Mighty Quins have way too much in tank for Connacht
Pool Three Harlequins 47 Connacht 8:It was Harlequins’ day, as predicted. The English champions continue their assault under Conor O’Shea, leading both the Aviva Premiership and the Heineken Cup; top of the table, most championship points, and most attacking points .
This victory has guaranteed a home quarter-final, said O’Shea, “barring something ridiculous” .
“We are representing England as the champions and you put your best out in every single game. The big thing is we will be coming back down to The Stoop in April.”
Connacht are now intent on ensuring a third win in this season’s competition when they host Zebre at the Sportsground on Friday.
“We have an opportunity to finish the campaign on a high,” said Eric Elwood. “We won one last year and, if we beat Zebre, it’s three from six. Considering our pool opponents, it is a good improvement.”
Elwood will hope to to see some of his experienced players return – Danie Poolman, George Naoupu and Dan Parks, who underwent a scan on his hamstring late last week.
Add the absence of the long-injured John Muldoon and Gavin Duffy, and Connacht’s youthfulness was exposed at The Stoop on Saturday.
Hard though Connacht battled, they could not stop the Quins express, who had racked up a score of 41-13 to Biarritz in their opening pool fixture. However Connacht did not help themselves with three sin-binnings in a second half, during which the hosts ran in five tries.
“We had enough opportunities in that first half – we had four of five line breaks and didn’t score, so to start the game so brightly but to get no reward for it and go in at half -time 16-3 down, that is disappointing.
“It does not help when you get three yellow cards. From my point of view they were harsh and, if you want to have consistency, they had two cynical infringements, but nothing there. It’s hard enough playing with 15, never mind playing with 14, 13 and 12.
“Away from home a quality team is always going to test you. There’s young lads out there who can hardly walk, who have given their everything. They have run the blood to water and you know if they fall off a tackle there is no one more disappointed than the player. I cannot be critical, the lads work extremely hard for me, and always have done.
“Quins are a good side – one of my three teams to win the cup. We got punished today for our errors, our mistakes, and that’s what good teams will do.”
Connacht were under pressure up front, but after 35 minutes, the score remained 6-3. Former All Black Nick Evans posted two penalties, between which Matthew Jarvis opened for Connacht, who had carved out two scoring chances in that opening period.
Quins were let off the hook when a break from Tiernan O’Halloran resulted in the concession of yet another penalty in the opening half.
Quins, however, seized their opportunity, kicking a penalty to touch and, from the resulting reset of a five-metre scrum, Scottish referee Neil Patterson awarded a penalty try. Evans stretched the lead with the conversion and a penalty.
Within in a minute Quins’ fullback Mike Brown’s weaving run set up right wing Tom Williams for a soft try and, with Connacht down to 13 men after first Johnny O’Connor and Fetu Vainikolo were binned, Williams added his second.
During Connacht’s third yellow after fisticuffs between replacement Ethienne Reynecke and Joe Marler, O’Connor did well to dive over from a lineout for his side’s only try before Ugo Moyne celebrated his 200th club appearance with Quins’ fourth try two minutes later. Two late tries later George Lowe and Ben Botica added to the hosts’ triumph.
“We got punished today for our errors, our mistakes, and that’s what good teams will do.”
HARLEQUINS: M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper, T Casson, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston), O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa’asavalu, C Robshaw, N Easter. Replacements: G Lowe for Hopper (54), T Guest for Easter (54), R Buchanan for Gray (58), K Dickson for Care (66), M Lambert for Marler (67), W Collier for Johnson (66), B Botica for Casson (69). Sin bin: Marler (60).
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; M Jarvis, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White, M Swift, M McCarthy, A Browne, J O’Connor, E McKeon. Replacements: M Kearney for McKeon (14) B Wilkinson for Buckley (43), M Nikora for Jarvis (49), R Loughney for White (49), E Reynecke for Harris-Wright (54), E Grace for Swift (54), J Loxton for O’Halloran (66), P O’Donohoe for Marmion (66). Sin bin: O’Connor (50), Vainikolo (52), Reynecke (60).
Referee: Neil Patterson (RFU)