Connacht book their place in Challenge Cup quarters
Draw at Sixways sees Connacht top their Challenge Cup pool
Connacht skipper John Muldoon leads his team off after the game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Worcester 24 Connacht 24
Connacht have claimed top honours in pool five of the Challenge Cup despite settling for a draw at Sixways Stadium.
Forced to recover from a 12-0 deficit after a blistering start from the home side, Connacht’s failure to grab a fifth successive win could well affect their hopes of remaining in contention for a home semi-final down the road. However, they will take satisfaction in topping the pool, retaining their unbeaten run in this competition and from their ability to recover from a poor start after the home side led 24-14 at half-time.
Alan Solomons’ side scored four tries in that opening 40 minutes - two of those tries within five minutes of the kick-off, catching Connacht off the pace and capitalising on their inability to read the bouncing ball on the hybrid pitch. The first try came within two minutes, Connacht’s failure to put the home side’s back three under pressure simply handed them the counter-attacking initiative.
Fullback Josh Adams neatly chipped through, and with Niyi Adeolokun out of position, right wing Perry Humphreys had no difficult heading the race to the ball to touch down, with Chris Pennell adding the extras. Two minutes later, in almost a replica move, former Osprey’s flanker Sam Lewis claimed the second as Worcester profited from a partial block down and another bounce of the ball that played into their hands.
Solomon’s side looked in complete control as they continued on the front foot and enjoyed the Lion’s share of possession, but gradually Connacht got to grips with the pace and should have scored from their first penalty kicked to touch when Kieran Marmion was stopped just yards from the line. However when Pennell tripped the Connacht scrumhalf, captain John Muldoon burst from the base of a scrum to touch down under the posts with Craig Ronaldson converting to reduce the deficit to 12-7.
Worcester continued to play at pace, and when the ball went wide from a lineout and drive, it looked all too easy for Humphreys who sauntered over for his second on 22 minutes.
Connacht then raised their game and although Aki was denied a try for a foot in touch, Adeolokun scored from a dropped ball, capitalising on a distracted Worcester defence to narrow the gap to 17-14.
Connacht’s turnaround after half-time saw them retain possession well to see out the double sinbinning before adding a Ronaldson penalty on 53 minutes. The key score of the half came from a brilliant Tiernan O’Halloran try the 59th minute, and Ronaldson’s conversion brought the sides level.
Connacht finished the game on the front foot, but they were unable to claim the necessary score to record a fifth win in the competition.
Worcester Warriors: J Adams ; P Humphreys, C Pennell, R Mills, D Hammond; J Shillcock, F Hougaard; E Waller, J Singleton, S Kerrod, D Barry, P Phillips, D Denton, S Lewis, GJ van Velze (c).
Replacements: M Cox for Lewis (53m), R Bower for Waller (53m), B Alo for Kerrod (58m), M Dowsett for Hougaard (63m), H Taylor for Phillipa (71m)
Connacht Rugby: T O’Halloran; D Leader, B Aki, T Farrell, N Adeolokun; C Ronaldson, K Marmion; P McCabe, D Heffernan, C Carey, U Dillane, Q Roux, E Masterson, J Butler, J Muldoo.
Replacements: C Kelleher for Leader (50m), C Blade for Marmion (54m), D Coulson for McCabe (71m), N Dawai for Masterson (71m).
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)