Saturday 22 July 2017

O'Gara the hero again but reality bites for Connacht

Ronan O'Gara acknowledges Munster supporters at the Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse after his last minute drop goal earned his side a dramatic victory over Castres yesterday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene
Ronan O'Gara acknowledges Munster supporters at the Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse after his last minute drop goal earned his side a dramatic victory over Castres yesterday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

For the first time in their history Connacht enjoyed top billing among the Irish provinces as they entertained Toulouse at the Sportsground last night but a crowd of more than 9,000 saw them smashed 36-10.

Otherwise it was an even split with Ulster missing out on a losing bonus point against Leicester at Welford Road, and Munster producing another show-stopper to take them within a point of the Scarlets at the top of Pool 1. The two sides meet in the back-to-back fixtures next month.

Leinster take on Glasgow at lunchtime in the RDS today.

"Overall, I can't fault the effort," Eric Elwood said of his Connacht side. "We were up against quality: their physicality, their quality off the bench, I don't think they missed a tackle all night. Their strength at the breakdown was immense. We knew we were going to be up against it. I'm just glad we got a try for all our effort.

"All in all it was just a huge experience for us. But the level they were able to take the game to was massive."

Earlier in the day in Toulouse, Ronan O'Gara, playing his 99th Heineken Cup game, produced a stunning reprise of his last-gasp drop goal against Northampton last week to steal full points again, this time from Castres. The Reds looked like they had secured two points for a draw when, with the clock slipping into the red zone, replacement Tomas O'Leary fed his outhalf for a 30-metre shot to close the deal.

"I think it was a lot easier this week to be honest," O'Gara said. "I had a big wind behind me. I nailed the kick last week. This one today was a case of letting the wind do the work. I just had to get the ball inside the right-hand post and the wind would look after it. I did enjoy it. It was nicely struck but I think we probably shouldn't have put ourselves in that position. But the most important thing is it's two wins out of two."

Munster found themselves 11 points down in as many minutes but by half-time had recovered somewhat to be 18-10 behind, and were ahead for a while through a Will Chambers try. They were on course for the draw when O'Gara indulged himself again to give his side a 27-24 victory.

Ulster travelled to Leicester hoping for a bonus point but came away empty handed, losing 20-9, and will now be chasing 10 points in their upcoming back-to-back fixtures with Aironi.

The Tigers hadn't won a home game in the Premiership all season and struggled to put Ulster away in a game dominated by the outhalves Toby Flood and Ian Humphreys. Ulster were on course for a deserved bonus point until a late Matt Smith try sealed the game and shut the visitors out completely.

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