Tuesday 18 September 2018

Big performance long time coming, says Keane

Oyonnax 15 Connacht 43

Connacht’s Caolin Blade is tackled by Jérémy Scalese at Stade de Geneve. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Connacht’s Caolin Blade is tackled by Jérémy Scalese at Stade de Geneve. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

John Fallon

This is the biggest margin Connacht have chalked up in victories away to 11 different French sides and coach Kieran Keane will be hoping that aside from giving them a solid foundation to have a crack at the Challenge Cup, the confidence gleaned from this win will help ignite their PRO14 campaign.

He was understandably very pleased with the bonus-point win at Stade de Geneve and while this was an understrength Oyonnax side, there was a good dash to Connacht's play for the first time since he took charge.

They looked sharp in attack with a backline that clicked, especially in the opening half, and then showed good resilience when the French side got on top and kept pounding their line.

Keane will now hope they can pick up another five points when they entertain Worcester Warriors next Saturday and leave them in good shape when they take on Munster a week later in Galway.

Connacht's Matt Healy goes over to score his side's first try despite the attention of Ulupano Seuteni of Oyonnax. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Connacht's Matt Healy goes over to score his side's first try despite the attention of Ulupano Seuteni of Oyonnax. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Connacht's biggest win away to a French side was a 30-12 success in Dax back in 2008 and they looked set to surpass that when they raced in for three tries in the opening 23 minutes, only for their regular failing this season to return and allow the home side in for a couple of tries of their own.

"We were attacking pretty well. The service was terrific for us, the stadium was outstanding. We couldn't have picked a better day to be here either. Everything lent itself towards attack," said Keane.

"Perhaps we slipped up a little on 'D' and leaked a little bit too much. We were going a little high on our tackles, and not hunting at the ruck. It allowed them to get some more momentum.

"It was in the balance for a while. But we addressed some things at half-time, simplified some things and came out in the second-half and did a good job."

The ground work for this win was laid in an impressive first quarter for Connacht as Matt Healy, Eoin McKeon and Cian Kelleher ran in well-constructed tries to give Keane's side a 19-3 lead after 23 minutes.

With new out-half Andrew Deegan impressing with ball in hand and from the tee, where he kicked seven from nine efforts at goal, Connacht caused plenty of trouble for their hosts and for long periods it seemed as if they would canter to a huge win.

Connacht's Matt Healy is tackled by Valentin Ursache of Oyonnax. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Connacht's Matt Healy is tackled by Valentin Ursache of Oyonnax. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

But as has happened in the early weeks of the PRO14 season, Connacht seeped a couple of soft tries, but this time it didn't cost them victory.

Oyonnax full-back Silvere Tian and Axel Muller crossed during a slack five minutes for Connacht before the interval, which meant their lead was reduced to 22-15 at half-time.

But either side of the break Deegan kicked a couple of vital penalties to settled Connacht. Twelve minutes into the second-half Healy ran in his second to clinch the bonus point, and from there Deegan took the game away from Oyonnax with a couple of more penalties.

The excellent Darragh Leader ran in a deserved fifth try for Connacht in the last minute, but this was even more convincing than the scoreline suggests.

"That's been a long time coming hasn't it? It was great walking into a noisy, chatty changing room after the game. Obviously the boys feel relieved about it too," said Keane.

"When they were pounding at the line, that showed a little bit of character didn't it? The boys grew from that a little bit and scored some pretty smart tries. It's very much a confidence-booster. The boys deserved it so hats off to them."

Connacht's Darragh Leader sidesteps Ulupano Seuteni of Oyonnax during the match at Stade de Geneve, Switzerland. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Connacht's Darragh Leader sidesteps Ulupano Seuteni of Oyonnax during the match at Stade de Geneve, Switzerland. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

In just his second start in the green shirt, Deegan controlled matters beautifully in calm conditions he is more accustomed to. But he insisted his side's incisive play is down to the ethos that was preached all week in the lead-up.

"We came in to this week obviously with positive feelings in a new competition," reflected Deegan.

"I think we expressed ourselves at times, which we were given the licence to do from the start of the week and it's good to finally get a good result on the board there."

Oyonnax - S Tian (J Scalese 58); T Giresse, U Seuteni, R Hansell-Pune (M Romera 70), A Muller; C Ruiz (A Fuertes 22), J Audy; G Vepkhvadze (V Debaty 46), B Geledan (G Bourgois 53), I Mirtskhulava (T Laclayat 33-40, 66); G Fabbri, C Njewel (Kerry 53); B Taieb, V Ursache (R Gauthier 58), M Fa'asavalu (S Kerry 22-30).

Connacht - D Leader; C Kelleher (R Scholes 69), E Griffin, T Farrell (C Ronaldson 58), M Healy; A Deegan, C Blade; D Coulson (P McCabe 76), T McCartney (S Delahunt 65), F Bealham (C Carey 76); U Dillane (Q Roux 65), J Cannon; E Masterson, E McKeon, J Muldoon (J Connolly 70).

Ref - T Foley (England).

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport