Exeter show Connacht who are Chiefs at Sandy Park
Irish province concede five tries as they are well beaten in Challenge Cup match
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs) takes on Fionn Carr (Connacht) during the European Rugby Challenge Cup match at Sandy Park. Both players were try scorers. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Exeter Chiefs 33 Connacht 13
A disappointing defeat, but still alive in Europe, Connacht coach Pat Lam described his side’s 33-13 loss at Sandy Park in their second Challenge Cup fixture as a “blip not a catastrophe”.
“At the end of the day we are still alive in Europe. Yeah, they have a point over us, but they have to come to Galway,” Lam said as the Chiefs grabbed pole position in pool two.
“Ultimately when we do things as a team, we are a good side, and that is the only way we can play, particularly when you come to a place like Exeter where many teams have struggled. We needed to play as a team and we didn’t quite execute. The sooner we move on from that and take the learnings, because we have an important game next week, so we park the Challenge Cup until December.”
Connacht went into the break 19-6 in arrears, having leaked a third try on the stroke of half-time, a score that demonstrated the Chiefs’ superiority in possession and confidence.
Outside the opening five minutes when Connacht took the lead through a Craig Ronaldson penalty, the hosts dominated the game and looked the more assured side.
“Yeah, there were system errors early on. We let in a couple of tries before half-time and at 12-6 it could have been okay, but they scored just before the break, and it was always going to be an uphill battle from there.”
With nine changes in personnel– including a late withdrawal of Dave McSharry which necessitated a move for Danie Poolman to the centre to accommodate Fionn Carr – it was more the performance than the result which was unexpected.
“Today some are disappointed because they did not play as well as they could, but we are not the only team that does that. We don’t have the same depth as other teams, and we knew this was potentially a big problem for us because of the six-day turnaround. But with Matt Healy, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon and Eoin McKeon at home, they’ve got a good rest and we will be buzzing next week.”
Scrumhalf Ian Porter, recovering from a poor start in which two kicks were blocked down, launched a high kick to give Carr sufficient time to nail the receiver and win the penalty. Ronaldson converted from 45 metres out to take an early lead, but thereafter they provided Exeter with too many opportunities to score, committed too many unforced errors, and lacked patience to put the ball through the phases.
The Chiefs had responded by the ninth minute with the first of their five tries when scrumhalf Will Chudley snuck through a gap at the edge of the breakdown to score under the posts, which Gareth Steenson converted for a lead they would never relinquish.
As Connacht coughed up possession too easily, the Chiefs continued to make inroads, particularly in the backline through the inside pass. The capitalised yet again on lost possession to launch another attack which resulted in centre Henry Slade diving over from a ruck.
Connacht were rewarded with a well-struck Ronaldson penalty on 36 minutes after a sequence of Connacht phases, but four minutes later a rushed clearance provided the home side with another platform and Damien Welch delivered try number three. Man of the match Dave Ewers grabbed the bonus -point try within six minutes of the restart before Ben White completed the scoring by the 56th minute.
Replacement Jack Carty provided Connacht with decent field position in the second half from which Connacht were able to launch several attacks. Willie Faloon was denied when Carr’s pass was deemed forward, but finally Pat Lam’s men were rewarded when Carr marked his 100th cap for the province with an individual try in the 72nd minute.
CONNACHT: D Leader; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, D Poolman, F Carr; C Ronaldson, I Porter; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White (capt); M Swift, M Kearney; A Browne, W Faloon, G Naoupu.
Replacements: J Carty for Henshaw (half-time), A Muldowney for Swift (45 mins), R Ah You for White, R Loughney for Buckley (both 50 mins ), D Heffernan for Harris-Wright (53 mins), C Blade for Porter (59 mins), D Qualter for Naoupu (60 mins), C Finn for Leader (64 mins).
EXETER CHIEFS: C Botha; J Nowell, H Slade, S Hill, M Jess; G Steenson, W Chudley; B Moon, J Yeandle (capt), M Low; D Armand, D Welch; D Ewers, B White, T Waldrom.
Replacements: T Francis for Low (51 mins), D Lewis for Chudley (53 mins), B Sturgess for Moon (58 mins), I Whitten for Steenson (60 mins), K Horsman for White (64 mins), E Taoine for Yeandle (66 mins), S Naquelevuki for Ewers, F Vainikolo for Nowell (both 68 mins).
Referee: P Gauzere