By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht wrapped up their United Rugby Championship campaign with a 22-20 win over Zebre at the Sportsground. 

 

It was an emotional day as the fans said goodbye to Ultan Dillane, Eoghan Masterson, Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i who will all depart the province but the team delivered the bonus point win to mark the occasion in style. 

 

The hosts scored four tries in total, through Kieran Marmion, Niall Murray, Masterson on his Connacht swansong and John Porch in a performance showcasing some excellent attacking play. 

 

The away team, meanwhile, scored three tries of their own and added a penalty, but it was the home team who held on for the deserved win. 

 

With the Sportsground bathed in balmy weather, both teams were content to play an open brand of rugby in the opening exchanges and it was Zebre who drew first blood. 

 

Strong breakdown work won the visitors a penalty and Carlo Canna made no mistake in slotting the kick and the Italian team worked themselves into a 3-0 lead with barely five minutes gone. 

 

Connacht, however, worked their way back into the game immediately in what was proving a highly entertaining opening seven minutes of the contest. 

 

After a clever line-out routine, Tom Daly carried hard and punctured through the Zebre defence. The centre was stopped eventually, but the hosts had an overload wide on the left and the ball was moved to Marmion who dove in the for the score to move Connacht 5-3 ahead. 

 

The home team were totally in the ascendancy after their try – with Daly and Cian Prendergast central to their ball carrying and playmaking efforts – and they made it two tries not long after their first. A beautiful sweeping move from right to left saw Prendergast acrobatically dodge a would-be tackle with a step before delivering an even better offload to Murray to touch down in the left corner and take the score to 10-3. 

 

The Connacht broken play attack looked superb, but so, too, did set-piece attacks and it showed just after the midway point of the first half. In his final appearance at the Sportsground, a well–constructed line–out maul saw Masterson touch down for a try manufactured by the pack. Carty slotted the extras and the hosts lead 17-3. 

 

Zebre, to their credit, didn’t baulk and they had the game’s next try, on the stroke of halftime. Full-back Lorenzo Pani was the benefactor of a quick move and he touched down in the corner. The conversion was wide and the teams went into the interval with Connacht 17-8 in the lead. 

 

Connacht wrestled momentum back at the beginning of the second half and their pressure told with the second period eight minutes old. The hosts spread the ball wide quickly first through Carty and then Oran McNulty, with the full-back feeding Porch, whose step and pace took him away from the cover defence and over the line for a try of both collective and individual brilliance. The home team were deserving of both their bonus point and their 22-8 lead. 

 

With both teams emptying their benches – Dillane, Papali’i and Arnold came on for their Connacht swang songs – the game became fractious and it was the visitors who were the team to snap out of the lull first and they went over for an unconverted try through their replacement tight-head Matteo Nocera muscled over from close range to see the home team’s score reduced to 22-13 with ten minutes remaining. 

 

With their tails up, the Italians went in search of more scores and they registered their third try with the game approaching the 80th-minute mark. Centre Enrico Lucchin showed great pace and strength to breakthrough for an individual try that Cana converted to cut the host’s lead to 22-20 with just over a minute left. 

 

The hosts, however, showed determination to pin Zebre in their own half and close off the game to take the win at 22-20. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Oran McNulty 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Farrell 

12: Tom Daly 

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Cian Prendergast 

7: Sean Masterson 

6: Eoghan Masterson 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Gavin Thornbury 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Dylan Tierney Martin 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

REPLACEMENTS: 

 

16: Dave Heffernan for Tierney Martin 

17: Matthew Burke for Buckley 

18: Sam Illo for Bealham 

19: Ultan Dillane for Thornbury 

20: Abraham Papali’i for E. Masterson 

21: Colm Reilly for Marmion 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for Carty 

23: Sammy Arnold for Farrell

Kieran Marmion will become the fifth Connacht player to reach 200 caps when he lines out for the province away to Scarlets tomorrow night (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The scrum-half made his debut in September 2012 and has enjoyed an illustrious career since then, winning the PRO12 title in 2016 and earning 28 caps for Ireland – with the most notable as starting scrum-half in the win over New Zealand in 2018.
 
He joins John Muldoon, Michael Swift, Denis Buckley and more recently Tiernan O’Halloran as members of the Connacht 200 club.
 
