Evans boots Connacht out of cup

HARLEQUINS completed the double over Connacht at a bitterly cold Sportsground last night to maintain pole position in Pool 1 of the Amlin Cup and confirm Connacht’s exit from the competition.

Eric Elwood’s men battled away amid the light snow showers but just couldn’t find a way through the resolute visitors in the second half of a game that will not live long in the memory.

In director of rugby Conor O’Shea and head coach John Kingston, Harlequins had two key men in their management team fully aware of the dangers posed by the men from the west and just like at the Stoop six day’s previously they weathered the home side’s attacking efforts well and kept their patience in attack against a strong defence.

All the scores came in a penalty-riddled first-half. The typically brilliant Nick Evans almost effortlessly kicked five from six for the visitors, although Connacht had some answers to his efforts, Miah Nikora kicked two penalties while Ian Keatley slotted a fine long range three-pointer as well.

The winning of the game probably came either side of half-time when the contest was very much in the balance. The score was locked at six each on the half hour mark when Evans edged his side further in front and three minutes later a brilliant kick doubled their lead at 12-6.

Connacht battled back, however, and an off-the-ball infringement saw Jordan Turner Hall sin-binned and paved the way for Keatley to strike a brilliant kick from 40 metres to bring his side within three with the break approaching.

The home side failed to grasp their man advantage and Quins scored next with Evans’ fifth kick of the half after yet another penalty was given against the home side for being off their feet at ruck time.

It was a crucial turning point that was added too after half-time when Bernie Upton saw yellow for persistent Connacht infringements. That negated the man advantage and played right into the hands of a Quins side that were now in control of proceedings.

Connacht had one stand out chance to overturn the scoreline in the second half with 13 minutes remaining. It came after Cillian Willis had added a bit of extra bite to their attack.

John Muldoon’s attack made the initial surge and set them up close to the visitors line. The glaring overlap was then refused and the ball was knocked-on.

It was Connacht’s one chance to turn a tight and dour affair in their favour and the English side were relieved.

Any lingering hope was dashed when Jamie Hagen was sin-binned with eight minutes remaining and Quins saw out the remaining minutes comfortably to complete the double over last year’s semi-finalists and make it a two horse race with Bayonne for the Pool 1 title.

Scores for Connacht: M Nikora 2 pens, Keatley pen.

Scores for Harlequins: N Evans five pens.

CONNACHT RUGBY: G Duffy, D Fanning, I Keatley, K Mathews, F Carr, M Nikora, F Murphy, R Loughney, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, M McCarthy, A Browne, J O’Connor, J Muldoon [capt].

Replacements: B Upton for Swift 38 mins; M McComish for O’Connor 52 mins, , C Willis for Murphy 52 mins, T Nathan for Matthews 70 mins; B Fa’amausili for Brown, 72 mins; A Brown for Muldoon 78 mins.

Sin Bins: Upton 46 min; Hagen 71 mins

HARLEQUINS: M Brown, G Camacho, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, T Williams, N Evans, D Care, C Jones, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, P Browne, T Guest, C Robshaw [capt], N Easter.

Replacements: W Skinner for Guest 15 mins; J Marler for Jones 48 mins; M Cairns for Gray 49 mins,M Lambert for Johnson 49 mins, T Casson for Camahco 52 mins.

Sin Bin Turner Hall 37 mins

Referee: James Jones (Wales).

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