Bulls 28 Connacht 14
Connacht’s early season woes In the United Rugby Championship continued with a third successive defeat, one that contained several recurring flaws, notably discipline, handling, and accuracy of execution. Two late tries gave the final scoreline a less harsh appearance for the Irish province, rewarding them for the character they displayed in spades.
It was in marked contrast to the Bulls who were ruthless in racking up the scores. The home side pillaged Connacht’s lineout, pilfered ball at the breakdown and generally bossed the collisions. Some of the time it merely required the Bulls to wait for Connacht to turnover possession, often through basic errors.
What will be even more galling for the Irish province is that they played against 14 players for 30 minutes, the Bulls losing three players at various points to the sin bin. There is no faulting Connacht’s effort exemplified once again by Josh Murphy and indeed the entire pack. Kieran Marmion, David Hawkshaw, Mack Hansen, and Oran McNulty enjoyed some good individual moments.
Connacht survived an early scare when the Bulls hooker Juan Grobbelaar had a try chalked off following the intervention of the television match official Matteo Liperini, the home side correctly deemed to have set up an illegal flying wedge from a lineout maul.
However, a loose pass from John Porch would cost Connacht seven points soon after, Bulls fullback Kurt-Lee Arendse snapped up a loose ball and raced 70-metres to dot down under the posts. Johan Goosen converted as he would do three minutes later as Connacht were picked apart all too easily out wide with Zak Burger eventually rounding off the sweeping attack.
Handling mistakes and brittle defence have been an unwelcome feature in Connacht’s two previous defeats and were once again prevalent.
David Hawkshaw missed a penalty, Connacht kicked a couple more to the corner after Marco van Staden received a yellow card for a dump tackle, but it was the Bulls that nearly scored next when David Kriel was beaten by Mack Hansen to a grubber kick after a 90-metre counterattack.
Connacht also possess the capacity to play with creativity in attack, but a misplaced pass here and there scuppered the adventurous approach that generally featured Hawkshaw, Mack Hansen, John Porch, and Oran McNulty. Despite making a couple of line-breaks the visitors just could not manage a definitive breach that generated points.
Seconds before the interval the Bulls grabbed a third try, Connacht conceded a succession of penalties that gave their hosts free access to the 22, and from that platform Marcell Coetzee was driven over from close range. Goosen’s conversion made it 21-0 at the interval.
Conor Oliver’s charge down in the Bulls 22 gave the visitors a chance to break their duck but once again they could not breach the Bulls defence. Instead, it was the home side that grabbed the next score, the bonus point try, Connacht’s defence once again missing as scrumhalf Burger claimed his second of the night.
Goosen might have been sent off for a head-on-head clash with Kieran Marmion having been upright in the tackle, but the officials were happy that it was a yellow card offence. Connacht emptied the bench, but their play became even more ragged, lacking direction and composure until the Bulls were reduced to 14 players for a third time.
Replacement prop Jack Aungier powered over from close range for his second try in as many games. Hawkshaw added the conversion and then tagged on a try when he blocked down Goosen’s clearance and regathered to touch down, adding the extra points. It was no more than Connacht deserved for the spirit and character shown.
6 mins: Arendse try, Goosen conversion, 7-0; 9: Burger try, Goosen conversion, 14-0; 39: Coetzee try, Goosen conversion, 21-0. Half-time: 21-0. 45: Burger try, Goosen conversion, 28-0; 67: Aungier try, Hawkshaw conversion, 28-7; 73: Hawkshaw try, Hawkshaw conversion, 28-14.
Vodacom Bulls: K-L Arendse: C Moodie, C Hendricks, D Kriel, S Nkosi; J Goosen, Z Burger; G Steenekamp, J Grobbelaar, F Klopper; W Steenkamp, R Nortje; M Coetzee (capt), M van Staden, E Louw. Replacements: J-Hendrik Wessels for Grobbelaar 24 mins; L Mapoe for Moodie 26 mins; S Matanzima for Steenkamp 58 mins; M Smith for Klopper 58 mins; R Ludwig for van Staden 58 mins; E Papier for Burger 62 mins; C Smith for Nkosi 68 mins.
Connacht: O McNulty; J Porch, T Farrell, T Daly, M Hansen; D Hawkshaw, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; L Fifita, O Dowling; J Murphy, C Oliver, J Butler (capt). Replacements: B Ralston for Daly 53 mins; G Thornbury for Fifita 53 mins; S Hurley-Langton for Oliver 53 mins; P Dooley for Buckley 59 mins; J Aungier for Bealham 59 mins; G Stewart for Heffernan 59 mins; C Booth for Murphy 59 mins; C Reilly for Marmion 62 mins.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Yellow card: M van Staden (Bulls) 15 mins; J Goosen (Bulls) 51 mins; J-H Wessels (Bulls) 65 mins.