Connacht take bonus to join Scarlets on top of the pile
Pat Lam?s side take advantage of Welsh side?s poor discipline at Sportsground
Connacht prop Rodney Ah You gets over for his side’s fourth try against Scarlets in the Guinness Pro 12 game at The Sportsground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht 30 Scarlets 17
Connacht produced a bonus-point victory to jump back up to the top of the Pro 12 table alongside their visitors Scarlets at the Galway Sportsground.
The home side, dominant throughout, had wrapped up the bonus point by the 64th minute to post their first victory in the Pro 12 since their historic win over Munster in November.
It was a superb result for Pat Lam’s side in this final game of 16 fixtures on the bounce, which last weekend also saw them qualify for the last eight of the European Challenge Cup.
The win sees them now join Scarlets with 40 points – the Welsh side remaining on top due their superior win count.
The game for Connacht was all about remaining in the top four at this juncture, and the home side always look superior, leading by 13-0 at the break with two identical tries at the beginning and end of the half, both scored by flanker Jake Heenan.
They could have been in front by 20-0, but their failure to kick points came back to haunt them again. Despite the wind, which Connacht enjoyed in the first half, outhalf Jack Carty’s only successful kick was an eighth-minute penalty after missing an early effort.
However, the home side had the edge up front and they turned the screw in the scrum. It resulted in four penalties of the seven Scarlets conceded in the opening 40 minutes, and from two of those Connacht were able to kick for the corner and score. Lock Aly Muldowney secured lineout possession in both, and the pack forced their way over with Kiwi-born Heenan claiming the touchdowns.
The Scarlets were off the mark early in the second half and within minutes had reduced the arrears to just three points with outhalf Aled Thomas posting a penalty, and two minutes later a try and conversion after Connacht failed to secure breakdown possession. It allowed Phil John to break through before Gareth Owen supplied Canada international DTH van de Merwe who finished off, with Thomas adding the extras.
However Scarlets’ indiscipline proved crucial with yellow cards to both John and Tom Price. Connacht capitalised with another maul from a penalty to touch – this time Heenan claiming the lineout and man of the match Denis Buckley touching down in the 51st minute, with Carty adding the conversion. Replacement prop Rodney Ah You burst over for the fourth try, which was again converted to give Connacht a 31-10 lead.
The final 10 minutes belonged to Scarlets who entered bonus-point territory following a series of penalties – Connacht’s first in the match.
Centre Gareth Owen grabbed a 73rd-minute try which Thomas converted, but a thumping Bundee Aki tackle on replacement fullback Michael Collins stymied the Scarlets’ momentum. However a late yellow card to replacement hooker Dave Heffernan provided Scarlets with a last attempt in injury time, but Connacht’s disciplined defence sent the Scarlets into touch to post their eighth win to the delight of the 5,292 Sportsground supporters.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; G Naoupu, A Muldowney; J Muldoon (capt), J Heenan, E Masterson.
Replacements: R Parata for Healy (30 mins), U Dillane for Naoupu (57 mins), R Ah You for Bealham (61 mins), J Connolly for Heenan (64 mins), C Ronaldson for Carty (65 mins), R Loughney for Buckley and D Heffernan for McCartney (66 mins), I Porter for Blade (74 mins). Yellow Cards: Dave Heffernan (81 mins).
SCARLETS: L Williams; T Williams, G Owen, H Parks, DTH van der Merwe; A Thomas, R Williams; P John, E Elias, R Jones; T Price, L Rawlins; A Shingler, W Boyde, M Allen.
Replacements: P Edwards for R Jones (35 mins), D Evans for Allen (53 mins), M Allen for Evans (57 mins), M Collins for L Williams (61 mins), K Myhill for Elias (65 mins), S Shingler for Williams (65 mins), J Jones for Rawlins (74 mins). Yellow cards: P John (46 mins), T Price (49 mins).
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU).