Sunday 25 March 2018

Connacht ruthlessly exposed by Ospreys as Lam's men suffer another heavy home loss

Connacht 11 Ospreys 32

Eoin Griffin of Connacht is tackled by Eli Walker and Tyler Ardron of Ospreys during the Guinness PRO12 Round 2 match between Connacht and Ospreys at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Ray Ryan/Sportsfile
Eoin Griffin of Connacht is tackled by Eli Walker and Tyler Ardron of Ospreys during the Guinness PRO12 Round 2 match between Connacht and Ospreys at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Ray Ryan/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

No hiding place now for the champions.

When Jack Carty slotted a penalty on the hour, his side led 11-10; they had taken their time getting there but they had got there nonetheless.

That the ended up failing to prevent a second visiting side in successive weeks securing a try bonus reflects how the champions are already spiralling into a mini-crisis after a calamitous pre-season has been followed by two humbling drubbings.

Ospreys were also minus a man midway through the second-half, compounding the sense of self-destruction; two Rhys Webb tries, Jeff Hassler and Tyler Ardron out-gunned a home side whose only response was from James Connolly.

Ospreys took their chances well and were offered a willing hand in doing so; Connacht fluffed too many to confirm any return to the rude health of last season. Only week two but worrying signs.

A trip to Italy next week will provide an opportunity for introspection and, at least, a win.

On a dry track, both sides were intent on playing top of the ground rugby, Connacht seeking the wide channels as swiftly as possible, Ospreys staying closer to the ruck and they made the first significant line-break through Dan Evans.

Connacht slipped a number of early tackles and the early pressure paid dividends for the visitors when John Muldoon was penalised in front of the posts and Sam Davies gave his side a fifth minute lead.

Connacht’s restart allowed them to visit opposition territory for the first time and this time it was the white number eight who infringed from the first breakdown, Ardron Tyler going off his feet but Jack Carty shanked his kick with the helping breeze. A poor miss.

Ospreys owned the ball and, with 15 minutes gone, Connacht had already made 46 tackles - and more worryingly had missed six; Ospreys, for their part, had only been asked to make six, a reflection of their early dominance.

From their first real platform, a scrum close to half-way, a simple but blisteringly effective short-side break through Bundee Aki, Eoin Griffin and Matt Healy provided the gain-line breach that forced the Ospreys offside.

This time, Carty made no mistake from the 22 right in front of the posts; a decent reward for the first spell of sustained pressure that had lifted the siege.

A car alarm screamed in the distance but the PA man promised to silence it; the alarm bells within the home ranks had ceased too as they settled into the game.

Eli Walker broke down the left and Tiernan O’Halloran tackled the danger adeptly; they were turning over ball at will - six in the first 25 minutes but they needed to as they saw precious little of it themselves.

Falling short yet again, a Bundee Aki tackle on the line this time, the inevitable try arrived from a stout five-metre scrum; Tyler Ardron picked from the base, Webb fed Sam Davies and he trundled over Carty for the seven-pointer; 10-3 on the half-hour.

Connacht’s response to this set-back was as impressive as it had been to the first; they foraged deep in Ospreys’ territory, winning a scrum penalty and twice going to the corner; twice it seemed the maul was pulled down but twice Welsh whistler Ben Whitehouse demurred.

Ospreys struggled to get out of the danger zone, though, for a full ten minutes before tea-time; these were pivotal moments, it seemed.

Aki went in at number eight from a scrum but Webb wasn’t felled, felling the giant centre before Carty kicked away possession prematurely.

It felt like a score to the visitors. Adeolokun then emerged from a telephone kiosk with a dancing break but Justin Tipuric choked before the next ruck could form.

It had been all Connacht, but all in vain.

As the floodlights beamed for the second act, Connacht’s verve remained undimmed as they renewed their assault in a display far removed from last week’s error-strewn opening day defeat.

Another maul produced no immediate reward but when Carty was tackled high by his counter-part, the victim punished the infringement to reduce the margin to four points just five minutes into the half.

Connacht had tweaked their tactics slightly; using more boot. Carty made a fine break but Nigel Whitehouse, retrospective, via the TMO, binned Ardron for a 51st minute high tackle on Finlay Bealham.

Connacht pressed into the corner but fluffed their lines from a lineout and then Ospreys stuck a back in their scrum and won a penalty.

Finally, breathlessly, the pressure told and it was a wonderful all-court try, backs and forwards interlinking, from touchline to touchline, ploughing furrows and using space before a left-wing over-lap allowed Connolly to saunter over untouched to give Connacht the lead, 11-10, for the first time in the 58th minute.

Back came Ospreys; Evans burst past Connolly’s flailing tackle and from a subsequent scrum, Finlay Bealham dropped to his knees and Davies converted to regain his side’s lead, 11-13, just as the miscreant Ardron resumed his position.

He soon resumed a position beyond the whitewash, just ten minutes after his return, as Ospreys scored their second try from their first sustained pressure of the second-half; Davies’ conversion, hitting the woodwork, left seven in it with as many minutes left.

A costly turnover as Connacht desperately attacked thieved them of even the bonus as Webb stole in for his second try, a breakaway 75th minute try that broke Connacht’s hearts.

Jeff Hassler’s bonus point pushed the knife deeper.

The 5,749 home faithful have seen their side slump so early after last season’s highs; next week’s relief in Zebre can’t come quickly enough.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun (D Poolman 66 (D Poolman 74)), E Griffin, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (S O’Leary 66), K Marmion (C Blade 68); R Loughney (JP Cooney 61), T McCartney, F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 77); U Dillane, D Qualter (L Stevenson 69); E McKeon, J Connolly ((R Moloney 69), J Muldoon capt.

Ospreys: D Evans; J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker (T Habberfield 74); S Davies, R Webb capt; N Smith (P James 56), S Parry (S Baldwin 66), D Arhip (M Fia 56), B Davies (R Thornton 54), R Thornton (L Ashley 44), O Cracknell (J King 61), J Tipuric, T Ardron.

Yc - Ardron 52-62

Referee: B Whitehouse (WRU).

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