Connacht come up short once again at the Arms Park as Cardiff close gap
Andy Friend’s side let chances slip by on tough night in Wales
Connacht’s Colby Fainga’a and Kyle Godwin tackle Rey Lee-Lo of Cardiff Blues during the Guinness Pro 14 game at Cardiff Arms Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Cardiff Blues 8 Connacht 7
The Cardiff bogey continues for Connacht. With just three wins since 2001, Connacht failed once again at the Arms Park, allowing the Blues to narrow the gap in this Conference A contest.
A valuable bonus point near the end would have done little to ease Connacht’s disappointment as they now are just two points ahead of the Welsh side in the Pro 14 table, and they will certainly view this as an opportunity lost after a poor game in difficult weather conditions.
Despite missing six on international duty, in addition to the injured Kieran Marmion and Seán O’Brien, Connacht produced enough chances to win, but once again their lack of clinical execution proved costly.
Although Cardiff’s attacking threat was no better – Connacht’s defence keeping them to one score – they edged this contest in the battle of the breakdown .
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Connacht coach Andy Friend. “Everyone knew what was at stake. Yes, we’ve got some players out, but it provides an opportunity for players to step up and a lot of blokes missed their chances tonight.”
Cardiff dominated the opening 10 minutes as Connacht struggled to get out of their own half in the face of a strong wind. And with the home side winning most of the collisions, it provided outhalf Steven Shingler with a first opportunity to open the scoring, kicking a penalty after Connacht were pinged for not releasing in the tackle.
Connacht briefly wrested control with a succession of four penalties, which also resulted in a yellow card for prop Brad Thyer, but from a five-metre scrum Connacht butchered the opportunity – James Mitchell’s pass under pressure bouncing off Tom Daly’s shoulder just shy of the line.
A second yellow card for Cardiff when Nick Williams delivered a late tackle on Finlay Bealham provided Connacht with another attacking platform, but once again Connacht’s lack of execution let them down.
Despite Cardiff being reduced to 13 players and conceding some 10 penalties to five in the opening 40 minutes, Connacht struggled in the face of the home side’s superiority at the breakdown and aggressive defence.
It got even worse when Cardiff scored a 25th-minute try in the corner. From the base of a scrum, scrumhalf Lloyd Williams made the initial incision up the blind before right wing Owen Lane skipped an attempted tackle and then claimed a try in the corner. Despite a desperate last-ditched tackle from David Horwitz, the referee awarded the try after TMO showed Lane had grounded the ball while still in play.
The second half started as the first finished with Connacht coughing up possession from an unforced error, and then failing to control a maul 15 metres from the try line. However, with the wind behind them, Connacht were able to establish some territorial control, but their attacking game looked too pedestrian at times, while their normally reliable maul also stuttered, and they twice were unable to control possession when going forward.
Finally in the 75th minute replacement Stephen Fitzgerald sent the ball down field, providing Connacht with a five-metre scrum after Cardiff were forced to carry the ball over the try line. Driven by replacement scrumhalf Angus Lloyd, the pack took control with a series of drives by Tom McCartney, Cillian Gallagher, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Jarrad Butler, and try scorer Paul Boyle. Fitzgerald landed the conversion to help Connacht salvage something from a poor display that finishes Connacht’s latest block with seven wins from 10.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 20 mins: D Shingler pen 3-0; 25: Lane try 8-0; HT 8-0; 75: P Boyle try, C Fitzgerald con 8-7.
CARDIFF BLUES: M Morgan; O Lane, H Millard, R Lee-Lo, A Summerhill; S Shingler, L Williams; B Thyer, K Dacey (capt), D Arhip; G Earle, R Thornton; S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, N Williams.
Replacements: D Fish for Morgan (12 mins), S Lewis-Hughes for Carre (26),R Carre for Thyer (50), S Andrews for Arhip, M Cook for Earle ( both 62), L Belcher for Dacey, G Smith h for Millard (both 67), J Botham for Lewis-Hughes (71).
Yellow cards: B Tyer (14), N Williams (20).
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Daly, M Healy; D Horwitz, J Mitchell; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; J Cannon, C Gallagher; E McKeon, C Fainga’a, J Butler.
Replacements: C Fitzgerald for Horwitz, (44 mins), A Lloyd for Mitchell (48), T McCartney for Heffernan (50), P Boyle for McKeon (60), D Robertson McCoy for Bealham, S Fitzgerald for Healy (both 62), M Burke for Buckley (63), J Maksymiw for Cannon (68),
Referee: Mike Adamson.