Exeter Chiefs boss Connacht on back of storming second half

Pat Lam’s side claim bonus point but need result in France to go further

Connacht 24 Exeter Chiefs 33

Connacht’s disappointment in defeat will be tinged with anger and frustration because there was more than a dollop of self-inflicted calamity in their performance. It was a shame because elements of Connacht’s back play – supplemented by the handling of several forwards – proved a joy to behold.

They scored four tries, three of which quickened the pulse, but despite leading 17-10 at the interval, they could not replicate the same volume of quick, front-foot ball nor rise above a spiralling error-rate that undermined their ambition in the second 40 minutes . They’ll also reflect on the sloppiness that contributed to Exeter’s 10 points in the first half.

The Chiefs deserved this victory on foot of their post-interval performance, in which they scored 23 points, but the visitors were facilitated by their hosts’ fragility in both application, at times, and accuracy. Connacht’s fourth try, the outstanding Matt Healy’s second, brought them to within touching distance of a second bonus point but it remained tantalisingly out of reach as Darragh Leader’s late long-range penalty drifted narrowly wide.


Connacht's travails were readily identifiable. The home side were on the receiving end of a 13-4 penalty count; their scrum was eviscerated, legally in the eyes of French referee Mathieu Raynal. They coughed up 20-plus turnovers, and the general punting and kicking from hand was loose and poorly directed. They also gifted an intercept try that yielded seven points. Ultimately it proved an insurmountable handicap.

The truism that forwards win matches was never more apparent than in this Challenge Cup contest with the Chiefs, dominating collisions, mauls and breakdown; in fact everywhere but the lineout, where they coughed up three throws. The margin could have been greater if they had been a little more patient in converting try-scoring opportunities, particularly in the second half.

It’s a minor quibble as the English club clinched their place in the knock-out stages with one pool match still remaining. England prospect and Chiefs hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie deservedly won man of the match, offering a tour de force in the loose, both in carrying powerfully and with his thumping tackling.

He was the central cog in a muscular display from the visiting eight, whose brutish domination, gave outhalf Henry Slade an opportunity to amass 18 points to augment three tries scored by captain Dean Mumm, Don Armand and a penalty try, awarded when the Connacht slewed backwards and sideways at a five-metre scrum.

Accuracy was a fundamental issue for Connacht, in passing, kicking, decision-making and finally defending, the latter compromised by diminishing line speed as tired bodies struggled to stop the direct and powerful running of the Exeter team.

Losing outhalf Ronaldson to a quad injury sustained in the warm-up meant Jack Carty was promoted to the team and Miah Nikora to the bench. The young outhalf mixed the excellent with some loose kicking and will appreciate the need to refine his game management when he reviews the game.

It wasn’t all gloom and doom, not by any means. The crowd of 5,018 were treated to some brilliant passages of rugby from the home side. Carty’s midfield break and Willie Faloon’s long pass allowed Healy, popping up on the opposite wing, to scoot over for the first try.

The second was a homily to a catch-and-drive from a five-metre lineout with the Connacht pack supplemented in numbers by several backs. The third was a gorgeous effort, started by Healy on one side of the pitch and finished in the far corner by Danie Poolman. Healy's second try – it came from a tap penalty five metres from the Connacht line – was a testimony to glorious footwork and searing pace.

The fact that it was probably only his second or third touch after the interval in some respects encapsulated how dominant the English club were playing with the wind. They could even afford secondrow Damien Welch falling over in the Connacht 22 with no one to beat after intercepting a pass thrown by John Muldoon.

George Naoupu had a huge game at number eight, Faloon and Muldoon effective in a hard-working backrow. Aly Muldowney carried powerfully while Robbie Henshaw shrugged off an ankle injury sustained after just five minutes to see out the match. His was abrasive and direct in possession, so too Poolman, whose only aberration was a pass intercepted by Mumm that saw the Australian amble over for a try.

Connacht travel to La Rochelle at the weekend, knowing that a victory will be good enough to see them through to the play-offs, providing Bordeaux-Begles are beaten in Edinbugh. The most pressing issue is who’ll be fit enough to travel.

Scoring sequence – 5 mins: Healy try, 5-0; 19: Penalty try, Slade conversion, 5-7; 23: Faloon try, 10-7; 35: Slade penalty, 10-10; 38: Poolman try, Carty conversion, 17-10. Half-time: 17-10. 43: Slade penalty, 17-13; 45: Mumm try, Slade conversion, 17-20; 57: Slade penalty, 17-23; 63: Armand try, Slade conversion, 17-30; 70: Slade penalty, 17-33;74: Healy try, Carty conversion, 24-33.

CONNACHT: M Muliaina; D Poolman, R Henshaw, D McSharry, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You; Q Roux, A Muldowney; J Muldoon (capt), W Faloon, G Naoupu.

Replacements: D Leader for McSharry (39 mins); F Bealham for Ah You (half-time); A Browne for Muldowney , E McKeon for Muldoon (both 64 mins); D Heffernan for McCartney, JP Cooney for Buckley (for 68 mins); M Nikora for Muliaina 70 mins, C Blade for Marmion (both 70 mins).

EXETER CHIEFS: P Dollman; I Whitten, J Nowell, S Hill, M Jess; H Slade, D Lewis; B Moon, L Cowan-Dickie, A Brown; D Mumm (capt), D Welch; D Ewers, D Armand, T Waldrom.

Replacements: H Thomas for Lewis (64 mins); K Horstmann for Welch, C Rimmer for Brown (both 65 mins); G Bateman for B Moon, B Sturgess for L Cowan-Dickie, J Scaysbrook for Armand (all 75 mins).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)