Leicester Tigers 48

Connacht 32

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht bowed out of the Challenge Cup at the last 16 stage after a 48-32 defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. 

 

Despite the Westerners registering tries through Kieran Marmion, Eoghan Masterson, Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle and twelve points from the boot of Jack Carty, it was the hosts who progressed through to the quarter-final.

 

Connacht began the game looking to play with their trademark ambition and pace and they were rewarded for this approach early on when Marmion touched down. 

 

Sean O’Brien made an incisive break, cutting through Tigers’ defence, and Marmion — running an intelligent trail line — caught the centre’s offload and showed great pace to sprint in for the try close to the left touchline. 

 

To their credit, Leicester responded well to conceding a try and responded with two quickfire scores of their own. First, from a rolling maul — a regular source of tries for the English side — Charlie Clare dotted down. 

 

Then, from a turnover in their own half, the hosts broke quickly and Guy Porter ran in a try down the blindside. This time, the Tigers converted via Zack Henry and — despite Connacht being in the ascendancy in terms of possession — lead 12-5. 

 

In an open game, the Westerners scored next when Carty — showing great accuracy from the tee — confidently slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four points. 

 

Connacht continued to probe in search of scores and their pressure lead to Care — the host’s first try scorer — receiving a yellow card for a high tackle. However, despite being a man in arrears, Leicester scored another rapid brace of tries. 

 

First, Matias Moroni reacted first to a spilled high ball and showed good awareness to swoop in for the try. Then, five minutes later, Henry touched down after another counter-attacking move saw Leicester quickly break and score. 

 

A heavy spell of pressure from the visitors followed and — after four penalties in the 22 — Carty eventually rewarded their patience when he bisected the posts with a penalty that took the half-time score to 24-11 in favour of the home team. 

 

Connacht started the second half with intent and attacked with gusto right from the start. 

 

A bludgeoning carry from Tom Daly established field position deep in Leicester territory. Masterson intelligently spotted a gap at the next ruck and sprinted into the space Ro touch down for a try borne of quick thinking. Carty added the extras to bring by the visitors back within touching distance.

 

Leicester responded by opening their second-half account with a Henry penalty, but Connacht didn’t let that change the course of the momentum and they added their second try of the half not long after.

 

A typically enterprising attack saw substitute Caolin Blade throw a sumptuous, against the grain pass which Wootton — running a sharp line — collected and showed searing pace to burst through and touch down. Carty added the conversion and cut the deficit to two points at 27-25.

 

The scoring was of a tit-for-tat nature and Leicester were next to bare their teeth with another rolling maul try with Clare touching down for his second. Henry converted and the scoreline read 34:25.

 

Connacht, though, kept plugging away and captain Boyle personified this when he — like Masterson beforehand — spotted a gap in a ruck and sped in for a try that Carty converted, leaving the score at 34:32.

 

The Tigers were the next to score when Harry Wells barged over from close range. Henry converted and Leicester broke the forty-point mark and took the game away from the visitors.

 

The hosts finished off in style when Jasper Wiese smashed his way over the line off the back of a scrum to rubber-stamp the win at 48-32. 

 

Connacht team: 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Matt Healy 

13: Sean O’Brien 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle ©

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: Caolin Blade for Marmion, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Abraham Papali’i for Conor Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald for Carty

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht 14-15 Edinburgh.

 

An Edinburgh try in the last play of the game condemned Connacht to a 14-15 defeat at a rain-sodden Sportsground. 

 

Tries from Sean O’Brien — who marked his first start in style — and Shane Delahunt — both of which Jack Carty converted — saw the hosts establish a 14-5 half time lead, with Edinburgh’s score coming from lock Magnus Bradbury.

 

However, the Westerners were reduced to 14 men early in the second half when captain Jarrad Butler was red-carded for a high tackle and the visitors took advantage, scoring eight unanswered points — via a try, conversion and penalty from out-half Nathan Chamberlain — to seal the win with a touch down in the last play of the game.

 

It was a big night for O’Brien and Cian Prendergast, who both had positive performances in their first starts, as well as Oran McNulty, who made his professional debut as a second-half replacement.

 

With the pre-match rain subsiding, Connacht looked to attack early on and run the ball. Their efforts were rewarded when O’Brien — in his first senior start for the province — ran a powerful, cutting line to meet Kieran Marmion’s pass and power over the line after the Westerners quickly recycled the ball when Edinburgh tackled Alex Wootton close to the line. Carty made no mistake in adding the extras and the hosts had a deserved 7-0 lead.

