Friday 24 January 2020

Connacht vow to keep fighting despite looming exit

Gloucester 26 Connacht 17

Peter Robb of Connacht is tackled by Franco Marais of Gloucester during yesterday’s encounter at Kingsholm Stadium. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Peter Robb of Connacht is tackled by Franco Marais of Gloucester during yesterday’s encounter at Kingsholm Stadium. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Connacht worked so hard last season to get back into this tournament that they're not giving up on the miracle set of results they need to stay in it past January just yet.

However, this 5-0 defeat leaves them staring down the barrel and, with three key interprovincial derbies between rounds four and five, Andy Friend will need to shake up his struggling team this week ahead of the return game in Galway on Saturday.

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Tom Daly of Connacht is tackled by Matt Banahan of Gloucester. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tom Daly of Connacht is tackled by Matt Banahan of Gloucester. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Bottom of Pool 5 on just four points their situation looks bleak, but captain Jarrad Butler is keeping the flame alive despite the slim chances of making it through.

"You really can't afford to leave with no points - even a losing bonus point to keep it ticking over," the Australian said.

"We didn't really put ourselves in a good spot, but all we can do now is turn up at the Sportsground and put in a big performance.

"We want to get five points next week, we wanted to get five points this week if we could.

Robin Copeland of Connacht is tackled by Jake Polledri of Gloucester. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Robin Copeland of Connacht is tackled by Jake Polledri of Gloucester. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"One of our goals last season was to be involved in the Champions Cup and we're not going to park it now just because of a couple of disappointing performances.

"We still want to put our best foot forward, even if that's just momentum into the following week that's fine by us."

What makes it all the more disappointing for Connacht is the fact they led at half-time despite going behind to Tom Marshall's early try as he stepped past Bundee Aki and Niyi Adeolokun to open the scoring.

Danny Cipriani converted and the home side were almost in again as Ollie Thorley ran over Adeolokun and looked set to put the support runner over until John Porch stepped in and intercepted the ball. Porch was soon celebrating at the other end as Quinn Roux won Gloucester's lineout against the head, Colby Fainga'a, Aki and Eoghan Masterson carried well and Jack Carty brilliantly opened the door for Porch with an offload out of a double-hit.

8 December 2019; Ultan Dillane of Connacht is tackled by Franco Marais, left, and Josh Hohneck of Gloucester during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 5 Round 3 match between Gloucester and Connacht at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
8 December 2019; Ultan Dillane of Connacht is tackled by Franco Marais, left, and Josh Hohneck of Gloucester during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 5 Round 3 match between Gloucester and Connacht at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

He converted and added a penalty, and despite a dominant maul with a series of visits to the '22, the English side couldn't get back in the ascendancy.

They should have led; centre Mark Atkinson stumbled after a big break before hooker Franco Marais looked to have scored after Cipriani turned down easy points, but knocked on after peeling off the back of a maul.

As the conditions worsened, Carty missed a chance to make it a six-point game at half-time.

So, it was 10-7 at the interval and the lead didn't last long as Carty looked to connect with Jarrad Butler, but Cipriani read his intentions, picking him off to race clear before finding Louis Rees-Zammit on his shoulder.

Quinn Roux of Connacht is tackled by Lewis Ludlow, left, and Gerbrandt Grobler of Gloucester. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Quinn Roux of Connacht is tackled by Lewis Ludlow, left, and Gerbrandt Grobler of Gloucester. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The out-half converted and Caolin Blade botched a chance to punish a lapse by his opposite number Joe Simpson when he knocked on at the base of a maul deep in Gloucester territory.

Carty compounded that error by kicking the ball out on the full and was swiftly taken off. His replacement, Conor Fitzgerald's first act was to throw a forward pass.

That put them on the back foot and Marshall almost got on the end of a clever Cipriani chip.

Gauzere was playing advantage, so Ben Morgan called for a scrum and another chance went a-begging as Thorley couldn't take another Cipriani chip.

Again, he was playing with advantage and this time the French official lost his patience and sent Kyle Godwin to the sin-bin.

This time, they attacked off the scrum and made the numbers count as Morgan dummied his way past Porch to go over on Godwin's wing.

Cipriani missed the conversion, but it didn't matter as minutes later his team celebrated their bonus-point try through Jake Polledri, who brushed off a poor Denis Buckley tackle to score from the 10-metre line.

Things were threatening to get ugly for the tiring visitors as Cipriani continued to target Godwin's flank and Porch did well to stop Rees-Zammit from getting his second.

Instead, the winger had to be alert to deny Masterson before Tom Daly was held up short as Connacht went in search of a second try.

They got some help when Billy Twelvetrees got a yellow card and after much effort they finally got over the line through Dominic Robertson-McCoy but he knocked on while trying to ground.

Roux eventually did score at the death, but it was too little, too late and Connacht have it all to do in their remaining games.

GLOUCESTER - T Marshall; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris (B Twelvetrees 72), M Atkinson (B Twelvetrees 16-25), O Thorley; D Cipriani (M Banahan 73), J Simpson (C Braley 67); V Rapava Ruskin (J Hohneck 53), F Marais (T Gleave 73), F Balmain (J Ford-Robinson 74); G Grobler, F Mostert (A Craig 67); R Ackermann (L Ludlow 68), J Polledri, B Morgan (capt).

CONNACHT - J Porch; N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb (T Daly 72), K Godwin; J Carty (C Fitzgerald 52), C Blade (S Kerins 66); D Buckley (P McCabe 65), T McCartney (J Murphy 66), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 55); J Maksymiw (U Dillane 55), Q Roux; E Masterson, C Fainga'a (R Copeland 28), J Butler (capt).

Ref - P Gauzère (France)

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