In all there are six changes from the side that lined out against Ulster two weeks ago, with internationals Jack Carty and Dave Heffernan returning from Ireland camp to take their place in the side.
 
Heffernan starts alongside Jordan Duggan and Tietie Tuimauga in the front row, with locks Niall Murray alongside Leva Fifita. The back-row consists of Paul Boyle at number 8 beside flankers Cian Prendergast and Jarrad Butler.
 
Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold resume their centre partnership while John Porch, who makes his 50th appearance for the club, moves to the wing with Peter Sullivan on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We resumed training at the end of last week after a short break to reset and recharge the batteries. We can already tell the break was beneficial, and everyone is really eager to put the last few results behind us and try get a vital win.
 
It’s another historic occasion for one of our players with Kieran Marmion earning his 200th cap. Even on the eve of a milestone like this he’s arguably playing some of the best rugby of his career, which is a testament to him and how he looks after himself. Congratulations to him and everyone who helped him on his journey.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS SCARLETS
Saturday 19th February, 19:35 @ Parc y Scarlets
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (200)
14. Peter Sullivan (18)
13. Sammy Arnold (30)
12. Tom Daly (54)
11. John Porch (49)
10. Jack Carty (171) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (199)
1. Jordan Duggan (23)
2. Dave Heffernan (156)
3. Tietie Tuimauga (5)
4. Niall Murray (27)
5. Leva Fifita (7)
6. Cian Prendergast (21)
7. Jarrad Butler (87)
8. Paul Boyle (67)
 
Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (114)
17. Greg McGrath (4)
18. Jack Aungier (23)
19. Eoghan Masterson (118)
20. Abraham Papali’i (18)
21. Caolin Blade (141)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (46)
23. Tom Farrell (70)

A last gasp Leicester Tigers try gave them a 29-28 win over Connacht at the Sportsground in the Heineken Champions Cup today. 

 

Despite registering a try bonus point – thanks to tries from Tiernan O’Halloran(2), Cian Prendergast and Kieran Marmion, all of which were converted by Kieran Marmion – it was the English Premiership leaders, who trailed 28-10 midway through the second half, who took the victory in a pulsating clash. 

 

Joe Heyes, Kini Murimurivalu(2), Charlie Clare, and Hosea Saumaki all crossed for the visitors, with Freddie Burns also notching two conversions. 

 

Connacht looked to start the game with typical attacking intent, but it was the English Premiership table-toppers who took the lead after scarcely two minutes. 

 

A cleverly worked line-out routine saw Leicester crash over through Joe Heyes. 

 

After turning down two kickable penalties, the away team were rewarded for their ambition when the tight-head prop went over the line from a short distance. The conversion was wide, so the away team lead 5-0. 

 

The English team doubled their try count in what was proving to be a profitable opening ten minutes when Kini Murimurivalu – after a scrum just outside the Connacht 22 gave them field position – dove over in the corner. The conversion hit the upright but the away team doubled their lead to 10-0.

 

Connacht – with their line out an effective weapon –  began to grow into the game thereafter and this bore try-scoring fruit in an extremely entertaining opening seventeen minutes. 

 

A powerful rolling maul brought the hosts close to the line and they then elected to put the ball through the hands of the backs. Kieran Marmion found Carty and the Roscommon native passed to Matt Healy who – unselfishly – fed O’Halloran the try-scoring pass. Carty added the extras and the hosts trailed by three at 7-10. 

 

With their tails up, the driving maul was a tool the home team looked to use extensively and their confidence in the set-piece was justified when they used it as a source of crossing the whitewash for the second time in the half. 

 

Once again, Leicester did well to stop the initial surge but they had no answer to Connacht working it wide through the backs and Bundee Aki’s pass found Prendergast and – showing great strength – the blindside muscled his way over the line. Carty added the extras and the Westerners lead 14-10 at the half-hour mark. 

 

The Tigers tried to respond in kind in the remaining minutes of the first half, but all of their efforts were met with the same Connacht defensive resistance – where Conor Oliver and Niall Murray were particularly impressive – and the hosts went into the interval leading 14-10. 

