Connacht hearts broken by last ditch Leicester Tigers

Sides combine for nine total tries as western province denied a famous Galway victory

 Leicester’s Hosea Saumaki scores his sides fifth and winning try late in the game despite. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leicester’s Hosea Saumaki scores his sides fifth and winning try late in the game despite. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Connacht 28 Leicester 29

Pulsating until the end, dramatic and entertaining, but after 80 minutes of European Champions Cup rugby it was the English premiership leaders who pulled off a sensational victory in the last play of the game.

Connacht had done everything they could to lead by six points, but when Steve Borthwick’s men staged their last stand, they triumphed as replacement wing Hosea Saumaki dived over in the corner for the winner.

Despite a protesting 3,000 home supporters, the try stood, and it ensured Leicester Tigers a qualifying spot for the next round.

Connacht, however, may rue their finish to this fixture - the aerial ping-pong did not help - and this was a game that was theirs for the taking. Yet their losing bonus point very much keeps them in the fight to advance from the group, and they will head to France next week determined not to let it slip.

Leicester finished the game as they started - on the front foot. The had blown Connacht away in the opening 10 minutes with a 10-point lead before Connacht found their stride.

Two penalties in the opening minutes provided the platform for the Tigers’ dominant start and it was prop Joe Heyes who crashed over from a driving maul in typical Leicester fashion. Although outhalf Freddie Burns was wide with the touchline kick, it set the tone for the opening quarter as Connacht struggled to get their hands on the ball. By the 10th minute the Tigers had crossed again - capitalising on a back peddling scrum, and when Burns fed left thing Murimurivalu, there was no stopping the Fijian international.

Connacht, however, started to find their rhythm with Conor Oliver instigating the home side’s first offence. The forwards did all the hard work before Jack Carty sent the ball out wide to Matt Healy before Tiernan O’Halloran dotted down, with Carty adding the extras. With their tails up, Connacht dominated possession and from a series of penalties were eventually rewarded, Bundee Aki providing Cian Prendergast who did well to muscle his way over the line, with Carty again adding the extras for a 14-10 half-time lead.

On the attack

Connacht came out in the second half on the attack, forcing the visitors into a concession of penalties, which led to a yellow card. The third Connacht try when it came was well executed from a lineout and drive before Marmion found his way through to touch down. Once again Carty converted. Five minutes later, and with all the momentum, Connacht pushed further ahead. Once again the forwards played their part before the ball was sent through the hands, and O’Halloran produced the perfect finish. Carty’s conversion put the home side into a 28-10 lead.

The visitors, however, never gave up, and continued to attack with both speed and power to get back into the game. Connacht were not helped when they lost Finlay Bealham through injury, with Ellis Genge and Jasper Wiese both hugely influential. Eventually the visitors re-established territorial control through their scrum while replacement wing Hosea Saumaki created new problems for Connacht.

The try when it came was an an end to end move, but eventually it was Murimurivali who crashed over for his second try. It was a well worked effort from a turnover, and despite the suspicion of a forward pass, the Fijian International could not be stopped, and Burns converted to close the gap to 28-17 on 56 minutes.

The visitors then seized the initiative - helped by moving Bryce Hegarty into the outhalf position - and Connacht struggled to maintain their composure. When Leicester added another try through replacement hooker Charlie Clare, which Burns converted, all the momentum was with the visitors who had closed the deficit to just four points.

With the clock ticking down, there was no stopping the visitors who added their fifth try, but more importantly the win which qualifies them for the next round, while Connacht must still get a result in Paris.

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; J Porch, S Arnold, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (capt), K Marmion; M Burke, S Delahunt, F Bealham; O Dowling, N Murray; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Replacements: D Heffernan for Delahunt (47 mins), T Tuimauga, J Aungier for Bealham (both 49 mins), U Dillane for Dowling (52 mins), T Farrell for Healy (60 mins), P Boyle for Butler, C Blade for Marmion and T Tuimauga for Burke (all 61 mins), Burke for Anger (65 mins).

LEICESTER TIGERS: B Hegarty; F Steward, M Scott, JP Socino, K Murimurivalu; F Burns, R Wigglesworth; E Genge (capt), N Dolly, J Heyes; H Wells, C Green; O Chessum, T Reffell, J Wiese. Replacements: C Clare for Dolly and D Kelly for Socino (both 47 mins), J van Poortvliet for Wigglesworth (53 mins), H Saumaki for Murimurivaluy (57 mins), N Leatigagi for Heyes (67 mins). Yellow card: T Reffell (42 mins).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).

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