over the phone with debit/credit card on 091 561 568.

As tickets are issued through Toulouse we cannot issue reprints, therefore if you can collect your tickets at the Connacht Office rather than requesting postage it is advisable.

No tickets can be reserved without full prepayment.Tickets are issued on a first come first served basis.

Tickets must be purchased before 5pm on Friday November 22nd. 

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