 

Connacht started the second half in menacing, attacking fashion and they scored two tries – both from attacking lineouts – in the opening ten minutes of the second period. Such was the pressure and the spate of penalties awarded in the home team’s favour, the English team were also reduced to 14 after Tommy Reffell was yellow carded.

 

First, Marmion – showing great instincts – quickly nipped in for a score and then O’Halloran, with his second try of the afternoon, was the benefactor of a brilliant move, starting from the line out, that included offloads from John Porch and Mattew Burke, and pirouetted over in the corner. Carty converted both and the hosts lead 28-10.

 

The Tigers worked their way back into proceedings soon after, however, when Murimurivalu – their most impressive player all afternoon – showed great pace to touch down for a converted try which reduced the deficit to 28-17. 

 

The tide of momentum was with the away team as we reached the final ten minutes and they scored their fourth try when Charlie Clare was at hand to touch down at the base of a maul. The conversion was good and the Westerners lead stood at four points; 28-24.

 

The visitors would have the last say when replacement Hosea Saumaki dove over in the corner to give the Tigers the win – 29-28 – with the last play of the game. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Sammy Arnold 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty ©

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

 

8: Jarrad Butler 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Finlay Bealham 

2: Shane Delahunt 

1: Matthew Burke 

 

Replacements:

 

  1. Dave Heffernan for Delahunt
  2. Tietie Tuimauga for Burke
  3. Jack Aungier for Bealham
  4. Ultan Dillane for Dowling
  5. Paul Boyle for Butler 
  6. Caolin Blade for Marmion
  7. Conor Fitzgerald 
  8. Tom Farrell for Matt Healy 

The Connacht Rugby side to face Gallagher Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday has been named (k/o 1pm).
 
In total there are six changes from the side that met Stade Francais last week, with every returning player an Irish international.
 
Bundee Aki starts his first game for Connacht in over 2 months, returning from injury to partner Sammy Arnold at centre. Tiernan O’Halloran is also included, starting at full-back with Alex Wootton and John Porch named on the wings.
 
After coming off the bench last week, Kieran Marmion comes in at scrum-half alongside captain Jack Carty.
 
Three further internationals – hooker Dave Heffernan, prop Finlay Bealham and lock Ultan Dillane – are also drafted into the pack. Matthew Burke and Niall Murray make up the rest of the tight five, while the back row is unchanged with flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver, and number 8 Jarrad Butler.
 
A powerful looking bench includes the likes of Tietie Tuimauga, who could make his debut if called upon, as well as Leva Fifita and Abraham Papali’i.
 
Commenting on the selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’re under no illusions we face one of the biggest challenges in European rugby on Sunday, but it’s also very exciting and exactly the kind of occasion you want to play in.
 
We’ve brought in a lot of experience which will stand to us for a game like this, and there’s some powerful options on the bench as well. Tietie Tuimauga has settled in very well so Sunday will be a great stage for him to make his debut if called upon.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Sunday 19th December, 13:00 @ Mattioli Woods Welford Road
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (195)
14. John Porch (45)
13. Sammy Arnold (24)
12. Bundee Aki (112)
11. Alex Wootton (25)
10. Jack Carty (167) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (194)
1. Mattthew Burke (31)
2. Dave Heffernan (152)
3. Finlay Bealham (166)
4. Ultan Dillane (121)
5. Niall Murray (23)
6. Cian Prendergast (16)
7. Conor Oliver (28)
8. Jarrad Butler (81)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (108)
17. Tietie Tuimauga *
18. Jack Aungier (21)
19. Leva Fifita (3)
20. Abraham Papali’i (16)
21. Caolin Blade (138)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (42)
23. Diarmuid Kilgallen (4)

Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly and Eoghan Masterson have come into the Connacht starting XV for tomorrow’s hugely anticipated URC interpro with Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (k/o 5.15pm).
 
Their inclusions are the only changes from the side that put in an impressive performance against Munster last week, with out-half Jack Carty again captaining the side.
 
Daly partners Sammy Arnold in the centre, with Bundee Aki being monitored for a knee injury. He is expected to return to full training next week with the National Team. The back three is again made up of wingers Mack Hansen and John Porch, and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.
 
The tight five is unchanged – with a front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, and locks Niall Murray and Ultan Dillane.
 