 

Connacht were intent on adding to their early try and enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession and territory for the majority of the opening half. The Scots were resolute in defence, though, and held out before launching a rare attack and scoring. 

 

Eventually, after a series of hard carries in the 22, lock Magnus Bradbury stooped over the line to touch down for an unconverted try, which brought the score to 7-5 in favour of the hosts. 

 

The Westerners — with second-row Niall Murray particularly impressive —  reacted well to the concession of this try and closed out the half with a score of their own.

 

Turning down the opportunity to kick at goal on the brink of half time, Connacht instead kicked to the line. Their ambition paid dividends when Delahunt, at the tail of a powerful, marching maul, touched down and Carty, despite the difficult angle, accurately slotted the extras to make the half time score 14-5.

 

The second half began in a similar fashion with Connacht looking to add to their two tries. Edinburgh, however, were sturdy in defence and held firm. 

 

After a red card for Butler reduced the Westerners to 14, the Scotsmen seized the initiative in attack. 

 

Chamberlain brought the score back to 14-8 with a penalty and then, in the last play of the game — after Connacht, with replacements Jordan Duggan and Conor Kenny especially impressive in defence, had remained airtight in defence — the out half ran in a try under the posts, which he converted, to give the away team the win.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15:Alex Wootton

14:Ben O’Donnell

13: Sean O’Brien

12: Tom Daly

11: Matt Healy

10: Jack Carty

9: Kieran Marmion

 

(1-8)

  1. Denis Buckley
  2. Shane Delahunt
  3. Jack Aungier
  4. Niall Murray
  5. Gavin Thornbury
  6. Cian Prendergast
  7. Jarrad Butler (C)
  8. Eoghan Masterson

 

Replacements: Jonny Murphy f0r Delahunt, Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Conor Kenny for Aungier, Abraham Papali’i for Prendergast, Caolin Blade for Marmion, Oran McNulty for O’Donnell.

 

Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce that 21 players have re-signed for the province ahead of the 2021-22 season.

In all 19 players from the existing Professional squad have renewed deals for next season while a further two players, Oran McNulty and Cian Prendergast, have been promoted from the Connacht Academy.

Today’s announcement includes four Irish internationals – Finlay Bealham, Jack Carty, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan – while joint-leading Guinness PRO14 try scorer Alex Wootton has signed on a permanent contract having joined on loan from Munster last summer.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“I am delighted to see so many of our current crop of players sign on for another season. This is still a very challenging time for everyone in Irish Rugby so to have them commit to Connacht Rugby again says it all about the belief we have as a group to continue the progress we’re making.

17 of the 21 players were once part of the Connacht Academy, and in that group we have a mix of established Irish internationals, experienced players within the province and plenty of young players still in the early stages of their careers.

I have been very impressed by Cian Prendergast and Oran McNulty, and their first Professional contracts is the culmination of years of work from grassroots level to where they are now. Congratulations not just to them but their parents, coaches and all the other volunteers who helped them along the way.

We are continuing to shape the squad for next season, with further discussions ongoing, and supporters should expect more positive news in the weeks and months ahead.”

Connacht Rugby’s retention and recruitment remains ongoing and further announcements will be made in due course.

CONFIRMED NEW CONTRACTS FOR 2021-22

Finlay BEALHAM
Paul BOYLE
Denis BUCKLEY
Matthew BURKE
Jack CARTY
Shane DELAHUNT
Ultan DILLANE
Jordan DUGGAN
Conor FITZGERALD
Dave HEFFERNAN
Eoghan MASTERSON
Sean MASTERSON
Oran MCNULTY
Niall MURRAY
Conor OLIVER
John PORCH
Cian PRENDERGAST
Colm REILLY
Peter SULLIVAN
Gavin THORNBURY
Alex WOOTTON

By John O’Sullivan

 

Munster 20-17 Connacht

 

Connacht fell to a narrow 20-17 defeat to Munster in a physically draining interprovincial encounter at Thomond Park. 

 

The Westerners crossed the line twice, with Matt Healy and Paul Boyle touching down, with Jack Carty also adding seven points with the boot. But it was the hosts who edged the victory, thanks to a late Joey Carbery penalty, which added to two tries via James Cronin and Mike Haley,

 

Gavin Thornbury won a richly deserved man of the match award and the away team pushed the hosts — who top the conference — all the way with a physical performance, both on and off the ball.

