Cardiff 33 Connacht 21
It was a case of opening day blues for Connacht as Cardiff Arms Park remains an unhappy hunting ground for the Irish province. And despite the new season and a new tournament, once again the honours went to the home side.
Dai Young’s men were deserving winners, and it was a disappointing performance from Andy Friend’s side who lacked precision in their execution, while their discipline also let them down. Although there was a traditional fightback – and they did come back to score a try at the end – they really let this game slip away, continuing a poor record at the Welsh capital.
Cardiff had gone into the second half a point ahead, thanks to a late try from Willis Halaholo. From a scrum in the middle of the 22, scrumhalf Tomas Williams broke from the blind and Halaholo made it look simple when he waltzed over.
The former Hurricane and his midfield partner Rey Lee-Lo played a big part in that opening 40 minutes, capitalising on every opportunity to put Connacht on the back foot. And it was a big blow to Connacht who had been leading 13-7, striking early with a Jack Carty penalty after three minutes – the pack having got on top of Cardiff at scrum-time.
Within minutes Cardiff, however, showed their intentions to exploit the fast 4G track, and having forced a five-metre scrum, Hallam Hamos took advantage to touch down for a try, with replacement Jarrod Evans converting.
Connacht, however, produced a superb break, and when Conor Oliver broke through the cover, he found the supporting Kieran Marmion who finished off,with Carty added the conversion to take the lead.
The home side, however, started to take control, dominating possession for long periods and forcing Conancht on the back foot. When Halaholo scooted in before the break, it gave the home side all the momentum which they were able to maintain after the break – Owen Lane scoring the first of his two tries on 50 minutes, again converted.
Connacht showed sufficient resolve to narrow the gap to 21-16 with a penalty before carving out a perfect opportunity to take the lead with a penalty to touch. On this occasion, however, the lineout went awry and with it the opportunity.
When Carty was binned for a poor entry in the ruck,Cardiff drilled home their advantage. It was too easy as Lane crossed for his second try. Worse followed when Liam Belcher rumbled over from the back of a maul. Although Marmion also added his second, it was of little consolation on another disappointing evening at the Welsh capital.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 4 mins: Carty pen 0-3; 10: Amos try, Evans con 7-3; 13: Marmion try, Carty con 7-10; 37: Carty pen 7-13; 39: Halaholo try, Williams con 14-13. HT 14-13; 51: Lane try, Williams con 21-13; 58: Carty pen 21-16; 70: Lane try, Williams con 28-16; 74: Belcher try 33-16; 80: Marmion try 33-21.
CARDIFF: H Amos; O Lane, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, J Harries; R Priestland, L Williams; C Domachowski, K Myhill, D Arhip; S Davies, M Screech; J Turnbull (capt), E Jenkins, J Ratti.
Replacements: J Evans for Priestland (2), T Williams for Evans (21), L Belcher for Myhill (52), R Carré for Domachowski (53), D Lewis for Arhip W Boyde for Ratti (59), R Thornton for Davies and M Llewellyn for Haloholo (75).
Yellow card: S Davies (67).
CONNACHT: T O'Halloran; J Porch, T Farrell, T Daly, M Hansen; J Carty, K Marmion; M Burke, S Delahunt, F Bealham; O Dowling, U Dillane; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler (capt).
Replacements: D Heffernan for Delahunt (45), P Boyle for Oliver (49), J Duggan for Burke and D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (58), N Murray for Dilane (61), C Fitzgerald for Carty and S Arnold for Porch (76).
Yellow cards: J Carty (67), M Hansen (70).
Referee: A Piardi (Italy).