Eoghan Masterson is a direct replacement for injury absentee Cian Prendergast on the flank, with Conor Oliver and number 8 Paul Boyle alongside them.
 
The Connacht coaching team have gone back to a 4-3 split on the bench, with Conor Fitzgerald coming back into the matchday squad.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve been looking forward to tomorrow for a long time. The opportunity to return to the Aviva Stadium, but this time with thousands of Connacht supporters behind us, is something we’re all incredibly excited about. The importance of this fixture is not lost on us either. So far this season the performances have been good but the results haven’t matched up to that, so now we have to give absolutely everything to make sure we end this block of fixtures on a winning note.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
Saturday 23rd October, Aviva Stadium @ 17:15

Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (194)
14. John Porch (43)
13. Sammy Arnold (20)
12. Tom Daly (52)
11. Mack Hansen (4)
10. Jack Carty (163) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (190)
1. Matthew Burke (27)
2. Dave Heffernan (148)
3. Finlay Bealham (163)
4. Niall Murray (20)
5. Ultan Dillane (118)
6. Eoghan Masterson (112)
7. Conor Oliver (24)
8. Paul Boyle (61)

16. Shane Delahunt (104)
17. Jordan Duggan (16)
18. Jack Aungier (17)
19. Oisín Dowling (10)
20. Jarrad Butler (77)
21. Caolin Blade (134)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (38)
23. Diarmuid Kilgallen (2)

Irish international Kieran Marmion says that Connacht have drawn a line under last Saturday’s defeat to Munster and are keen to return to winning ways in this upcoming weekend’s interprovincial clash against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium. 

 

After a strong performance from the Westerners — which included tries from Jack Carty, who also kicked a conversion and two penalties and Paul Boyle — their southern neighbours eked out a win with a late try in a physical encounter that finished 20-18 in favour of the hosts at Thomond Park. 

 

While it was frustrating to lose, Marmion is confident the squad will take the lessons and positives from it and move their focus to their face-off against Ulster. 

 

“We parked it Monday,’’ the scrum-half said. 

 

“What happened happened. We felt we put in a much better performance than the week before. Obviously, we were a bit disappointed not getting a result, but I think we can take away how we showed up and how we ran them close. We obviously wanted to win, but we can take confidence going into this weekend.”

 

“I think it was a typical InterPro performance. We spoke among ourselves about how we can do that every week. Just the emotions of the occasion, I think it brings the best out of everyone, but we need to deliver every week if we want to be finishing at the top of the table.”

 

Conor Oliver, meanwhile, who excelled in the Munster game paid tribute to the impact made by new forwards coach Dewald Senekal. 

 

The South African coach — who acquired extensive experience both playing and coaching in France — joined Connacht in the summer and Oliver says the pack as a whole are already seeing the benefit. 

 

“Look, it’s brilliant for us”, the openside flanker said of Dewald’s influence. 

 

“We’re really enjoying having him here. It’s very technical with him. All the one-percenters that not a lot people will see, even things like the lift quality in the line out and stuff like that. 

 

“I would say the amount of work he does on his laptop when he’s outside of the Sportsground is nuts. He has all the sessions coded down, of even every game and every lift that someone has done, so the work he’s put in has really filtered down to us as a pack and we’re really buying into that and we’re really enjoying having him here so far.”

 

Elsewhere, head coach Andy Friend is confident that Connacht can secure a win against the in-form Ulster if they stick to their principles. 

 

The Northern province have won all of their opening four games — winning each with a try bonus point — and play a balanced game that incorporates strong running, an efficient maul, and an accurate kicking game. 

 

However, while acknowledging the Ulster strengths, Friend is keen for his team to impose their style of play on the designated visitors for Saturday’s Aviva Stadium clash of provinces. 

 

“First and foremost, they’re the number one team in the competition at the moment: four wins and four bonus-point victories in their four games, maximum points. They’re scoring lots of tries and not conceding too many,” the Australian said. 

 

“They’re a good football side, we know that. They appear to put a big focus on their maul, which will test us. As well as their running game and their kicking game, they like to move the ball up the field through those two methods. 

 

“Listen, we’re gonna have to be on our best performance to knock them off, but we’re comfortable with the game style that we have got and the way that our game is improving. If we can keep that intensity that we showed at Thomond Park last weekend, it will be a very interesting contest.”

