Sunday 25 September 2016

Aki's influence is key as Connacht blossom late on

Enisei-STM 14 Connacht 31

Krasnoyarsk

Published 15/11/2015 | 02:30

Connacht's Peter Robb is tackled during the European Rugby Challenge Cupmatch against Enisei-STM
Connacht's Peter Robb is tackled during the European Rugby Challenge Cupmatch against Enisei-STM
Connacht's Peter Robb attempts to break through the Enisei-STM defence
Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun scores his side's try against Enisei-STM
Connacht's Ultan Dillane makes a break through the Enisei-STM defence

Connacht struck the perfect notes in a bitterly cold Krasnoyarsk as Pat Lam's side took a bonus-point victory from their Siberian expedition.

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But their hopes of a swift return to Galway were dashed and they were stuck in Siberia last night waiting for a part to be flown in for their aircraft.

The squad were due to leave Krasnoyarsk on a charter flight back to Shannon about five hours after the game but an issue developed with the French charter plane before the players, management and officials boarded it.

They had to retrieve their bags and leave the airport for an overnight stay in a city centre hotel.

The squad were expected to be back in Shannon, with a one-hour stopover in Moscow, by midnight last night but it now looks it will be some time today at the earliest before they make it home.

They were hopeful last night of leaving today once the issue with the plane was sorted out and the journey home was expected to take over nine hours, not including the refueling stop in Moscow.

Connacht are due to play Brive in the second round of the European Challenge Cup next Friday.

Despite leading just 6-0 at the interval, Connacht - marshalled expertly by AJ MacGinty and Bundee Aki - ran in four second-half tries, with the bonus point secured by Rory Parata four minutes from time in his first European appearance.

There were accomplished performances across the park from Connacht as Lam sprinkled experience with a handful of academy stars. As well as Parata and MacGinty, there were first European appearances for Sean O'Brien, Peter Robb and Conan O'Donnell, while youngsters Caolin Blade, Ultan Dillane, Shane Delahunt and James Connolly featured heavily. It was a trip full of positives for Connacht.

"We knew they would present a big challenge. It was a very big occasion for them, but I thought we did a good job, particularly in the second half. We're very happy with the result," said Lam.

Top of the pile was Aki, though. Following on from last year's injury-hampered campaign, the New Zealander has regained his best form during Connacht's climb to the top of the Pro12. He had a hand in three of the four tries yesterday and looks like the real danger man in this Connacht team. But Connacht's first try didn't arrive until the 44th minute at the Central Stadium, as both sides struggled to come to terms with temperatures that touched -20C.

A couple of well-struck penalties from former Blackrock College student MacGinty gave Connacht that 6-0 lead at the interval - but how anyone could kick the ball in that cold is a wonder.

Connacht's dominance after the break was built on a powerful scrum which shoved Enisei off their own ball on a handful of occasions. And the first try of the game came from one such incident five metres from the Russian tryline in the 48th minute. George Naoupu picked off the back of the splintering scrum and found Aki in space before the Kiwi sent Niyi Adeolokun over in the left corner.

Aki was involved again five minutes later as his break was rounded off by John Muldoon in the corner, before Aki sent Darragh Leader in for his side's third try in the 62nd minute.

A couple of late tries from replacement prop Andrei Polivalov were a deserved return for Enisei, but Parata's excellent try in between ensured a comfortable journey home for Connacht.

Scorers - Enisei-STM: A Polivalov 2 tries; I Kushnarev 2 cons. Connacht: N Adeolokun, J Muldoon, D Leader, R Parata tries; AJ MacGinty 3 pens; D Leader con.

Enisei-STM - I Kushnarev; M Babaev, D Kacharava, D Gerasimov, D Simplikevich; R Gaisin, J Baranovs (A Shcherban 42-59); A Bezverkhov (A Polivalov 56), S Selskii (N Gasanov 68), I Zykov; U Saulite, V Krasylnyk (E Elgin 77); V Orlov, A Temnov (A Rudoi 74), D Krotov.

Connacht - D Leader; R Parata, B Aki (C Ronaldson 55), P Robb, N Adeolokun; A MacGinty, I Porter (C Blade 62); D Buckley (R Loughney 58), S Delahunt (D Heffernan 19-27, 65), F Bealham (C O'Donnell 68); U Dillane, A Muldowney (D Qualter 68); J Muldoon (S O'Brien 58), J Connolly, G Naoupu.

Referee - Thomas Charabas (FFR).

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