Thursday 26 April 2018

O'Halloran maintains Connacht's title push

Connacht 14 Glasgow Warriors 7

Robbie Henshaw v Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw v Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Sportsfile
Tiernan OHalloran scores his team's second try of the match. Photo: Sportsfile
Kieran Marmion is tackled by Glasgow's Fraser Brown. Photo: Sportsfile
Connachts Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring his team's opening try of the match. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Connacht's quest for a first ever trophy will see them have to beat reigning Pro12 champions Glasgow Warriors twice in a fortnight, but they got over the first leg in a gripping encounter in a wet Sportsground yesterday.

The double-scores win books home advantage in their first ever semi-final as Glasgow's nine-match winning run was brought to a halt by Pat Lam's superb charges.

But Connacht know that the holders will probably be much more disciplined next time out, with Glasgow playing most of the second half with 14 men.

And yet Gregor Townsend's men will not welcome the prospect of coming back to a venue where Connacht have only lost once in this epic season.

The President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny were in the capacity crowd of almost 7,800 to cheer on their home province as Connacht sought to wrap up a home semi-final.

And it looked good for Lam's men when they led 7-0 at the break, despite playing against the breeze in the constant drizzle which made conditions difficult.

The champions, bidding for their 10th win in a row, dominated the opening 15 minutes but were unable to get through and excellent Connacht defence.

Finn Russell missed a penalty from the right after six minutes but they continued to press forward with lock Leone Nakarawa leading the way for Glasgow.

Connacht grew in confidence as their tackle count grew and they hit the front with their first real attack of the day. A penalty down the right wing gave them a good lineout and half-backs Kieran Marmion and AJ MacGinty combined to send Bundee Aki through and the superb New Zealander got through the tackles of Ali Price and Ryan Wilson to score at the base of the right post.

MacGinty added the conversion to make it 7-0 after 18 minutes to give Connacht real hope and while Glasgow responded, Lam's men got their tackles in and kept forcing them back.

Russell missed another penalty, this time from 25 metres on the left, as Glasgow struggled to get across the gain-line on a regular basis.

Glasgow got their act together after the restart and were rewarded for their ambition of going to the left corner with a penalty, with Gordon Reid peeling away to score and Russell converted to tie the game at 7-7 after 47 minutes.

Connacht countered and were handed a huge advantage when Tongan prop Sila Puafisi was sent off for head-butting Marmion.

Connacht went to the corner with the penalty but were unable to make the extra man count at that stage.

But Glasgow's increasing ill- discipline against a fired-up Connacht side again proved costsly.

Captain Jonny Gray was pinged for a needless body-check on Marmion as Stuart Hogg had ample time to clear his lines after 58 minutes.

Connacht went for the kill, going to touch in the left corner and then replacement out-half Shane O'Leary sent a superb cross-kick which Hogg seemed poised to gather until Tiernan O'Halloran, like Marmion celebrating his 100th appearance for Connacht, gather superbly to touch down. O'Leary added the extras.

Glasgow still only needed a draw to snatch home advantage in the semi- finals but they never looked like getting it as Connacht held out to take another big step towards silverware.

Scorers - Connacht: B Aki, T O'Halloran tries; AJ MacGinty, Shane O'Leary cons; Glasgow Warriors: G Reid try, F Russell con.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki (B Aki 74), M Healy; AJ MacGinty (S O'Leary 52), K Marmion (John Cooney 66); R Loughney (D Heffernan 56), T McCartney, F Bealham (R Ah You 2, JP Cooney 52,); U Dillane (Q Roux 73), A Muldowney; S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon.

Glasgow: S Hogg; T Seymour, A Dunbar (M Bennett 13), P Horne, L Jones (S Lamont 55); F Russell, A Price (Grayson Hart 70); G Reid (J Yanuyanutawa 56) ; F Brown (P MacArthur 56), S Puafisi; L Nakarawa (Swinson 78), J Gray (T Swinson 27-34); R Harley (Z Ferguson 55), R Wilson (S Favaro 66), J Strauss.

Referee: I Davies (Wales)

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