 

Connacht started the game with intent and looked to pressure Munster on and off the ball. 

 

Thornbury stole an early line out which allowed the away team to kick for territory. Inside the Munster 22, the lock then charged down an attempted clearance kick and gave the Westerners the chance to feed a five-metre scrum. 

 

From the set-piece platform, the ball was worked to Carty who floated a beautiful pass into the path of Healy, and the winger, with trademark evasion, skipped the attention of a Munster defender to touch down. The Roscommon man then added the conversion to give Connacht an early 7-0 lead. 

 

Munster pushed forward in order to bring themselves back into the game, but their attempts were met with stubborn green resistance, especially in the set-piece where Thornbury and Ultan Dillane, in particular, were proving strong. Paul Boyle and John Porch also provided key interventions in holding the home team up twice over the line. 

 

Eventually, though, their pressure told and Cronin barged his way over from short range and Ben Healy added the extras to tie the teams up at 7-7. 

 

It didn’t take Connacht long to wrestle back the lead, however, as Carty — whose game management was generating attacking momentum for the visitors — sweetly struck a penalty to give the visitors the 10-7 lead they held going into the interval.

 

The home team began the second half in a strong fashion and they leveled the score up only three minutes after the interval when Healy slotted a penalty. 

 

A yellow card for Bundee Aki meant Connacht were reduced to 14 men, but, despite the deficit in men, they were defensively strong and didn’t concede in the period. Thornbury was effective in defence in both the line out — where he stole Munster throws — and at the breakdown where he won two penalties. 

 

With the Westerners so strong in defence, it would take something special to prize them open and that’s exactly what Haley provided when he brilliantly collected his own chip kick and touched down for a try that Joey Carbery converted to give the hosts a 17-10 lead. 

 

Connacht dusted themselves down and went on the offensive, with Carty orchestrating their attack with authority. The Roscommon man’s grubber kick through found Healy, whose acceleration brought him through a gap and deep into the hosts territory. 

 

More carries, from Carty and Caolin Blade, established field position in the Munster 22 and the hosts infringed when slowing down Connacht ball. Chris Cloete was sin-binned and the Westerners opted to take a scrum. 

 

Building phases close to the line, the ball was worked to the right-hand side where Boyle noticed a slight gap and powered through it to touch down. Carty made no mistake with the conversion and the away team leveled the game once again at 17-17. 

 

Connacht pushed and probed for the game-winning score, but it was Munster — with a Carbery penalty — who took the spoils late on and edged an extremely physical encounter. 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Jarrad Butler © 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien, Alex Wootton.

Connacht 32-17 Cardiff Blues

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht made it consecutive Guinness PRO14 wins with a 32-17 victory over The Cardiff Blues tonight. 

 

A brace of tries from Guinness man of the match Alex Wootton, a try apiece from Jarrad Butler and Abraham Papali’i, and 12 points from the boot of Jack Carty accounted for the hosts’ points, which were earned thanks to a performance of attacking class and set-piece efficiency.

 

The results sees the Westerners two points clear of the Scarlets in second place in Conference B, having played two games less than the Welsh team.

 

Cardiff, meanwhile, scored two tries of their own — as well as a penalty — but it was the home team who deservedly won all five points.

 

The visitors started the game in a strong manner and Connacht had plenty of defending to do in the opening ten minutes. Matt Healy and Tom Daly, in particular, came up with some big defensive interventions but the away team’s perseverance eventually told and — after a series of phases in the hosts 22 — loosehead prop Rhys Carre forced his way over. Jason Tovey added the extras to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.

 

The hosts grew into the game in an attacking sense thereafter and they made it count on the scoreboard thanks to two Carty penalties before Cardiff get a three-pointer of their own through Tovey to bring the score to 10-6 to the visitors with only five minutes of the half remaining.

 

The Westerners’ pack were beginning to gain the ascendancy and were providing their backs the platform to attack. Connacht took full advantage of the opportunity to bring their outside backs into the play with two quick tries before halftime, both from Wootoon.

 

The first try saw both wingers combine as Healy fed a pass to Wootton and the 26-year-old sliced through the outside cover to touch down in the left-hand corner. Carty made no mistakes adding the extras and Connacht lead for the first time, 13-10.

