Connacht show dogged fighting spirit in pre-season win over Sale Sharks in Athlone

Conor Oliver, debutant Josh O’Connor and Eoin de Buitléar scored tries for the hosts at Dubarry Park

Connacht 15 Sale 5

Connacht’s second preseason challenge proved richly rewarding when they saw off English visitors Sake Sharks at Dubarry Park in Athlone.

The victory was the only the second Connacht have achieved in their seven previous meetings with the premiership outfit, all in European competition, and Andy Friend will have been impressed with his side’s dogged fighting spirit against Pat Sanderson’s side.

The home side enjoyed the best possible start, dominating early territory. When they took advantage of two successive penalties, Conor Oliver crashed over after four minutes. Although Conor Fitzgerald was wide with the conversion, Connacht held their own against the pack, which tried to muscle their way forward at every opportunity. The Sharks varied their play, but Connacht’s backs dealt admirably even when launching several high balls, while Josh Murphy’s lineout steal stymied a potential attack from a penalty to touch.

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On balance the visitors were the better poachers, but a vital turnover from Jack Aungier halted Sale momentum, and while dominating territory for periods of the opening half, they failed to penetrate a well-organised Connacht defence.

Instead it was the home side that bagged a second try. The pack set up the attack, and when the ball was sent wide, a skip pass found replacement Josh O’Connor who had the power make the line to give his side a 10-0 lead.

The second half, despite a raft of changes to both sides, was one of attrition for the most part, but it was Connacht who dominated possession.

Testing the Sale defence, Connacht looked the fitter, and eventually it paid rewards. Coaching director Andy Friend will be most impressed that his side’s third try came via a maul before replacement hooker Eoin de Buitlear touched down in the 71st minute for a 15-0 lead.

There was just enough time for the visitors to prove their mettle up front — producing a similar try which their replacement hooker Tommy Taylor scored, but it was a deserved reward for a more physically aggressive home side.

CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Shane Jennings, Tom Farrell, Shayne Bolton, John Porch; Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion; Peter Dooley, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Jack Aungier; Josh Murphy Gavin Thornbury; Jarrad Butler (capt), Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle.

Replacements, Eoin de Buitléar, Jordan Duggan, Sam Illo, Darragh Murray, Oisín McCormack, Colm Reilly, Josh O’Connor. Donnacha Byrne.

SALE SHARKS: L James; B McGuigan, S James, C Doherty, A Reed; R De Preez, J Simpson; R Harrison, A Van Der Merwe, N Schonert; C Wiese, M Postlewaite; J Du Preez, B Curry (capt), Dan Du Preez.

Replacements: T Taylor, S McIntrye, C Oosthuizen, J Harper, B Bamber, G Warr, T Curtis, T P’Flaherty.

Referee: E Cross (Munster)