Saturday 29 April 2017

Connacht's top-six hopes take fresh blow as injury woes mount

Ospreys 29 Connach t7

Quinn Roux is tackled by Dafydd Howells and Lloyd Ashley. Photo: Chris Fairweatherr/Sportsifle
Quinn Roux is tackled by Dafydd Howells and Lloyd Ashley. Photo: Chris Fairweatherr/Sportsifle

Alex Bywater

Pat Lam moved to downplay the seriousness of the injury suffered by out-half Jack Carty in his side's third straight Pro12 defeat. Connacht never got going and a first-half knee problem suffered by the Athlone man only added to their woes.

Carty limped off before the break with his team 14-0 down and initial reports suggested had suffered anterior cruciate knee ligament trouble. Scans in the next few days will determine the extent of the damage, but Lam remains hopeful his player won't be out for long.

Connacht's Peter Robb is tackled by Olly Cracknell of Ospreys. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Sportsifle
Connacht's Peter Robb is tackled by Olly Cracknell of Ospreys. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Sportsifle

"Jack has got a bang to the knee," he said. "Hopefully it's not too bad but at the moment it looks OK."

This defeat leaves Connacht 12 points off the top six, who qualify for next ­season's Champions Cup.

Connacht, without the injured John Muldoon, were almost immediately on the back foot as the home side dominated the early exchanges.

It took just 11 minutes for the first try to come, a searing break through midfield from flanker Olly Cracknell leaving Lam's men at sixes and sevens. When the ball was recycled, Dan Baker powered over from close range. Sam Davies converted and with Connacht flanker Jake Heenan injured in the build-up to the score, it all amounted to a nightmare start.

Connacht's Matt Healy controls the ball whilst under pressure from Ashley Beck of Ospreys. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Sportsifle
Connacht's Matt Healy controls the ball whilst under pressure from Ashley Beck of Ospreys. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Sportsifle

Eoin McKeon replaced Heenan - to reach a century of appearances for Connacht - but his team were left clutching at thin air again just minutes later as Cracknell added another try. It came following another flowing team move, Davies once more converting.

The Ospreys were in full flight at that stage and with Justin Tipuric flourishing in the loose, a third try for Steve Tandy's side looked likely.

It was end-to-end stuff, with Connacht playing their part, but the home team's confidence following an impressive recent run was clear. Davies turned down a kickable three points to go for the corner and another scorching surge from Baker saw Tipuric just tackled into touch before dotting down.

Connacht's blitz defence was all over the place, especially in midfield, but they weren't helped by injuries. Carty limped off in the 31st minute, with replacement scrum-half Caolin Blade forced to fill in at 10 and another change at half-time saw Danie Poolman introduced for Peter Robb at centre.

Connacht head coach Pat Lam ahead of the match against Ospreys. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Sportsifle
Connacht head coach Pat Lam ahead of the match against Ospreys. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Sportsifle

Given their first-half struggles Connacht would have been happy to be just 14-0 down at the break, but their deficit soon increased when Davies added a penalty after the restart.

With Poolman shoring up Connacht's defence, the second half was a lot more competitive despite the Ospreys continuing to dominate possession. But with their resources stretched, Connacht lacked a cutting edge in attack and just before the hour mark, they slipped further behind.

The outstanding Tipuric was again involved in creating the score, linking with Baker before loosehead prop Nicky Smith benefitted to dive over just to the right of the posts. Davies again converted to make it 24-0.

As a contest the game was now over but in the face of adversity, Connacht refused to go away. A raft of changes breathed new life into their forward effort with wing Niyi Adeolokun looking particularly dangerous on the few occasions he was given space.

The visitors at last woke up as an attacking force and after Davies was yellow carded for a high tackle, Connacht struck.

Sean O'Brien showed impressive pace to make his way to the line and dive over and although John Cooney nailed the touchline conversion, it was just a consolation as Ashley Beck's late try secured a bonus-point for the Ospreys, who go top of the table.

Wales out-half Dan Biggar missed the conversion, but there was no doubting the winners with Connacht now left to sweat on the outcome of Carty's scan. Lam will be hoping for good news but the truth is his team must improve to challenge the best teams in the league.

Scorers - Ospreys: Baker, Cracknell, Smith, Beck tries; Davies pen, 3 cons. Connacht: O'Brien try; Cooney con 77.

Ospreys: Evans; Howells (Biggar 72), Beck, Matavesi (Fonatia 66), Dirksen; Davies, Habberfield (Leonard 65); Smith (Thomas 65) Parry (Otten 66), Fia (Jones 57), Ashley (Beard 73), Jones (capt), Cracknell (Underhill 65), Tipuric, Baker.

Connacht: O'Halloran; Adeolokun, Parata, Robb (Poolman 41), Healy (Gaffney 78); Carty (Blade 31), Cooney; Buckley (Cooney 66), McCartney (Heffernan 55), Bealham (Andress 66), Roux (Stevenson 66), Cannon, O'Brien, Heenan (McKeon 12), Dawai.

Referee: J Lacey (IRFU).

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