 

An even more spectacular finish was to follow after a series of phases of hard carries — with Ultan Dillane especially prominent — established Connacht field position just outside Cardiff’s 22. The ball was then worked to Carty, whose delicate pirouette and offload released Wootton.

 

The winger stood up a Blues’ defender with a beautiful step and then sped into the space he created to touch down for a brilliant try. Carty slotted the conversion to see Connacht go into the interval 20-10 to the good.

 

The Westerners began the second half with attacking intent, but the visitors were stout in defence and repelled all of the home teams attempts to score and then — after weathering a Connacht attacking storm for the opening 20 minutes of the half — struck for their second try.

 

Corey Domachowski, the replacement prop, barged his over from short range and Tovey’s successful conversion brought the score back to a three-point differential, 20-17.

 

Connacht didn’t’ let the tide of momentum flow against them, however, and they finished the game strongly — with their bench bringing freshness and attacking impetus — with two more tries.

 

First, Jarrad Butler touched down at the tail of a powerful rolling maul after Carty elected to kick to the line after winning a penalty in the 22. The subsequent line out trundled it’s way forward and the captain was the beneficiary after he dove over the for the try to make the score 25-17.

 

With their tails up, the Westerners pushed for the bonus point win and they sealed it when replacement Papali’i smashed his way over from close range. The Connacht pack carried their way into an advanced position into the Cardiff 22 and worked an opportunity for Papali’i and the big number 8 took it with both hands and touched down.

 

Carty expertly kicked the conversion to cap off an excellent performance and seal the win, 32-17.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Alex Wootton 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

8: Paul Boyle

7: Jarrad Butler ©

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

4: Ultan Dillane 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Jordan Duggan 

 

Replacements: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Denis Buckley for Duggan, Jack Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Daly, Tiernan O’Halloran for Porch.

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 with a 30-20, bonus-point win away to the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

 

Tries from Matt Healy, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, and Tom Daly accounted for the visitors’ tries, while Jack Carty added two conversions a penalty, and a dropkick to the final tally.

 

The Dragons’, meanwhile, registered three tries of their own — with Richard Hibbard claiming a hattrick — but it was the Westerners who deservedly claimed all five points with a physical performance, underpinned by efficiency in attack, particularly at the line out.

 

It was also a special night for Finlay Bealham and Carty, both of whom made their 150th appearance for the province. Oisin Dowling, meanwhile, made his debut as a second half replacement.

 

It was clear from the outset that both teams were primed to attack and the Dragons’ signalled their intent early with a Sam Davies penalty that gave them a 3-0 lead.

 

Connacht, however, dusted themselves down and began to exert their influence on the game. The line out — where the man of the match Shane Delahunt excelled — was functioning well and it was through this method that the visitors built their first score of the night.

 

After a line out, the Irish team — after great work by both Delahunt and Blade — consolidated possession deep in the hosts’ 22 with a few phases of carries. The ball was then worked to Carty whose sumptuous cross-field kick landed accurately in Healy’s hands and the winger touched down to complete a beautifully worked try.

 

Connacht were confident in the strength of their set-piece and it was through another line out that they added their second try in a profitable six-minute first-half stretch. An intricate move, no doubt forged on the training paddock, saw Delahunt feed a pass to Papali’i and the number 8 ran a powerful line that saw him bludgeon his way through would be Dragons’ tackles to touch down.

 

After that point, though, the momentum swung in the favour of the home team and they made the most of it with two tries of their own, both from rolling mauls where Hibbard — a former British and Irish Lion — touched down at the tail.

 

The Westerners had the last say of the half, however, when Carty accurately kicked. a penalty to tie the game up and see the teams go into the interval 13 points apiece.

 

Connacht began the second half in a similar fashion to which they ended the first and they made their early dominance in the second-period count on the scoreboard just over five minutes into the half.

 

Another line out provided attacking field position and Delahunt carried through the heart of the Dragons’ defence. When the hooker was tackled to the ground, he acrobatically and intelligently offloaded a pass to Blade and the scrum-half — with typical sharpness — read the intention and gathered the pass to score. Carty slotted the extras to give Connacht a 20-13 lead.

 

Dragons responded in strong fashion and they piled the pressure on the visitors’ defence. The pressure eventually told when Hibbard was once again the benefactor of a rolling maul and the hooker touched down at the base for a try which Davies converted to draw the teams level at 20-20.

