Friend disappointed as frustrating Connacht fail to fire
Underwhelming first-half display from home side hands Scarlets the initiative
Connacht’s Paul Boyle is tackled by Steff Hughes of Scarlets during the Pro14 clash at the Sportsground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht 14 Scarlets 20
What was supposed to be a momentum-building first home Pro14 fixture in six weeks for Connacht at the Sportsground was a frustrating damp squib, a losing bonus point of little consolation.
Scarlets departed the wild west with all that was necessary to propel themselves into second place behind Munster in Conference B.
It was an opportunity lost for Andy Friend’s side.
Understandably frustrated, Friend says Connacht provided Scarlets with everything they needed, the energy and the belief.
“I said at half time, rarely since I have been here seen us out-enthused at the Sportsground. It was embarrassing, Much much better in the second half, but you can’t give a team like Scarlets 40 minutes to warm up and that much belief.
“Their execution was better than ours in the 22, and then we are chasing the game, and with the Galway weather coming in the way it did tonight, definitely our fault and a lot of disappointed people.”
The visitors were high-fiving as early as the seventh minute, capitalising on a penalty to touch to launch an attack from left to right. Man of the match, fullback Johnny McNicoll injected the pace before winger Ryan Conbeer crossed in the corner for an unconverted try.
Connacht, looking uncharacteristically shaky early on, used a scrum penalty to launch, and with Shane Delahunt and captain Jarrad Butler maintaining the momentum, No 8 Abraham Papali’i forced his way over for his debut try, with Jack Carty adding the extras for a 7-5 lead.
Then, however, Scarlets grabbed all the momentum, taking advantage of any opportunity leaked by the home side. McNicoll again provided the spark for Conbeer to bag his second try, before Dan Jones added penalty for a 7-13 half-time lead.
Although a strong direct run from Paul Boyle showed how Connacht planned to respond, Scarlets struck again, capitalising on an attempted chip to gain possession with Johnny McNicoll providing scrumhalf Dane Blacker who finished off for a 20-7 lead.
Thereafter Connacht, and the weather, threw everything at the Scarlets. Creating a host of scoring chances, all were too easily thwarted until Ultan Dillane touched down from a forward drive, and Carty’s conversion closed the gap to 14-20.
Struggling to provide the clinical finishing, Connacht were denied another opportunity at the death, and that was as it good as it got for the home side.
Scoring sequence: 5m Conbeer try 0-5; 17m Papai’i try Carty con 7-5; 31m Conbeer try 7-10, Jones pen 7-13; 43m Blacker try, Jones con 7-20; 60m Dillane try, Carty con 14-20.
CONNACHT: J Porch, A Wootton, S Arnold, T Daly, M Healy, J Carty, C Reilly; P McAllister, S Delahunt, C Kenny, U Dillane, G Thornbury, P Boyle, J Butler (C), A Papali’i.
Replacements: D Buckley for McAllister, K Marmion and J Aungier for Kenny ( all 45), C Oliver for Papali’i (45), E Masterson for (60), T Farrell for Arnold (63).
SCARLETS: J McNicholl; R Conbeer, S Hughes (C), P Asquith, S Evans; D Jones, D Blacker; R Evans, T Davies, J Sebastian, S Lousi, M Jones, E Kennedy, J Morgan, S Kalamafoni.
Replacements: D Hughes for T Davies, W Kruger for J Sebastian, P Price for Evans (all 54), T Morgan for Asquith(58). D Drake for Lousi (59m), U Cassiem for Kennedy, W Homer for Blacker (68m), A O’Brien for D Jones (68m).
Referee: Sam Grove-EWhite (SRU).