Tuesday 28 March 2017

Bradley jubilant as Connacht storm into quarter-finals

Connacht coach Michael Bradley praised his players for the manner in which they have taken Europe by storm this season.

The province's superb Amlin Challenge Cup campaign reached new heights in Spain on Saturday as they romped to a 10-try victory.

That result gave them a perfect six-out-of-six record in their pool; they are the only team out of 44 in Europe this season to achieve such a feat, and they head into the quarter-finals as top seeds.

Bradley believes that they can now push on, with the home-and-away wins against Montpellier and Worcester Warriors providing a particularly great boost for their confidence.

"It represents a lot of progress and fair play to the lads for the manner in which they achieved this," said Bradley.

"It was a tall order when the pools were drawn, especially as the rule change meant that only the top team would go through.

"The hard work was done in Montpellier and Worcester but there was still a job to be done in Madrid and it was carried out."

Bradley had selected his strongest side to face the group's whipping-boys, and Connacht encountered few problems as they advanced to the last eight for the seventh time.

Spreading

The bonus point was in the bag by half-time as they wore down the Spanish resistance by spreading the ball wide at every opportunity.

They led by 28-0 at the break, with Fionn Carr settling their nerves with a try after just two minutes; the winger then put Niva Ta'auso through for their second try after 20 minutes.

Olympus, a composite side made up of players from clubs all over Spain, were steamrolled as Adrian Flavin, who came on after 10 minutes when hooker Sean Cronin was taken off with an ankle injury, crossed for a try in the corner just past the half-hour mark. John Muldoon sealed the bonus point just before the break.

All four tries were converted by Ian Keatley, who added the extras again seven minutes after the break when Flavin crossed for his second try.

Connacht scored six tries in all in the second-half, with Miah Nikora, Mike McComish and George Naoupu going over to put the visitors 54-0 ahead with 10 minutes remaining.

Nikora had come on after that for Keatley and, within minutes of his arrival, he converted his own try as the tired Madrid defence opened up when he stepped inside. It looked inevitable that more tries would follow and centre Keith Matthews added two in the closing minutes.

"We will now switch our attention to the Magners League but the European campaign has been very good and has instilled a lot of confidence," added Bradley.

"We have progressed as a team and an awful lot of players have stepped up considerably. We are more mature as a team and have shown an ability to close out matches. Hopefully we will now take that into the Magners League as well and build from there, but the Challenge Cup campaign has been very satisfying."

Olympus Madrid -- M Tudela; J Cano (H Quirelli 65), M Heredia, J Canosa, B Pardo; M Mazo (C Sempere 32), P Feijoo; A Onega Camacho (S Hattori 74), C Bohorquez (J Arbelaitz h-t), D Gurgenadze (M Serrano 47); S Souto (L Fernandez h-t), J Recuerda; R Camacho, M Acena (G Palmers 52), I Criado.

Connacht -- T Nathan; L Bibo, N Ta'auso (A Wynne 47), K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley (M Nikora 47), F Murphy (C O'Loughlin 47); R Loughney, S Cronin (A Flavin 10), R Morris (J Hagan h-t); M Swift, M McCarthy (B Upton 32); J Muldoon (M McComish 50), J O'Connor, G Naoupu.

REF -- S Traversi (Italy).

Irish Independent

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