 

That was as good as it got for the home team, though, as Connacht pulled away in the final 20 minutes. Replacement Kieran Marmion brought fresh impetus from the bench and the Irish international played a prominent role in the Westerners’ bonus point sealing try. The scrum-halves accurate pass found the cutting, against the grain line of Daly and the centre powered his way over the line for a brilliantly constructed try. Carty slotted the extras to take Connacht into a 27-20 lead.

 

The onus was on the Dragons to score the next try, but their efforts were denied by stout defence from the visitors. Carty then made sure of the win a sweetly struck drop kick and Connacht head home with all five match day points.

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Tom Daly

12: Peter Robb

11: Matt Healy

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i

7: Conor Oliver

6: Paul Boyle (c)

5: Niall Murray

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Jordan Duggan for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Aungier for Bealham, Oisin Dowling for Murray, Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sean O’Brien for Robb, Alex Wootton for Healy.

Finlay Bealham and Jack Carty will both line out for Connacht for the 150th time in Friday’s Guinness PRO14 fixture away to Dragons (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Both Irish internationals are products of the Connacht Academy, with Carty making his Pro debut in September 2012 and Bealham in February 2014. Between them they have won 24 Ireland caps.
 
Bealham lines out in a front row alongside Denis Buckley and Shane Delahunt, while Niall Murray and Gavin Thornbury form a new-look second row partnership. Paul Boyle captains the side from blindside flanker, with Conor Oliver on the opposite flank and Abraham Papali’i at number 8. Thornbury and Boyle will also hit the milestone of 50 caps for Connacht.
 
Carty will be joined by Caolin Blade in the half-back slots, while the centre partnership is unchanged with Peter Robb alongside Tom Daly. The back three consists of Matt Healy, Peter Sullivan and John Porch.
 
Among the replacements is Oisin Dowling who is in line to make his Connacht debut after recovering from a long-term back injury.
 
Commenting on the game, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“This is a must-win for us given results of the last few weeks. While our home form has been disappointing we’ve had honest reviews of what’s gone wrong and the reaction in training has been good. Our away form has been a positive for us this season, so we’ll look to keep that going tomorrow albeit against tough opposition and a tough place to go in Rodney Parade.”
 
Regarding his team selection Friend added:
“We’ve a number of players earning significant caps tomorrow so I’d like to congratulate Finlay, Jack, Gavin and Paul on the milestones. We’ve also got Oisin Dowling in line for his first appearance which has been long overdue after his back injury, and that’s a testament to him and the medical department. Overall we’ve a pretty healthy squad which is a boost heading into a key part of the season.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS DRAGONS RUGBY
Friday 5th February, Rodney Parade, k/o 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (30)
14. Peter Sullivan (8)
13. Tom Daly (37)
12. Peter Robb (46)
11. Matt Healy (143)
10. Jack Carty (149)
9. Caolin Blade (121)
1. Denis Buckley (191)
2. Shane Delahunt (89)
3. Finlay Bealham (149)
4. Niall Murray (9)
5. Gavin Thornbury (49)
6. Paul Boyle (49) (C)
7. Conor Oliver (13)
8. Abraham Papali’i (5)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (11)
17. Jordan Duggan (6)
18. Jack Aungier (9)
19. Oisin Dowling *
20. Eoghan Masterson (101)
21. Kieran Marmion (175)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (2)
23. Alex Wootton (12)
 
NOTE: All Connacht Pro players and management returned negative results in this week’s round of PCR testing.

 

Connacht 10-16 Munster

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Despite almost completing a sensational late turnaround, Connacht fell to a narrow, 10-16, defeat to Munster at the Sportsground in a keenly-contested Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash.

 

A Peter Sullivan try and a penalty and a conversion from Jack Carty accounted for the hosts’ points after a strong team performance, in both attack and defence.

 

But Munster — who registered their sixteen points via a Chris Farrell try and eleven points from the boot of J.J. Hanrahan — held on and sealed their victory after weathering a late Connacht storm in their 22 while being down to 13 men.

 

 

The visitors, who started the game one place ahead of the Westerners in Conference A of the PRO14, started well and they had their first points when Hanrahan made no mistake in slotting a penalty from just outside the hosts 22. The home team, meanwhile, played with 14 men in the opening period after Shane Delahunt was yellow carded.

 

Connacht reacted well to the concession of the first score and went in search of scores of their own. Munster, though, were solid in defence — especially at the breakdown, where Tadgh Beirne was prominent — and weathered the home teams’ early attacks.