 

Jack Carty produced an excellent performance for Connacht in the Munster game — tacking thirteen points onto the scoreboard via a try, two penalties and conversion — and Friend believes his consistency should secure him a berth in the upcoming Irish squad. 

 

There are other players in the Westerners’ playing staff who deserve international recognition, the former Australia sevens coach believes. 

 

Ireland name their squad for their November series tests against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina this evening. 

 

“I thought he was really brilliant, I really did. I think Jack has played some lovely rugby this year and I think he played some great rugby last year too. I would certainly have him there or thereabouts, but it’s not up to me to pick the team, so we’ll wait to see what Andy(Farrell) and his selectors do tomorrow.” 

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.

Munster 20

Connacht 24

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Connacht completed the clean sweep of away interprovincial victories this season after a 24-20 win against Munster in the Rainbow Cup at Thomond Park. 

 

The visitors registered three tries via Sammy Arnold, Conor Fitzgerald, and Kieran Marmion with Fitzgerald tagging on a further nine points via three conversions and a penalty. 

 

The hosts scored two tries and two penalties, but it was Connacht — with their defence solid, especially the line out maul — who sealed a deserved victory.

 

The away team started brightly and after their pressure earned them a shot at goal,  Fitzgerald nudged them ahead with a sweetly struck penalty.

 

Munster responded well and they powered over for the first try of the night when James Cronin barrelled over from close range. With the conversion successful, the home team lead 7-3 in an entertaining opening to the game.

 

Connacht responded brilliantly, however, and from the subsequent restart they opened their try-scoring account. A high restart from Fitzgerald caused confusion in the home team’s ranks and after the ball was spilled, Arnold showed sharpness of mind to claim the ball. The Ireland international, who started the game on the wing, powered through would-be tackles and touched down. Making no mistake,  Fitzgerald slotted a difficult conversion from the corner and the Westerners lead 10-7. 

 

Showing confidence in the attack, the pressure being applied by the Westerners forced Munster into conceding penalties and it culminated in Shane Daily being yellow carded for an intentional knock-on. 

 

With the man advantage and Fitzgerald and captain Tom Daly managing the game superbly with sharp territorial kicking, Connacht were establishing field position deep in the hosts’ half. The away team kicked a penalty to the line and — after an intricate move — the ball was worked to Daly and the centre found Fitzgerald on a loop move. The fly half ran an angled line then stepped and sped into space for a try which he converted to give the visitors a 17-7 lead. 

 

Munster were next to score and they decreased the margin to three points when Rhys Marshall crossed the line from close range and Ben Healy converted. The teams went into the break with Connacht leading 17-14 after an enthralling half of rugby.

 

The Westerners began the second half in blistering fashion and they had a try scarcely a minute in. Strong defence forced a Munster knock-on and from the loose ball Cian Prendergast kicked through. The ball fell to Marmion and the scrum-half pinned his ears back and ran in the try. Fitzgerald kept his 100% success rate off the tee up and Connacht established a 24-14 lead.

 

The scoring was going tit for tat and Munster were next to trouble the scoreboard when Healy drove a long-range penalty between the sticks to reduce the deficit to 24-17.

 

With their tails up, the home side cranked up the pressure and laid siege to the visitors’ 22, but Connacht were stout and committed in defence. Replacement Denis Buckley completed the defensive set when he brilliantly turned over the ball with Munster pushing for a try with fewer than ten minutes remaining. 

 

The hosts weren’t disheartened, though, and they registered a score when replacement Joey Carbery shortened the gap with a penalty to bring the score to 24-20.

 

Munster continued to push and probe, but the Connacht defence — with centre Sean O’Brien and lock Ultan Dillane particularly impressive — held firm to seal the win and complete the sweep of away victories for the Westerners in interpro’s this season. 

