Emirates Lions 30

Connacht 33 

 

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Connacht became only the second northern hemisphere team to win in South Africa in the United Rugby Championship this season after a brilliant 33-30 win over the Emirates Lions. 

 

The away team dotted down three tries via Cian Prendergast, a penalty try, and Tom Daly with Jack Carty showing great nerve to slot four penalties. 

 

The hosts scored four tries – two of which were converted – of their own alongside two penalties, but it was Connacht – whose set-piece efficiency and attacking prowess made the difference – who deservedly held out for the win. 

 

Connacht began the game at a rate of knots and they had a try only two minutes in. Carty elected to go to the line from a penalty in midfield and, from the resultant line out, the Irish team launched an attack deep in the Lion’s 22. Hard carries from Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen drew them closer to the line before Caolin Blade’s cutting pass met the incisive line of Prendergast and the back row skipped in for the try. Carty converted and the away team were 7-0 ahead. 

 

Not content with one score, Connacht were ambitious in search of tries and they were rewarded for their mentality with a second try in what was proving a bountiful opening ten minutes. 

 

Carty turned down the shot at goal in the Lions’ 22 after the forwards powerfully won a scrum penalty and instead opted for a kick to the line for a line out. The away team pack powerfully drove their opponents backward and, when the maul collapsed, the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try and brandishing a yellow card to the hosts for Ruan Dreyer. With the guaranteed seven points, Andy Friend’s men were one man and 14 points to the good. 

 

The Lions, back to their full allocation of players after Dreyer’s time in the sin bin elapsed, managed the wrestle back some momentum as the half neared its midway point and Jordan Hendrikse opened their account for the afternoon with a sweetly struck penalty, to take the score to 3-14 in Connacht’s favour. 

 

The remainder of the half was an even affair, with both teams enjoying spells of pressure, only for the defences to come out on top until, on the stroke of halftime, Maxwane ran a clever support line to run in a try in the right-hand corner. The conversion was wide, so Connacht were 8-14 ahead going into the break.

 

Connacht began the second half in fine fettle and they were the first to add the scoreboard when Carty – from just inside the Lions’ half – powerfully hit a penalty between the posts to stretch the away team’s lead to 8-17. 

 

 The Lions joined in on the act soon after and Hendrickse’s penalty had them on the scoreboard for the first time in the half as we approached the 50th minute, cutting Connacht’s lead to six points at 11-17.

 

Carty, whose use of the boot – both from the tee and in open play – was superb through, added Connacht’s next score, by expertly dispatching a penalty that saw them break the twenty-point mark. 

 

The Lions, though, began to turn on the pressure from that point and, after a penalty they chose to kick to the line, they launched an attack that ended with scrum-half van Den Berg opportunistically sniping in over the line. The conversion from Hendrickse was good and the lead Connacht had built was reduced to two points at 18-20.

 

The flow of the game was even and Connacht were the next side to trouble the scoreboard when Carty once again showed his prowess from the kicking tee with a beautifully hit penalty that stretched the Irish team even further ahead, leading by five points at 18-23 with the game an hour old. 

 

With their bench bringing a fresh impetus and new energy, the visitors showed great fitness in the closing stages and they registered their third try of the afternoon with a beautifully worked seven-pointer. Using a line out as an attacking platform, the ball was worked to Aki, and – showing a great understanding with his fellow centre – the Irish international brilliantly found the cutting line of Daly, and the Carlow native powered over the line. Carty added the extras and Connacht found themselves 18-30 up with fifteen minutes remaining. 

 

The Lions, to their credit, dusted themselves off quickly and they worked a neat move that saw winger Van Der Merwe collect a pass to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try that took the score to 23-30. 

 

With their tails up, the hosts added a second try in quick succession when their captain, Odendaal, burst through to touch down. Hendrickse added the conversion and the score was level at 30-30 with ten minutes remaining. 

 

Connacht, though, didn’t panic and they regained their lead with five minutes remaining when Carty accurately slotted a penalty to take the score to 33-30 to the away team. A brilliant counter ruck allowed Fifita to carry through and earn the penalty that the Roscommon man made no mistake with. 

 

Despite the hosts throwing the kitchen sink at it, Connacht held out firm to record a brilliant win in South Africa. 

 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

 

15: Mack Hansen 

14: John Porch 

13: Bundee Aki 

12: Tom Daly

11: Alex Wootton 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade

 

(8-1)

 

8: Paul Boyle 

7: Jarrad Butler 

6: Cian Prendergast 

5: Niall Murray 

4: Oisin Dowling 

3: Jack Aungier 

2: Dave Heffernan 

1: Denis Buckley 

 

Replacements: 

 

16: Dylan Tierney Martin for Dave Heffernan 

17: Jordan Duggan for Denis Buckley

18: Greg McGrath for Jack Aungier 

19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling 

20: Conor Oliver for Paul Boyle 

21: Kieran Marmion for Caolin Blade 

22: Conor Fitzgerald for Alex Wootton 

23: Shayne Bolton for Bundee Aki(temporarily for HIA)

The Connacht matchday 23 for tomorrow’s URC fixture against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg has been named (k/o 3.05pm Irish time).
 
In all there are seven changes from last week’s side to face Leinster, with Andy Friend’s squad aiming to make it nine consecutive wins against South African opposition in the PRO14 and URC.
 
Two of chose changes are in the backs where Alex Wootton and Tom Daly come into the side. Daly starts at inside-centre with Bundee Aki moving to 13, while Alex Wootton forms an exciting back three on the wing alongside John Porch and Mack Hansen who moves to full-back.
 
Caolin Blade and captain Jack Carty are retained at 9 and 10 respectively.
 
In the front row there are starts for props Denis Buckley and Jack Aungier alongside hooker Dave Heffernan, while there’s a new-look second row of Oisín Dowling and Niall Murray. The final change sees the return of Paul Boyle at number 8, while Cian Prendergast and Jarrad Butler are named on the flanks.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’ve had a really good week so far in South Africa, and while the disappointment of last week still lingers, there’s still a great sense of optimism in the group that we can finish these last few games on a high.
 
Tomorrow’s game brings additional challenges like the altitude, and the results so far have shown how difficult it is for European teams to get a win down here. The Lions have a strong scrum and pacey wingers so it’s up to us to not give them any footholds in the game, and take our chances when we get them.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS EMIRATES LIOMS
Saturday 23rd April, 15:05 Irish time / 16:05 local time @ Emirates Airline Park
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Mack Hansen (12)
14. John Porch (56)
13. Bundee Aki (117)
12. Tom Daly (58)
11. Alex Wootton (31)
10. Jack Carty (177)
9. Caolin Blade (148)
1. Denis Buckley (205)
2. Dave Heffernan (162)
3. Jack Aungier (29)
4. Oisín Dowling (23)
5. Niall Murray (32)
6. Cian Prendergast (28)
7. Jarrad Butler (93)
8. Paul Boyle (72)

Replacements
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (3)
17. Jordan Duggan (26)
18. Greg McGrath (6)
19. Leva Fifita (13)
20. Conor Oliver (39)
21. Kieran Marmion (206)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (50)
23. Shayne Bolton (3)

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