Clinical Quins show up Connacht flaws

TABLE-TOPPERS Harlequins lived up to their favourites’ tag with an impressive victory over Connacht in last night’s Amlin Challenge Cup clash at the Twickenham Stoop.

The Londoners’ pace and ability to capitalise on their chances were key factors in a victory that consolidates their lead in Pool One and ensured the Westerners are unlikely to qualify for the knock-out stages.

This was not a vintage Connacht performance. Although they created opportunities and had plenty of possession, they lacked the necessary composure in defence and attack. In contrast, the former Challenge Cup winners, boasting five internationals, possessed a well-organised defence and gave little away at the breakdown in this first match of a double-header between the sides.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood said his side’s lack of a “killer punch” cost them dearly.

“We are trying to play good rugby and we will stick at it,” he said. “It is frustrating when you have so much ball to cause them problems, but we just did not have that killer punch or the final offload to finish (moves) off.

“Instead, we conceded two soft tries, so we were chasing the game. It is costing us points in the Magners League and now it has cost us four points in Europe.”

Connacht were 7-0 down after eight minutes when poor defending proved costly. Despite creating three opportunities after five minutes inside the Harlequins’ 22, poor execution let them down and the hosts responded in style.

A kick deep into Connacht territory gave Quins good field position and despite Miah Nikora’s clearance, former All Black Nick Evans set up the counterattack from a quick throw in, with No 8 Tom Guest touching down.

Harlequins relished opportunities to counter from deep, opting to take quick line-outs which put the visitors’ defence under pressure, and it resulted in three more points from Evans six minutes later when a Connacht tackler was penalised for not releasing. However, Connacht replied two minutes later with the first of three penalties from out-half Nikora before a second effort shaved the outside upright seven minutes later.

Both out-halves exchanged kicks before the break to leave Harlequins in front by 13-6, although the hosts could have scored again but for a try-saving tackle from Brian Tuohy just inches from the line.

It was Connacht’s lack of precision with the ball in hand that again proved their undoing 10 minutes after the re-start though as Ian Keatley’s attempted pass was swept up by man of the match Guest, who set up Mike Brown for the host’s second try. Nikora kicked a third penalty in the 56th minute to reduce the deficit, but, frustratingly, they could not make the necessary breakthrough.

HARLEQUINS: M. Brown, G. Comacho, G. Lowe, T. Casson, T. Williams, N. Evans, K. Dickson, J. Marler, J. Gray, J. Johnston, O. Kohn, T. Vallejos, T. Guest, C. Robshaw (capt), W. Skinner, T. Guest.

Replacements: M. Cairns for Marler, C. Jones for Gray, and M. Lambert for Johnston (all 51), J. Turner-Hall for Casson and C. York for Guest (both 62), P. Browne for Vallejos (75).

CONNACHT: G. Duffy, B. Tuohy, I. Keatley, K. Matthews, F. Carr, M. Nikora, F. Murphy, B. Wilkinson, S. Cronin, J. Hagan, M. Swift, M. McCarthy, A. Browne, J. O’Connor, J. Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: R. Loughney for Hagan (48), C. Willlis for Murphy and M. MComish for O’Connor (51), B. Upton for Browne and R. Ah You for Hagan (62), T. Nathan for Nikora (71), A. Wynne for Duffy (79).

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France).

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