Connacht battle to victory in Port Elizabeth despite red and yellow cards

Playoff hopes remain alive as they keep up 100% record over Southern Kings

Connacht’s  Kieran Marmion offloads during the Guinness Pro 14 match against  Southern Kings at the  Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Photograph: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Connacht’s Kieran Marmion offloads during the Guinness Pro 14 match against Southern Kings at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Photograph: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images/Getty Images

 

Southern Kings 19 Connacht 29

Connacht can take a bow. Reduced to 14 players for most of the match, they bagged maximum points from their visit to Port Elizabeth on Sunday and maintained their 100 per cent unbeaten record over the Southern Kings.

Andy Friend’s men may feel aggrieved that having taken a 14-point lead after six minutes and looking dominant, they were forced to see out the remainder of the game without Peter Robb, who had come on five minutes earlier for winger Matt Healy, who had taken a shoulder knock.

It was a controversial decision by referee JD Cwengile after he had been given advice from the TMO that contact had been made first to the chest before Robb’s elbow rose to the neck of influential centre Howard Mnisi. It changed the game’s complexion completely, and when Kyle Godwin was binned for not retreating 10 metres following a five-metre scrum, the Kings produced two rapid-fire tries with a seemingly huge advantage.

Yet Connacht’s superb game management and a huge defensive display kept the Kings pinned inside their own teritory for much of the second half, and not even another yellow card to Tom Daly in the 77th minute could alter the result.

“Job done,” said coach Andy Friend of Connacht’s much-needed seventh win which keeps them in contention for this season’s Pro 14 playoffs.

“I’m really proud of the boys. We had started well, then got a red and yellow cards, and in that heat, all of a sudden the pressure was on us.

“I could sort of see the red card – that is what is happening at the moment – anything up around the neck or head, they are taking a firm stance on that. We panicked a little and it opened up another opportunity for them with a silly penalty which then led to a yellow card, and then all the momentum went the Kings’ way.

“However to stem that, get a penalty before and break, and to see out the second half with 14 men and our replacements who did a great job, was a real gutsy performance.”

Connacht were quickly out of the blocks when Colby Fainga’a took advantage of a wayward Kings pass to intercept and saunter in from halfway for the opening try inside the first minute. By the sixth, Connacht had bagged a second through fullback Tiernan O’Halloran, who sold the dummy to the covering Stefan Ungerer for a 14-0 lead.

The momentum swung, however, when Robb was sent off. Having dominated the territorial stakes, the Kings had struggled to make it count, but with Godwin yellow carded, there was a sense of inevitability when Ungerer scored after 27 minutes. Three minutes later a solid set piece set up left wing Erich Cronje for the second try, with outhalf Siyabonga Masuku converting both.

Connacht, however, led 14-17 at the break with Jack Carty posting a penalty, and on the resumption the outhalf added the third try in a well-worked move on the short side.

Replacement hooker Dave Heffernan put in a solid shift in a pack that worked its socks off, and although Cronje dived over for a third try on 57 minutes, Carty continued to ask questions of the Kings’ back three.

It ensured Connacht played all the rugby in the right area of the park, and the pack, which included young Conor Kenny in the frontrow, continued to put their hosts under pressure. Eventually, after a handful of penalty scrums and a yellow card to replacement Ruaan Lerm, Connacht were awarded a penalty try to secure the bonus point.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 1 min: Fainga’a try, Carty con 0-7; 5: O’Halloran try, Carty con 0-14; 27:Ungerer try, Masuku con 7-14; 30: Cronje try, Masuku con 14-14; 39: Carty pen 14-17; Half-time: 14-17. 46: Carty try 14-22; 57:Cronje try 19-22; 69: pen try 19-29; 80:YC Daly.

SOUTHERN KINGS: M Banda; C Hollis, S Sithole, H Mnisi, E Cronje; S Masuku, S Ungerer; S Ferreira, A van Rooyen, R de Klerk; J Sexton, J Astle (capt); L Badiyana, T Bholi, E Louw.

Replacements: R Stevens for van Rooyen, X Vos for Ferreira (both 48 mins), P Scholtz for De Klerk, B de Wee for Sexton, R Lerm for Bholi (all 52); T Maree for Ungerer (49); T Botes for Masuku (58); J Twum-Boafo for Hollis (70).

Red card: Robb (15 mins). Yellow cards: Godwin (25), Daly (80), Ruan Lerm (Southern Kings)..

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; J Porch, K Godwin, T Daly, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; P McAllister, S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy; U Dillane, J Maksymiw; P Boyle, C Fainga’a, J Butler (capt).

Replacements: P Robb for Healy (9 mins); D Heffernan for Delahunt (32); C Kenny for Robertson-McCoy (33); D Buckley for McAllister (h-t); E McKeon for Boyle, K Marmion for Blade (both 55); E Masterson for Maksymiw (69; C Fitzgerald for Marmion (77).

Referee: JD Cwengile (SARU).

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