Connacht’s winning run halted as injuries mount
Pat Lam’s side take losing bonus from Arms Park clash
Connacht’s Ian Porter scores his side’s first try during the Guinness Pro 12 match at Cardiff Arms Park. Photograph: Ashley Crowden/Inpho
Cardiff Blues 20 Connacht 16
Connacht’s poor record at the Arms Park continued on Friday night as their six-game winning run in the Pro 12 league was brought to an end by a dogged Cardiff Blues.
These two teams that usually slug it out to within a score and this clash was no different. But on this occasion Connacht had entered this fixture as favourites with a record of six consecutive league wins, in contrast to the Blues with a run of seven losses. But there ended the difference. On the field of play it was as combative as always and it quickly became apparent Connacht’s lofty lead of the Pro 12 was not going to bother a side that has lost only twice at home to its Irish visitors.
No surprise then that there was just three between the sides at half-time, with Connacht edging the game 13-10.
Pat Lam’s men will not have been happy with their start, allowing the home side to take control with intent. Within six minutes the Blues were beginning to open up play, utilising their wings to push up field, but it was the pack who did the damage. Confident to kick a penalty to touch, Cardiff’s rolling maul was unstoppable with No 8 Manoa Vosowai touching down and fullback Rhys Patchell adding the conversion.
Connacht, struggling to get their hands on the ball, seized the initiative when some superb defence from Tiernan O’Halloran forced a five-metre scrum from Patchell’s failure to clear, and Connacht capitalised.
Initially the Cardiff defence held firm as Eoin McKeon and Bundee Aki went in search of the line, but eventually Aly Muldowney created the opening for Ian Porter who dived over in the left corner. The scrumhalf, having taken over the kicking duties after the early departure of Craig Ronaldson, saw his conversion bounce off the upright.
Aki was once again in the thick of the action, forcing a penalty at the breakdown, and this time it was Connacht who drove over, Quinn Roux taking the lineout and McKeon touching down.
The Blues bounced back immediately with Patchell slotting a straightforward penalty to level by the 25th minute, but from the long restart, Connacht managed to forced Vosowai to concede at the breakdown and Porter added the three points to keep their noses in front.
Connacht continued to maintain the momentum, stretching the Blues from left to right with Matt Healy, McKeon and Muldowney all punching holes in Cardiff’s defence. However, Connacht were unable to finish a handful of scoring chances. A knock-on halted Healy’s progress metres from the line before he again showed his prowess on the left wing, brushing off Alex Cuthbert before scrumhalf Lloyd Williams’s covering tackle halted him just metres from the line.
Connacht spent the remainder of the half on attack, running some impressive lines, but it ended with a second Connacht injury when Roux, just back from nose surgery, was stretchered off.
And Connacht’s cause was not helped within minutes of the restart when both Porter and replacement scrumhalf Kieran Marmion were also substituted for injuries, necessitating a reshuffle of the backline, with Healy moving into the No 9 berth where he played at school. The changes certainly affected Connacht’s attacking structure in a scrappy second half, and Lam will be counting the costs of the mounting injuries ahead of Newcastle visit to the Sportsground next weekend.
It took a penalty in the 53rd minute to break the stalemate after Patchell had missed an earlier kick, and when the referee reversed a penalty, Tom James was able to slip through the cover to touch down, Patchell’s conversion putting the Blues into a 17-13 lead after 55 minutes. The leading points scorer continued to add to their tally with a 50 metre penalty after 64 minutes to extend the lead to seven.
Connacht, having struggled to gain a foothold in second half, regained momentum through Aki, enabling Carty to post a penalty from the 22 in the 69th minute and reduce the deficit to four points to set up a tense finish.
The New Zealand centre did his best to take Connacht over the line, forcing a penalty before a superb break brought Connacht inside Cardiff’s 22 with six minutes remaining. From a penalty to touch, Connacht looked to have snatched victory, picking and driving over the line, but they could not finish it off – the TMO ruling a knock-on.
A losing bonus point is some consolation having failed to add their winning run of eight in all competitions, but Lam will be more concerned with the mounting injury crisis.
CARDIFF BLUES: R Patchell; A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, G Evans, T James; J Evans, L Williams; G Jenkins (cpt), E Lewis, T Filise; J Hoeata, L Reed; M Cook, J Turnbull, M Vosawai.
Replacements: K Dacey for Lews (50 mins), J Down for Reed (55 mins), D Fish for Evans (55 mins), C Mitchell for Filise (58 mins), C Dolan for Vosowai (76 mins).
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; D Leader, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, I Porter; R Loughney, D Heffernan, R Ah You; Q Roux, A Muldowney; J Muldoon (cpt), J Connolly, E McKeon.
Replacements: P Robb for Ronaldson (8 mins), G Naoupu for Roux (38 mins), K Marmion for Porter (half-time), R Parata for Marmion (41 mins), F Bealham for Ah You (56 mins), S O’Brien for McKeon (58 mins), C O’Donnell for Loughney (71 mins).
Referee: A Brace (IRFU).