Monday 1 May 2017

Injury toll mounts for Connacht as winning run ends in Cardiff

Cardiff Blues 20 Connacht 16

Ian Porter goes over for a Connacht try during last night’s defeat to Cardiff
Ian Porter goes over for a Connacht try during last night’s defeat to Cardiff
Connacht's Matt Healy runs through the Cardiff Blues' defense

John Fallon

This was always likely to be a tricky affair for Connacht going into a match as red-hot favourites against a side desperately in need of a scalp to get their season up and running.

And so it transpired as Connacht's eight-match winning run in the league and Europe was brought to a halt by a Cardiff side who had lost their last eight Pro12 games.

To compound matters, Connacht's casualty list was also added to with Craig Ronaldson, Quin Roux, Ian Porter and Kieran Marmion all suffering injuries which make them doubtful the back-to-back clashes with Newcastle Falcons in the Challenge Cup.

"That will be the first thing now, to assess those injuries. We took a few hits but I was very proud of the boys the way they adapted to the challenges.

"We could have snatched it at the end but in the end had to settle for the bonus point," said coach Pat Lam.

The defeat ended Connacht's best run ever in the league on a night when John Muldoon became the first player in the history of the competition to play 200 games.

Milestone

But it was apparent from the outset that milestone might not be marked by a victory as Cardiff took the game to Connacht.

Cardiff, despite losing eight in a row after scoring 11 tries in their opening-day win over Zebre, were due to get their act together sooner or later with a decent squad on board.

And Connacht, despite winning eight in a row in the league and Europe, have never enjoyed much good fortune in this ground and only twice before came away with victories in 13 visits.

And it was clear from the outset that the Blues fancied their chances in this one, going for the corner with a kickable penalty after just five minutes.

Their ambition was suitably rewarded when No 8 Manoa Vosawai was driven over for a try which Rhys Patchell converted.

Connacht's response was good.

But it was some neat finishing from scrum-half Ian Porter, when he dashed over in the left corner for his first try for Connacht, which got them back in the match.

The scrum-half was also on kicking duties in the opening half but hit the right post with the conversion attempt from the left touchline.

Remarkably, he hit the same post, this time from the right, when Eoin McKeon got their second try after a good lineout drive.

Porter, though, make no mistake with a penalty in front of the posts which gave Connacht a 13-10 interval lead after Patchell had landed a penalty at the other end.

Patchell missed a kickable penalty eight minutes after the restart but when they went to the corner with the next one they again got a big reward.

They quickly moved the ball from right to left and Tom James got to score in the left corner. Patchell landed an excellent conversion to make it 17-13 after 55 minutes.

Connacht hit back and Jack Carty cut the gap to four with 12 minutes left with a penalty in front of the posts after another good break by full-back Tiernan O'Halloran.

A superb break by Bundee Aki almost yielded a superb breakaway try six minutes from time but the Blues got back to force a turnover.

Connacht then forced a turnover which led to a penalty to the corner but their hopes of a try were dashed when the TMO spotted a knock-on as Connacht tried to ground the ball.

Cardiff cleared their lines and held on for their first win since the opening day of the season, with Connacht having to be content with a bonus point on a night when their casualty list took another hit.

Cardiff - R Patchell; A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, G Evans, T James; J Evans (D Fish 55), L Williams; G Jenkins (S Hobbs 62), E Lewis (K Dacey 50), T Filise (C Mitchell 58); J Hoeata, L Reed; M Cook, J Turnbull, M Vosawai (C Dolan 77).

Connacht - T O'Halloran; D Leader, B Aki, C Ronaldson (P Robb 8), M Healy; J Carty, I Porter (K Marmion 41, R Parata 42); R Loughney (C O'Donnell 72), D Heffernan, R Ah You (F Bealham 57); Q Roux (G Naoupu 39), A Muldowney; J Muldoon, J Connolly, E McKeon (S O'Brien 58).

Ref - A Brace (IRFU)

Irish Independent

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