Friday 19 January 2018

Nikora penalty the perfect tonic as gritty Connacht dig deep

Connacht gave themselves the perfect tonic going into next Saturday's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final with a hard-earned win at the Sportsground last night.

For a time in the opening quarter it looked like Connacht were going to romp home, but in the end it required a performance full of grit and determination to secure victory.

Connacht twice seemed to have the game wrapped up but had to come from behind in the closing minutes to maintain an unbeaten run at the Galway venue which now stretches back to September.

Replacement out-half Miah Nikora was the hero as he landed a late penalty from 38 metres to secure victory.

The win was thoroughly deserved, but Connacht made hard work of it after racing into an 11-0 lead after just 13 minutes.

Ian Keatley gave them an ideal start with a fourth-minute penalty from 45 metres as early pressure paid off for Michael Bradley's men.

Keatley was the creator five minutes later to send Brian Tuohy over for the opening try as the Edinburgh defence was sliced open.

Keatley missed the touchline conversion from the left but four minutes later slotted a drop-goal from all of 45 metres.

Connacht should have wrapped up the issue as they continued to camp inside the Edinburgh 22 for the next 10 minutes, but they failed to finished several promising moves.

And they paid the price as Edinburgh hit back to twice cross for converted tries to somehow lead 14-11 at the interval.

Winger Tim Visser got their first eight minutes from the break and then the opposite wing, Mark Robertson, was sent over after a pass from Ben Cairns which looked forward.

Edinburgh had wind advantage after the restart, but it was Keatley who struck a telling blow six minutes in when he intercepted on his own 10-metre line and raced clear over half the length of the pitch to score in the right corner.

He missed the conversion but extended Connacht's lead to 19-14 after 54 minutes with a penalty in front of the posts.

However, Edinburgh hit back and looked set for victory when flanker Roddy Grant got their third try just past the hour and Phil Godman added his third conversion to push them into the lead.

But Connacht never relented and gave themselves the perfect boost ahead of next Saturday's encounter with Bourgoin when Nikora made no mistake with his match-winning kick.

And with several front-line players set to return next week, Connacht will be hopeful of advancing to the last four in the Challenge Cup after this uplifting victory.

Connacht -- G Duffy; B Tuohy, T Nathan, A Wynne, F Carr; I Keatley (M Nikora 63), F Murphy; B Wilkinson (R Loughney 52), S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, B Upton; M McCarthy, J O'Connor, M McComish (A Browne 62).

Edinburgh -- J Thompson; T Visser, B Cairns (S Webster 62), J Houston, M Robertson; P Godman, M Blair (G Laidlaw 62); A Jacobsen (K Traynor 62), A Kelly (R Forde h-t), G Cross; S Macleod, J Hamilton (S Turnbull 55); A McDonald (S Newlands 62), R Grant, D Callam.

Ref -- L Hodges (Wales).

Irish Independent

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