Thursday 21 November 2019

Connacht's top-six hopes take a hit as home run ends

Connacht 13 Edinburgh 16

John Cooney, Connacht, is tackled by Ben Toolis, Edinburgh
John Cooney, Connacht, is tackled by Ben Toolis, Edinburgh
Robbie Henshaw, Connacht, is tackled by Phil Burleigh, Edinburgh
Eoin McKeon, Connacht, wins possession in a lineout ahead of Ben Toolis, Edinburgh

John Fallon

There used to be a time when wind and rain on the afternoon of a game was greeted with some relish by the home support in Galway but as the storm blew in from the Atlantic yesterday it came with a sense of foreboding.

Pat Lam's men put their eight-match unbeaten home record at the Sportsground on the line but these were the worst possible conditions they required as they tried to take on Edinburgh out wide.

In the end they made a brave effort to hold on to their unbeaten home run but their failure to make the elements count in the opening half proved their downfall.

They did manage to lead 13-7 at the break and while they might take some solace from restricting Edinburgh to three second-half penalties to secure a bonus point, it was scant consolation.

Edinburgh won the toss and opted to play against the wind and rain, and although they lost their opening lineout to an Eoin McKeon steal, they showed from the outset that they were up for a fight.

It became obvious from an early stage that the primary task for both sides was to try minimise the error count as the driving wind and rain showed no sign of easing.

Connacht, having played in somewhat similar weather when beating Munster last week, knew they needed to be patient but they let an early scoring chance slip when Miah Nikora saw a 35-metre penalty come back off the crossbar as he tried to negotiate the conditions.

Edinburgh worked hard to get up the field phase by phase and that good effort yielded an invaluable try after 17 minutes.

Dougie Fife made the initial break before being stopped short, while a drive from WP Nel was also repelled but Edinburgh showed ambition to run a penalty in front of the posts and David Denton got over.

Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne converted into the elements to leave Connacht with a mountain to climb.

Nikora though pulled back a penalty from 40 metres after Anton Breslier was penalised and it took some excellent defending to deny captain John Muldoon in the left corner after good approach work by Nikora, McKeon and Willie Faloon.

Massive

A massive hit by Irish international Robbie Henshaw on Phil Burleigh lifted the home side and their best phase of pressure saw Edinburgh lock Ben Toolis was yellow-carded for killing the ball in front of his own posts.

Connacht opted for the scrum and were rewarded when they got the shove and Welsh referee Leighton Hodges awarded the try which Nikora converted to make it 10-7 three minutes from the break.

Nikora made it 13-7 at the interval when he landed another penalty just before the break from close range.

Edinburgh may have been down a man for the opening few minutes of the second-half but they started on the front foot and Hidalgo-Clyne reduced the deficit four minutes after the restart with a penalty after loosehead prop Denis Buckley was penalised.

Another penalty in a scrum saw the Edinburgh scrum-half level the match from 40 metres nine minutes after restart, putting the Scots into a great position to a claim a fourth win in 11 visits to the Sportsground.

But Connacht were not prepared to give up without a fight, with their eight-match unbeaten home run on the line.

They defended stoutly as Edinburgh dominated possession with the visitors guilty of squandering a couple of chances, with Fife failing to connect with a grubber from Hidalgo-Clyne, while the scrum-half also missed a penalty from 35 metres on the left after 58 minutes.

But with the penalty count at 7-1 to Edinburgh in the second half, referee Hodges binned replacement Connacht prop Finlay Bealham and Hidalgo-Clyne landed the difficult conversion from 45 metres with nine minutes remaining on the clock.

Connacht tried to work the ball from deep in an effort to snatch it in the closing minutes but Edinburgh held firm and penned them inside their own half for most of the concluding stages of the encounter.

Now Connacht will look to pick up the pieces when they take on Exeter in a winner-takes-all Challenge Cup encounter tomorrow week but they will go into that crunch clash with their fortress breached for the first time this season and a serious dent put in their hopes of a first-ever top six finish.

Connacht - M Muliaina (D McSharry 64); D Leader, R Henshaw, B Aki, D Poolman; M Nikora (J Carty 54), K Marmion (J Cooney 57); D Buckley (R Loughney 64), T McCartney (D Heffernan 67), R Ah You (F Bealham 49); Q Roux (U Dillane 64), A Muldowney; J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon (G Naoupu 57).

Edinburgh - J Cuthbert; D Fife, M Scott, P Burleigh, T Visser; G Tonks, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dickinson, R Ford (N Cochrane 63), WP Nel; A Bresler (F McKenzie 77), B Toolis; R Grant, H Watson, D Denton.

Ref - L Hodges (WRU).

Irish Independent

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