Sunday 25 June 2017

One man wrecking ball Bundee Aki blows Glasgow away as Connacht advance to Pro12 final

Connacht 16 Glasgow Warriors 11

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

CONNACHT have reached a first final in their history and a familiar foe awaits them in Murrayfield next Saturday.

Pat Lam’s side edged a nervous semi-final at a packed Sportsground, with Niyi Adeolokun's first-half try the difference. The game won’t live long in the memory, but the roar that greeted referee Marius Mitrea’s full time whistle could be heard across the western province.

On the basis of the two semi-finals, they will need to improve hugely to beat Leinster in Edinburgh but nobody in Galway cared about that tonight as they rejoiced in the achievement.

They’ve had more impressive wins this season, but few will have felt quite as good as this one.

It was a strange game and it shuddered to a halt after only a minute when Kieran Marmion launched Bundee Aki into contact.

Neither Finn Russell or Zander Fagerson got up from the tackle and, after a lengthy stoppage for treatment, the visitors lost their tighthead prop and out-half for the remaining 79 minutes.

That disrupted the early momentum and both teams struggled to get into the game.

Despite the favourable conditions, Connacht were struggling to get over the gainline, while Glasgow looked rattled by the double-blow.

The packed Sportsground was straining to get involved and they thought they had their chance when Eoin McKeon raced onto Tiernan O'Halloran’s pass to score. However, their loud cheers were silenced by TMO Carlo Damasco, who pulled up Aki for a knock-on in the build-up.

Instead, the hosts had to settle for three points a few minutes later as the champions were penalised for offside at the lineout and AJ MacGInty nailed the penalty.

They couldn’t hold the lead long, however, and Duncan Weir levelled from tee when Ronan Loughney was done for holding on as Lam’s side attempted to exit their ’22.

Another Aki carry saw Glasgow lose flanker Simone Favaro to another head injury but with half-time approaching, it was the centre’s more subtle side that finally broke the tension as he nudged a chip through for Niyi Adeolokun to pick up and the Nigerian winger stepped inside Stuart Hogg and slipped Weir’s tackle to race under the posts.

MacGinty and Connacht just needed to get to the break, but they again messed up their kick-off exit and needed Loughney to get under Josh Strauss to hold up the Scotland No 8 under the posts as Mitrea sounded the whistle for half-time.

That allowed both sides to gather their thoughts and it was the champions who emerged with more intent as they pinned Connacht back in their own ’22 and looked like scoring until Ryan Wilson was penalised for holding John Muldoon off the ball.

The pressure told eventually however as the increasingly influential Leone Nakarawa powered over MacGinty to touch down in the corner.

Weir missed the chance to level from the conversion and MacGinty extended his side's lead after a period of pressure from the home team.

Again, they allowed the visitors back from the restart and Eoin McKeon gave away a penalty that Weir sent over to narrow the gap to two points again.

Connacht went on the attack thereafter and forced two penalties in the Scots’ ’22, but their previously reliable lineout began to creak and they turned over twice in brilliant attacking positions.

The game was growing increasingly nervous as the replacement benches emptied and prop Ryan Grant was penalised for driving across the scrum and MacGinty drew the lead out to five once more.

Connacht thought they had won it when Adeolokun raced over in the corner, but Mitrea again went upstairs and spotted an accidental offside from Aki and again the score was ruled out.

Still, the westerners had Glasgow where they wanted them until Rodney Ah You got himself sin-binned with a lazy high tackle on Stuart Hogg. The yellow card was slightly harsh, but the player only had himself to blame.

That meant the champions had six minutes to score against 14 men, but the Connacht defensive effort was huge and as they made tackle after tackle, they held their discipline and eventually forced the error.

From there, they closed it out and made history.

CONNACHT – T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki (P Robb 72), M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion (J Cooney 60); R Loughney (R Ah You 65), T McCartney, F Bealham (D Heffernan 71), U Dillane (A Browne 61), A Muldowney; E McKeon (S O’Brien 61), J Heenan (JP Cooney 74), J Muldoon (capt).

GLASGOW WARRIORS - S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett, P Horne (T Naiyaravoro 60), S Lamont; F Russell (D Hogg 1), H Pyrgos; G Reid (R Grant 63), F Brown (P MacArthur 60), Z Fagerson (D Rae 1) (R Grant 60-63); L Nakarawa, J Gray (capt); R Wilson, S Favaro (A Ashe 30), J Strauss (T Swinson 67).

Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)

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