Thursday 8 December 2016

Lam's men face Euro play-off

Connacht 20-24 Ospreys

Published 17/05/2015 | 02:30

Glasgow Warriors captain Alastair Kellock closes down the kick of Ian Humphreys
Glasgow Warriors captain Alastair Kellock closes down the kick of Ian Humphreys

With the clock in the red in the Sportsground yesterday, and a typically raucous crowd of 5,226 on their feet and hollering for the play to shift to the other end, the handful of Welsh fans in the ground could see some light at the end of the tunnel.

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Chasing the bonus point that would have given them a home draw in next weekend's semi-finals, they got inside the Connacht 22 only to lose the ball forward. They won the game but missed the boat; their place in the last four was secure in any case.

As for the home team, the target at the start of the day was to stay in the competition via one of two routes: the best option was to win in Galway, with some help from Treviso and Leinster in their games, giving them automatic entry to the Champions Cup; the other route was to hang on to seventh place for a play-off in Gloucester next Sunday. They got the latter, and head across the water knowing that the last time they were in Kingsholm - in the Challenge Cup in April - they should have won.

It will if nothing else be an emotional trip for them given the sign-off yesterday. For Michael Swift and forwards coach Dan McFarland, it may have been their last time on duty in the Sportsground, and both spoke very well when they addressed the crowd after the game.

They will be delighted to get the chance to make at least one more speech before they finally pack their bags.

It was a good game, one which looked like turning into a rout given the way the Ospreys were hacking up in the first half.

The wind in this venue is notoriously capricious but they looked comfortable in using it to full effect. Connacht initially did well enough in hanging on to the ball, but every time they shifted back to the short side it was without any guile or decoy - too easy for the Ospreys to read.

The scrum too was a source of occasional pain for Pat Lam's team: when the Ospreys put their mind to it they were able to shunt the yoke forward at alarming speed.

Even when Connacht were looking good enough on their own ball there was too much confusion at the back between Eoin McKeon and John Cooney, who came on early in the game for the injured Kieran Marmion.

Dan Biggar had the away side off the mark just six minutes into the game with a huge penalty from halfway, and then he got over himself on 16 minutes after a massive scrum put Connacht into reverse.

It was the outhalf's combination with man of the match Ben John that did the damage, and the conversion had them 10-0 ahead.

The killer period came just before the half-hour mark when Ospreys stuck 14 points on the home team in the space of just three minutes.

The first of the those two tries, for John, may have looked like opportunism - rather it was carefully planned and perfectly executed, with the centre attacking the space between Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney at exactly the moment the Connacht front-rowers expected the threat to come from somewhere else.

Then, two minutes later, Rhys Webb - whose son was delivered earlier in the day - got over from 10 metres after pretty poor defence from Connacht.

It didn't take anything special to open the gap in the first place, but a combination between Dan Evans and Hanno Dirksen made the space for the scrumhalf to finish.

So that turned what had been a 10-0 lead into a 24-0 one - not just putting the contest virtually out of reach of Connacht but presenting the Ospreys with the prize of the bonus. At that stage in the day they would have been unbackable to get the extras, but for most of the second half they would be on the back foot.

Two early penalties after the break from Jack Carty had them rattled, and when Eoghan Masterson got over from a lineout maul on 54 minutes the crowd were having visions of a wholesale turnaround.

Another close-in try - this one from Buckley - cut the margin to four points on the final straight, and that's how it stayed.

Scorers - Connacht: E Masterson, D Buckley try each; J Carty 2 pens, 2 cons; Ospreys: B John, R Webb try each; D Biggar try, pen, 3 cons.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; F Carr, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy (S O'Leary 70); J Carty, K Marmion (J Cooney 22); D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You (F Bealham 65), A Browne (G Naoupu 60), A Muldowney, J Muldoon (capt), E McKeon (M Swift 65), E Masterson.

Ospreys: D Evans (S Davies 67); H Dirksen, B John, J Matavesi (J Spratt 80), E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, S Baldwin (S Parry 76), D Arhip; T Ardron, AW Jones (capt); J King (D Lydiate 61), D Baker, J Tipuric.

Referee: M Mitrea (Italy).

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