 

At the other end, the Southerners took advantage of their opportunities and they scored the first try of the evening when Farrell crashed over from close range after a line out gave Munster territory in Connacht’s 22. Hanrahan made no mistakes from the tee and the hosts found themselves 10-0 down.

 

An extremely physical encounter was mostly played between both teams’ 22’s and Connacht were giving as good as they got on and off the ball, with Sean Masterson, Tom Daly, and Sean O’Brien all making big hits and denting carries.

 

The home team’s scrum was functioning well and it was via that avenue that Connacht registered their first points of the night. A strong collective push from the pack yielded a scrum penalty and Carty — in the last action of the half — was composed from the kicking tee and the Westerners went into the break trailing 3-10.

 

Munster started the second period in a strong fashion and they stretched their lead even further when Hanrahan successfully kicked his second penalty of the evening.

 

The Connacht scrum — where Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, and Shane Delahunt were impressive — was a source of penalties for the home team. But Munster’s well-orchestrated defence kept the hosts’ attack at bay with the Westerners pushing hard for a try of their own.

 

Against the run of territory and possession, Munster stretched their lead further when Hanrahan continued his 100% kicking rate for the evening with another successfully struck penalty.

 

With 20 minutes remaining, the hosts kept their intensity high and continued to probe. Enjoying the lion’s share of territory and possession, the pressure eventually told.

 

Munster were reduced to 14 men when Rory Scannell was yellow carded with Connacht — with Sammy Arnold and Tom Daly regular and effective ball carriers —  upping the ante. With a man advantage, the hosts spun the ball wide in the visitors 22, and John Porch’s pass fed Sullivan to dive in. Carty, despite the difficulty of the angle of the conversion, slotted the extras to set up a tense finale.

 

The visitors’ task was made even harder when substitute Nick McCarthy was yellow-carded, but Munster withstood Connacht’s late pressure and forced a knock-on to end the game.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Ben O’Donnell

13: Sammy Arnold

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

(8-1)

8: Sean Masterson

7: Conor Oliver

6: Sean O’Brien

5: Quinn Roux(C)

4: Ultan Dillane.

3: Finlay Bealham

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Matthew Burke for Buckley, Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sullivan for O’Donnell.

Leinster 24-35 Connacht

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht registered their first interprovincial victory of the season after a bonus point, 35-24 win away to Leinster at the RDS Arena in the Guinness PRO14. 

 

Two tries from Guinness player of the match Jack Carty — who also kicked three penalties and three conversions — and a try apiece from Alex Wootton and Tom Daly condemned Leinster to their first domestic defeat of the season.

 

The hosts scored four tries of their own via Scott Penny, Luke McGrath, Ryan Baird, and Ed Byrne, but it was the Westerners who deservedly triumphed in a performance built on a foundation of defensive intensity and attacking efficiency.

 

From the outset, it was clear that Connacht would play with tempo on and off the ball and it didn’t take long for that approach to yield try-scoring fruit.

 

Intelligently reading a Leinster move, Carty intercepted the ball on halfway and — backing his pace — ran in a try that he converted himself to give the visitors a more than merited early lead.

 

Leinster, who were unbeaten in the 26 prior PRO14 games, were keen to attack but Connacht were resolute in defence, especially at the breakdown. Conor Oliver was proving especially strong in defence and the Westerners rolled with the host’s punches before they claimed their second try in a fruitful opening 22 minutes.

 

After a line out in the defending champions’ 22, Connacht were patient in possession before working the ball to the flank. Assisted by the considerable size of Quinn Roux, Carty claimed his second try as he powered over from close range in the left-hand corner. The Roscommon was marginally wide with his conversion, but the visitors established a 12-0 lead.

 

Leinster got themselves back into the contest when Penny — spotting a gap at ruck  — smiped in for a try. Connacht, though, realigned themselves and scored on three more occasions before the interval.

 

Carty slotted two penalties before — on the stroke of half time — Wootton touched down for a try in the left corner in a brilliant ten-minute sequence before the break. Once again showing patience in the opposition 22, the ball was worked to the winger and he crossed for a score that Carty nailed from the touchline to see the Westerners go into the break leading 25-5.

 

Leinster started the second half in strong fashion and had a try only three minutes after the resumption. McGrath showed sharp instincts to run in near the posts. Jimmy O’Brien converted and the hosts were within 13 points at 12-25.

 

Connacht’s work at the breakdown was effective and after they won another penalty at the coalface, Carty stepped up and made no error from the tee to extend the Westerners lead further, 12-28.