 

Connacht team:

(15-9)

15: John Porch 

14: Sammy Arnold 

13: Sean O’Brien

12: Tom Daly (C)

11: Alex Wootton

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

9: Kieran Marmion 

 

(8-1)

8: Abraham Papali’i 

7: Conor Oliver 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Ultan Dillane 

4: Niall Murray 

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy

2: Shane Delahunt

1: Paddy McAllister 

 

Replacements: Denis Buckley for McAllister, Finlay Bealham for Robertson McCoy, Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Sean Masterson for Oliver. Jack Carty for Fitzgerald.  Caolin Blade for Marmion. Peter Sullivan for Arnold. Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i 

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

Scarlets 41-36 Connacht

 

By John O’Sullivan

 

Despite a brilliant display of attacking rugby that yielded five first-half tries, Connacht fell to a narrow, 41-36, defeat to Scarlets in their final PRO14 game of the season.

 

John Porch, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien and Dominic Robertson McCoy all touched down for first half tries for the away team, earning them both try and losing bonus points. Conor Fitzgerald and replacement Jack Carty added eleven points to Connacht’s total via four conversions and a penalty.

 

It was a night for Dylan Tierney Martin as the hooker — formerly of the Irish under ’20s — made his professional debut as a second-half replacement.

 

 

The Scarlets needed a win to help their Champions Cup qualifications hopes and they started with intent. After only two minutes, Aaron Shingler — the blindside flanker — touched down in the left-hand corner after a well-crafted move. 

 

Connacht settled themselves thereafter, however, and began to take control of the contest. With a rock-solid set-piece, the Westerners began to string phases of attacks deep in the Scarlets 22 together. 

 

After a typically sturdy scrum, the away launched an attack and Tom Daly combined with Fitzgerald and the fly-halves pass found Porch and the full-back showed great pace to touch down. Fitzgerald slotted the extras to give the away team a deserved lead. 

 

With their tails up, Connacht added a second try not long after. Kieran Marmion’s incisive break gave the Westerners’ field position and, with advantage accruing, Fitzgerald’s beautiful fizzing pass found Papali’i on the right-hand wing. The big number fended off a would-be challenger to touch down for an excellently constructed try. 

 

Two tries soon became three as Connacht showed all their attacking flair and pace. A huge break from O’Brien saw the centre pass to Porch. The full-back then made an incision of his own through the Scarlets defence before offloading back to O’Brien to score. It was a try of beautiful proportions and Fitzgerlad confidently added the conversion to bring the score to 19-5 in favour of the away team. 

 

The flow of the game was tit for tat and Scarlets were the next team to score when Steff Hughes — after a beautiful offload from Steff Evans — picked up near the line and dived over for a converted try to bring the score to 12-19.

 

Connacht were to have the last say in the half, however and scored two quickfire tries to bring their first-half total of tries to five. First, Robertson McCoy — whose set piece work, as well as his ball carrying, was superb — smashed his way over from close range. Fitzgerald, once again, made no mistake in adding the extras. 

 

Then, after a huge break from Niall Murray established Connacht field position, Daly offloaded to Marmion and the scrum-half — so sharp throughout the half — picked up and scored. Fitzgerald added the conversion and Connacht went into the interval 33-12 to the good. 

 

Needing the win to secure third place, Scarlets started the second half with ambition and they had their first try of the second period five minutes in. Centre Hughes completed his brace and touched for a try which Dan Jones converted. 

 

Another try followed five minutes later when scrum-half Dane Blacker — following a break and offload from second row Sam Lousi — ran in the converted score to bring Connacht’s winning margin back to seven points at 26-33.

 

With the momentum behind them, Scarlets added two more tries — via Tom Rogers and replacement prop Javan Sebastian — and a Jones penalty to take the win. 

 

Carty’s late penalty earned Connacht a losing bonus point to go with their try bonus point.

 

Connacht team:

1: Jordan Duggan

2: Shane Delahunt 

3: Dominic Robertson McCoy 

4: Niall Murray 

5: Gavin Thornbury 

6: Paul Boyle 

7: Conor Oliver 

8: Abraham Papali’i 

 

9: Kieran Marmion 

10: Conor Fitzgerald 

11: Alex Wootton 

12: Tom Daly 

13: Sean O’Brien 

14: Ben O’Donnell 

15: John Porch

 

Replacements: 

 

Dylan Tierney-Martin for Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke for Jordan Duggan, Finlay Bealham for Robertson McCoy, Oisin Dowling for Gavin Thornbury, Sean Masterson for Papali’i, Colm Reilly for Marmion, Jack Carty for Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan for Ben O’Donnell. 

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