Thursday 26 April 2018

Connacht cut loose to book last-eight spot

Connacht 47 Enisei-STM 5

Saracens' flanker from England Billy Vunipola (c, down) breaks away from Toulouse's French scrum-half Gerd Muller Photo:AFP/Getty
Saracens' flanker from England Billy Vunipola (c, down) breaks away from Toulouse's French scrum-half Gerd Muller Photo:AFP/Getty
Saracens players celebrate after winning the European Rugby Union Champions Cup match against Toulouse Photo:AFP/Getty
Neil De Kock for Saracens in action Photo:Getty
Pat Lam Photo:Sportsfile

John Fallon

They didn't take the most direct route but Connacht got there in the end, and scoring eight tries in their final pool match was a decent way for Pat Lam's men to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.

The loss away to Brive last weekend meant Connacht's fate was out of their own hands, but they did everything required of them at the Sportsground yesterday, securing the bonus point before the break.

Their passage to the quarter-finals for the second year in a row was confirmed when the result came through that Newcastle Falcons had beaten Brive.

Connacht will be away in that quarter-final in April but Lam was just delighted they had made their way to the knockout stages once again.

"The fact that we are in the quarter-finals is the most important thing," said Lam. "If I reflect back on this competition there has been some real challenges, and at times we made it hard for ourselves, but just to make it through is such a relief. And it's a great outcome for the squad."

Connacht dominated the opening half and had a bonus point wrapped up by the interval when they led 25-0 after taking the Russians apart.

It was a much improved display from Lam's men. AJ MacGinty got them off the mark with a penalty after 12 minutes and Connacht's dominance in the opening half was apparent by the fact they won 13 penalties to none for the Siberian side.

The opening try eventually came after 16 minutes when Kieran Marmion, MacGinty and Bundee Aki combined to send Tiernan O'Halloran over for his third European try. Winger Matt Healy was a constant threat out wide and he put further daylight between them when he finished off another good swift move, with MacGinty adding the extras to make it 15-0 at the end of the opening quarter.

Connacht did not relent and with Enisei-STM continuing to cough up penalties, they pulled further away.

Another penalty to the corner gave the hosts a good platform and loosehead prop Denis Buckley got over for his first European try.

The bonus point was secured when a loop pass from Robbie Henshaw sent Danie Poolman over.

There was no sign of Connacht taking their foot off the pedal at the start of the second half either, with a break from MacGinty sending Henshaw through for a try after just 28 seconds.

Enisei-STM won their first penalty of the game after 45 minutes and were rewarded with going to the corner when flanker Vitalii Orlov got over.

But Connacht got their sixth try as they emptied the bench: Tom McCartney announced his arrival with a touchdown within seconds of coming on.

Healy got over for this second try of the contest, and replacement scrum-half Caolin Blade completed the rout with the eighth try.

Scorers - Connacht: M Healy 2 tries, T O'Halloran, D Buckley, D Poolman, R Henshaw, T McCartney, C Blade tries; AJ MacGinty pen, con, J Carty con. Enisei-STM: V Orlov try.

Connacht: T O'Halloran (R Parata 71); D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; AJ MacGinty (J Carty 52), K Marmion (C Blade 58); D Buckley (F Bealham 52), D Heffernan (T McCartney 52), N White (R Ah You 54); U Dillane, A Muldowney (G Naoupu 60); J Muldoon (S O'Brien 62), J Connolly, E Masterson

Enisei-STM: R Gaisin; J Baranovs, D Kacharava, M Babaev, D Simplikevich; Y Kushnarev, A Shcherban (I Kurashov h-t); A Volkov, N Gasanov (S Selskii 59), I Zykov; U Saulite, V Krasylnyk (P Butmenko 47); V Orlov, A Temnov (E Pronenko 67), A Rudoi

Referee: T Foley (RFU)

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