Brave Connacht made to pay for slow start
End-to-end game showcases province’s team spirit despite relentless Scarlets’ pressure
Gareth Davies of Scarlets skips clear of Kieron Marmion of Connacht in a game marked by the province’s remarkable revival. Photograph: Huw Evans/Inpho
Connacht were left to pay the price for a poor start against the Scarlets in
this fixture, despite claiming two bonus points with a thrilling finish.
Having allowed the Scarlets to build a 25-6 lead in yesterday’s game, Connacht staged a remarkable revival in the second half and almost secured a record fifth straight Pro 12 win.
However their display of incredible character, which saw them post three tries in the final eight minutes, was not enough to claim another scalp and jump into the vital sixth place. Pat Lam’s squad was left to rue an opportunity missed.
In the end Guy Easterby’s returning internationals did just enough to secure the bonus-point victory in this eight-try feast.
The victory extended
their lead over Connacht to seven points, making Connacht’s task of achieving a guaranteed Heineken Cup spot all that more difficult, particularly as they face a tough finish against Ulster, Munster, Cardiff and Ospreys.
Both sides produced some entertaining open rugby and, although the home side had control for long periods, opening up a sizable lead early in the second half, Connacht’s never-say-die attitude had the 6,111 fans on the edge of their seat until the final whistle.
Connacht were under the cosh as early as the second minute when Scarlets took a quick penalty, scything open the back line, captain Jonathan Davies raced in for the try with Priestland adding the conversion.
It set the tone for a fast-paced open game and Connacht’s Parks capitalised with his first kick at goal four minutes later.
Both sides created scoring chances but it was left to the kickers to keep the scoreboard ticking over with Parks pegging back the deficit to 7-6 after 21 minutes and Priestland, having missed an earlier effort, tagging on a second to return to a four-point advantage.
Although Priestland spurned a three-pointer after 29 minutes, the Welsh outhalf made amends four minutes later when Connacht were caught in possession for a 13-6 half-time lead.
As Scarlets maintained the impetus, Connacht’s defence was on high alert. They did well to halt Josh Turmnbull on the line, before John Muldoon held up half-time replacement Richard Kelly for a certain try. However from the resulting five-metre scrum, scrumhalf Gareth Davies added to his tally, sniping over to extend the Scarlets’ lead to 20-6 after Priestland added the extras. Connacht quickly conceded a third try.
Henshaw was just beaten to the line from his own kick and chase, but Connacht failed to deal with the counterattack which resulted in Turnbull bursting through from inside his own half to touch down for a third Scarlets’ try.
However, Connacht relieved some pressure with a Marmion try after 54 minutes to kick-start a dramatic final 20 minutes. But Scarlets again had the edge, winning a penalty to relieve the pressure. Connacht never relented and scored two further tries and a conversion. But there was still more in the Scarlets’ tank. In one last foray Gareth Maule dived over, with Priestland converting. This looked enough to deny Connacht a deserved bonus point, but on the stroke of full-time after useful Ronan Loughney foraging No 8 Eoin McKeon raced in, with Nikora converting.