Friday 23 March 2018

Connacht's late slip-up proves a bitter pill for Elwood


John Fallon

THERE will be some gush of emotion when Connacht finally win a game, but when the lid will be blown off to make that release is anyone's guess after Eric Elwood's men again let a winning hand slip from their grasp.

This was Connacht's 10th defeat on the trot but, by a long stretch, the hardest of them all to accept. It is becoming a familiar script, but that doesn't make the tale of woe any easier for the Connacht players, management or supporters to accept.

They trooped off the field at Kingsholm on Saturday, a mixture of anger and frustration etched on their faces, after one of their best displays in months came up short as Gloucester snatched a winning try five minutes from the end of a game in which they were booed off the field at the interval.

Elwood is doing his best to remain philosophical, but it is testing him. Over half of the 10 defeats fall into the category of 'glorious chance missed', including the last four.

"We knew we had played well, were in control of our own destiny and to lose it in the manner we did, after all the good rugby we played, is difficult to take," said Elwood.

"You cannot fault the effort. It is tough going out there. The key for us is that it hasn't broken the spirit that's in the squad. It is difficult to take defeats (like this one) when they are that close to victories, but the key for us is to keep believing in what we are doing. But, more importantly of all, keep the spirit in the squad. We will get it eventually," said Elwood.

Even his opposite number, Bryan Redpath, who himself has had to deal with a fair share of heartbreaking defeats this season, had sympathy for Connacht's plight.

"They turned around a lot of their weaknesses from last week. Their scrum and their line-out was a lot better and so was their kicking.

"Last week we created pressure on them from line-out drives, but they didn't allow us this time and for that you have to give them great credit," said the Gloucester coach.

Few neutrals gave Connacht any chance of winning this one having been turned over by the same opposition in their own back yard a week earlier, and that notion may have infiltrated the minds of the Gloucester players.

They were unable to break down Connacht's first line of defence and, with the visitors' set-piece having sorted itself out from the Sportsground contest, a rather disjointed Gloucester resorted to the boot to make ground and did not do a good job on that front.

As a result, Connacht were well worth their 13-10 interval lead after a gutsy performance, with the returning Johnny O'Connor leading the assault up front and Niall O'Connor giving an assured kicking performance.

Connacht got a few breaks as well, with a Frank Murphy intercept after 12 minutes ending with Tiernan O'Halloran getting over in a move that also involved Gavin Duffy and George Naoupu. Niall O'Connor, who was earlier short with a long-range penalty, landed the conversion from the left touchline to put the visitors 7-3 in front.

Gloucester responded with a try from Tim Taylor off a scrum, before O'Connor responded to level the game on the half hour.

The Connacht out-half edged them in front three minutes from the break with a penalty from the left.

O'Connor extended Connacht's lead to 16-10 with a second penalty after 45 minutes but Freddie Burns, on for Taylor, levelled with a brace of penalties.

O'Connor, who had earlier missed a drop-goal that would have restored their six-point lead, edged the Pro 12 strugglers in front with a penalty eight minutes from time, and their first ever Heineken Cup win was within touching distance.

But then disaster struck. Jonny May escaped the clutches of Adrian Flavin and dashed down the right and beat Duffy to touch down in the right corner.

Burns added the touchline conversion to put four between the sides, leaving Connacht in need of a try to save the day.

They got the ball again but, having put so much effort to get so close, they couldn't put together another moment of magic that would have snatched victory back from the jaws of a demoralising defeat.

GLOUCESTER -- O Morgan; C Sharples (J May 67), M Tindall, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J Simpson-Daniel; T Taylor (F Burns 40), N Runciman (R Lawson 52); D Murphy (N Wood, 52), S Lawson (M Cortese 76), R Harden (S Knight 65); P Buxton (W James 67), J Hamilton; B Deacon, A Hazell (A Qera 49), L Narraway.

CONNACHT -- G Duffy; M McCrea (K Tonetti 23), E Griffin, D McSharry, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy (P O'Donoghue 58); B Wilkinson (D Rogers 76), E Reynecke (A Flavin 56), R Loughney (R Ah You 58); G Naoupu, M McCarthy; D Gannon (E McKeon 52), J O'Connor, J Muldoon.

REF -- L Hodges (WRU)

Irish Independent

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