Caolin Blade scores a hat-trick of tries as inspired Connacht beat Edinburgh

Andy Friend described the win as ‘potentially our best performance of the season’

United Rugby Championship: Connacht 41 Edinburgh 26

Connacht, coming into form at the right time of the season, are ticking off the wins in their aim to progress to the URC play-offs.

Five wins on the bounce, 29 tries scored, sixth place, and now four points behind Munster in fifth – the sights are still firmly set on Champions Cup rugby next season.

“Best performance of the season,” says coaching director Andy Friend. “So much character shown out there which then led to confidence growing and some really good accuracy in our attacking stuff. Really proud, potentially our best performance of the season.


“This is exactly where we want to be. We want to be in the knock-out stages of both competitions – we are yet for URC and we have two games to go. A win like that helps, but we know a week is a long time in sport.”

On paper everything pointed to an Edinburgh win – heavier up front and some 366 internationals caps in their starting XV, compared with a single international cap for Connacht’s Caolin Blade. And it was the scrumhalf who sent the Sportsground into rapturous applause when he bagged a hat-trick of tries – his second in four games.

Leading 27-7 at half-time, Connacht had the game by the scruff of its neck, and although their hold loosened in the second half as Edinburgh closed the gap to 27-19 after 47 minutes, Andy Friend’s men saw out a scintillating game with six tries to Edinburgh’s four.

Impressive in attack, Connacht also produced a hugely aggressive defence to keep Edinburgh out for long periods, despite conceding eight penalties to three in the opening 40 minutes.

Cathal Forde provided the ideal opener, breaking through three would-be tacklers from the 10m line before squeezing through the fourth to touch down. David Hawkshaw add a penalty eight minutes later and was instrumental with a block-down to set up the third try when the visitors failed to control possession. Connacht capitalised from the ensuing scrum with Conor Oliver crashing over for the second try, convered by the outhalf for a 15-0 lead.

It was 34 minutes before Edinburgh crossed the whitewash after a series of thrusts to the line, but before the break Blade scored the first of his hat-trick via a quick-thinking intercept inside the 22. Jarrad Butler got in on the act immediately after the break with delightful sleight of hand from Jack Aungier, and it was 27-7.

The visitors enjoyed a period control, dominating possession and territory – but hats off to Connacht’s defence, which was forced to make an incredible number of tackles. The 22-year-old Shane Jennings, with only one appearance, took the plaudits with two steals – one from Viliame Mata with a chase and grab.

And although Glen Young added to Edinburgh’s try tally with their power play up front – the second after Conor Oliver had been yellow carded – Blade showed all the skills of rugby and soccer to dribble the ball over the line before adding his third on 64 minutes.

Scoring sequence - 8 mins: Ford try 5-0; 16 mins: Hawkshaw pen 8-0; 20 mins: Oliver try, Hawkshaw con 15-0; 33 mins: Atalifo try, Boffelli con 15-7; 38 mins: Blade try, 20-7 HT 20-7; 44 mins: Butler try, Hawkshaw con 27-7; 46 mins: Mata try, Boffelli try 27-14; 51 mins: Young try 27-19; 61 mins: Blade try, Daly con 34-19; 64 mins: Blade try, Daly con 41-19; 77 mins: Kinghorn try and con 41-26.

CONNACHT: O McNulty; D Kilgallen, T Farrell, C Forde, J Porch; D Hawkshaw, C Blade (capt); P Dooley, D Tierney-Martin, J Aungier; O Dowling, N Murray; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Replacements: S Jennings for Kilgallon (48 mins), D Robertson-McCoy for Aungier (52), D Murray for N Murray (53), D Heffernan for Tierney-Martin and J Duggan for Dooley (both 54), S Hurley-Langton for Butler (59), Daly for Hawkshaw (60), K Marmion for Blade (67), P Dooley for Duggan (74). Yellow cards: C Oliver (47 mins), O Dowling (54).

EDINBURGH: E Boffelli; D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang, D Hoyland; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos; B Venter, S McInally, L Atalifo; S Skinner, G Gilchrist (capt); B Muncaster, C Boyle, V Mata. Replacements: WP Nel for Atalifo (39 mins), D Cherry for McInally (53), G Young for Muncaster (48), M Sykes for Young (56), L de Bruin for Venter and B Vellacott for Pyrgos (both 60), C Dean for Lang (61), N Sweeney for Holland (62), Young for Skinner (65). Yellow cards: Boffelli (58 mins).

Referee: Ben Whitebouse (Wales).