Thursday 29 September 2016

Connacht secure maiden PRO12 title with victory over Leinster

Published 28/05/2016 | 20:11

Connacht claimed their first ever Guinness PRO12 title after a 20-10 victory over Leinster in the Murrayfield final.

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The determination of Pat Lam's men to attack paid off with f irst-half scores from Tiernan O'Halloran and Niyi Adeolokun and they wrapped up victory when Matt Healy crossed after the break.

Leinster were looking to claim their fourth crown in three years b ut they could only muster a Jonny Sexton penalty and a late Sean Cronin try as they failed to rise to the occasion in front of a record final crowd of almost 35,000.

Connacht booked their place in the play-offs by topping the league table but before kick-off few gave Ireland's least successful province much hope against the Dublin powerhouse.

While the Edinburgh face-off was Leinster's ninth appearance in the final, their Galway rivals were making their first appearance in the competition's showpiece climax.

However, the only nerves on show came from the pre-match favourites, who fumbled their way through the first 40 minutes.

Connacht's underdogs by contrast were ice cool as they took just 13 minutes to carve out the opener.

Centre Bundee Aki's break did enough to disrupt the Blues' defence before O'Halloran turned Rob Kearney inside out as he sprinted home. AJ MacGinty nailed the conversion.

With Ireland lock Devin Toner absent for Leinster following the unexpended death of his father on Friday, the last thing Blues' coach Leo Cullen needed to see was Mick Kearney being forced off with concussion.

But Connacht were in no mood to show compassion and struck again after 22 minutes.

Leinster could not cope with the speed with which the Galway men put the ball through their hands and were unzipped when Adeolokun found himself up against the flatfooted Luke Fitzgerald out wide. The Nigerian winger was by no means clean through but his chip-and-chase was perfectly executed as he darted home for the score.

MacGinty pulled his attempt at the extras wide but made amends with a penalty soon after.

The half-time break offered Leinster a chance to finally catch their breath and Sexton's penalty three minutes into the second period was a welcome sight.

However, the green waves continued to crash forward. Hooker Tom McCartney almost danced home for the unlikeliest of tries, only to be held up after Sexton's last-gasp tackle.

But that only delayed the inevitable, with Connacht's third touchdown coming after 57 minutes when MacGinty saw the space in behind the ragged Leinster defence and measured his grubber kick with precision for Healy to run onto and dot down.

MacGinty's goal-kicking, though, was not quite as accurate as he smashed the conversion against the upright.

Leinster substitute wing Zane Kirchner thought he had given his side hope when he dived over in the corner but had his celebrations cut short by referee Nigel Owens after spotting Ben Te'o's forward pass in the build-up.

The Dubliners finally grabbed a try when Cronin ran in with 12 minutes left but even then it came in controversial style as Owens refused to stop play despite seeing O'Halloran knocked clean out following a brutal collision with Kirchner.

Legs were tiring in the Connacht camp but the composure which served them so well in the early stages never wavered as they held out for their maiden Championship triumph.

Press Association

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