 

The game was played in an end to end fashion and Leinster were next to score when Baird peeled off a rolling maul to touch down in the corner. O’Brien converted to bring the score to 17-28.

 

With their tails up, the hosts continued to pile on the pressure, but the visitors defence — where Gavin Thornbury, the Masterson brothers, Sean and Eoghan, and Daly were rock solid — was well drilled and eager for contact.

 

Connacht’s line speed was forcing errors from Leinster and it was through this aggressive approach that Andy Friend’s men wrapped up their bonus-point win.

 

Running a hard defensive line, Daly managed an interception and, despite the attention of two Leinster defenders, powered his way over the line for a try which Carty converted to bring the score out to 35-17.

 

Leinster would have the final say with a score from Byrne from close range, but it was Connacht who held out for a deserved win, their first away to Leinster since 2002.

 

Connacht team:

 

(15-9)

15: John Porch

14: Peter Sullivan

13: Sammy Arnold

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton

10: Jack Carty

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

8: Sean Masterson

7: Conor Oliver

6: Eoghan Masterson

5: Quinn Roux

4: Gavin Thornbury

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Denis Buckley

 

Replacements: Matthew Burke for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Conor Kenny for Robertson McCoy, Ultan Dillane for Quinn Roux, Cian Prendergast for S.Masterson, C.Reilly for Blade, Diarmuid Kilgallen for Wootton, Ben O’Donnell for Sullivan

Connacht 19-32 Ulster

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht fell to a 19-32 defeat to Ulster in a keenly contested Christmas interprovincial clash at the Sportsground.

 

The hosts scored three tries through Jack Carty, John Porch, and Tom Daly — two of which Carty converted — but it wasn’t enough in an entertaining contest.  The visitors came away with the spoils, thanks to six Ian Madigan penalties and tries from Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney, both of which Madigan converted.

 

It was a physical start to the contest, with both teams looking to make amends for recent European defeats and it was the visitors who profited from their early chances with Madigan kicking Ulster into a 6-0 lead with two well-struck penalties.

 

Connacht, though, were well in the game and their pack was in the ascendancy at scrum time. After three consecutive scrum penalties in the Ulster 22, the Northerners were reduced to 14 men when Kyle McCall was yellow carded. With the man advantage, Connacht ran their next penalty and — after a few phases of hard carries — the ball was worked wide to Carty to touch down in the right corner. The Roscommon native, from the most difficult of angles tight to the touchline, then kicked the conversion to his own try and the home team found themselves in the lead, 7-6.

 

The lead would swap hands twice more before half time as Ulster moved ahead through another Madigan penalty before Connacht — showing their trademark attacking flair — scored their second try of the evening.

 

Some big carries from the pack — with Ultan Dillane prominent — established the Westerners field position in the Ulster 22 and from there they launched an attack, with Jarrad Butler and Shane Delahunt carrying hard, that saw Daly offload to Porch to touch down in the right-hand corner. Carty slotted the conversion to see the home team go into the interval 14-9 to the good.

 

The visitors started the second period in a strong fashion and they notched a try when Murphy powered over from close range. Madigan made no mistake with the extras and the Northerners once again found themselves in the lead. With their tails up, Ulster scored another try in a profitable opening fifteen minutes of the second half. Timoney showed pace and power to touch down and — with the conversion successful from Madigan — Connacht found themselves 23-14 behind.

 

The energy and directness of Caolin Blade was giving Connacht momentum as they chased their way back into the game. After some heavy pressure in Ulster’s 22, the hosts had a deserved third try when Tom Daly — who assisted the second try — burst through the outside cover to score. The conversion was wide, but with twenty minutes remaining the hosts were well in with a shout of winning.

 

Chasing the game, Connacht committed to attack but the visitors — with Madigan on form off the tee — kicked three more penalties to take the game away from the hosts and seal a 32-19 win.

 

(15-9)
15 O’Halloran
14 Porch
13 Arnold
12 Daly
11 Healy
10 Carty
9 Blade

(8-1)
8 Butler(C)
7 Oliver
6 Masterson
5 Roux
4 Dillane
3 Bealham
2 Delahunt
1 Buckley

Replacements: Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Jordan Duggan for Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury for Roux, Kieran Marmion for Caolin Blade,  Sean O’Brien for De Buitlear, Colm De Buitlear for Tiernan O’Halloran

 

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