Wednesday 7 December 2016

Connacht show their steel in bonus-point win

Connacht 30 Scarlets 17

Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30

Connacht’s Rodney Ah You powers his way over the line to score his side’s fourth try Photo: Seb Daly/sportsfile
Connacht’s Rodney Ah You powers his way over the line to score his side’s fourth try Photo: Seb Daly/sportsfile
Rhodri Williams, Scarlets, is tackled by Jake Heenan, Connacht, as he kicks the ball downfield Photo: Sportsfile
Rodney Ah You, Connacht, celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's fourth try of the game Photo: Sportsfile

Hard to put a price on this bonus-point win for Connacht. Early in the second half it looked like their half-time lead of 13 points - well short of its target - would evaporate, yet at the end game the goal had shifted not to protect their lead but to deny Scarlets a losing bonus.

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Connacht ticked all the boxes - including a successful 80 minutes for Robbie Henshaw - and a crowd of 5,292 drifted off down the College Road to celebrate a very good game on an equally cold Galway day.

"Not letting them score at the end was so important," Pat Lam said. "I like to look at body language, and not just on the ball. You could see the boys working so hard."

It was backs-to-the-wall stuff at the end, made harder by the binning in injury time of replacement hooker Dave Heffernan. Yet they hung on, to the delight of the crowd. Conceding would have had no implications for the result, but it would have put a screw in Connacht's heads for allowing Scarlets back from 30-10 down on 65 minutes.

Not only does the result put Connacht firmly back on track in the title race - they now trail Scarlets at the top of the table only on games won - but it eases their unrest after what has been a dodgy period since the uplifting win in Thomond Park in November. The trail since then saw Pat Lam's team win just two from eight. And in this fixture the stat was one win from the last eight meetings. A good night in Galway then.

It was an absorbing game on a heavy pitch, where the touchline on the Clan Terrace side of the ground was a bog. Add a biting wind blowing into the College Road end and it wasn't easy going. By the end of the first half, the home team had made heavy weather of it and left the field looking like their lack of investment was a worry.

Between the wind and an outstanding scrum, they had everything going for them. The official stats told us they trailed Scarlets narrowly on possession - it didn't feel that way - but the penalty trend, which was remarkable, was more reflective. At 7-0 to Connacht, with four of them scrum-related, the Welsh side were lucky to finish the half with 15 men.

Moreover, they were fortunate Jack Carty had left seven points behind him, including the two conversions of Jake Heenan's mauled tries.

"We had a good conversation at half-time and talked about what we had to do, and then had that horrific five minutes at the start of the second half," Lam said.

From 13-0 ahead to just 13-10, it was scary stuff: a penalty for Aled Thomas on top of a DTH van der Merwe try after Carty had been turned over at a ruck. But the outhalf nailed a very important kick on 47 after Phil John was binned. And then second-row Tom Price followed him a few minutes later for a high tackle on Caolin Blade.

Connacht used the advantage to get yet another mauled try - this time for man of the match Denis Buckley - and at 23-10 heart beats had calmed. On 65 minutes replacement Rodney Ah You gave Connacht the bonus - not a maul, but a 10-metre burst - and at 30-10 Scarlets' aim shifted to getting any sort of a return.

To their credit, they came desperately close with a Gareth Owen try getting them into the right territory. Connacht's spirit and work rate kept them out.

 

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