Wednesday 17 January 2018

Connacht slip to Saracens loss

Connacht suffered their second pre-season defeat when they conceded three second-half tries at the Sportsground last night to lose 22-5 to Saracens.

Connacht were well in contention entering the final quarter but tries from Kameli Ratuvou and Kelly Brown put an unfair gloss on the scoreline. Connacht coach Eric Elwood would have been hoping for an improvement on last week's drubbing from Harlequins and the initial signs were positive for the new boss.

The visitors that forced the first real chance when referee Peter Fitzgibbon penalised the Connacht pack for hands in the ruck. However, the hosts were let off the hook as fly-half Derick Hougaard pushed a very kickable penalty wide.

However, Saracens soon made up for their inaccuracy when lock Mouritz Botha breached the Connacht line in the 12th minute. The awarding of a penalty deep in Connacht territory produced a five-metre lineout which Hugh Vyvyan claimed and in the ensuing maul Botha managed to pile over. Once more Hougaard missed the kick to leave Saracens 5-0 ahead.

Twice in two minutes just after the half-hour mark Connacht had chances to reduce the deficit, but on both occasions fly-half Miah Nikora missed the target from inside the 10-metre line and Saracens held their five-point lead at the break.

Visiting coach Brendan Venter rang the changes at half-time, but it made little difference to his side as they pushed further ahead 10 minutes after the restart.

Connacht were penalised for collapsing the scrum deep inside their 22 and Saracens opted for another. However, after one more reset, referee Fitzgibbon awarded a harsh penalty-try which Hougaard duly slotted to stretch the lead to 12 points.

But Connacht were up for the battle and after Saracens replacement George Kruis was sin-binned for his involvement in a scuffle, some incessant pressure form the home side finally told when hooker Adrian Flavin touched down in the right corner.

Frustratingly, Nikora missed with his conversion and straight from the restart Saracens wrapped up the win when Kameli Ratuvou was perfectly placed on Rodd Penny's shoulder to canter over. Saracens piled on further agony when Kelly Brown crossed late on for another try. Connacht now face Dragons without a win under their belt.

Ulster, meanwhile, suffered their second pre-season friendly defeat when Harlequins proved much too strong for them at the Stoop, winning 24-0.

Admittedly, Ulster travelled with a young team, but it has been a terrible start to the season with injuries -- and the Magners League starts in a couple of weeks.

Despite the result, assistant coach Neil Doak was not too despondent. "There were a lot of positives to take from our defensive play as, despite the strength of our opponents, we kept to our task," he said.

Quins led 17-0 at the half-way stage after tries from internationals Danny Care and Ugo Monje. In the second half, substitute Joe Marcer added a third. Ulster face Leeds at Ravenhill in their final friendly on Thursday.

Sunday Independent

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