Connacht led at half time, but lost 33-24 to Exeter Chiefs

European Challenge Cup Pool 2

Connacht led at half time, but lost 33-24 to Exeter Chiefs

Connacht’s European Challenge Cup hopes suffered a setback after failing to secure a home win against pool favourites Exeter at the Galway Sportsground yesterday.

Despite a first-half lead, Connacht’s could not quell the Chiefs’ power play, and they now go to France hoping to bag a bonus-point win and a possible runners-up spot.

Although Connacht’s attacking play was superior out wide, scoring four tries to three, they coughed up too much possession, were on the wrong side of a 13-4 penalty count, and crucially, were dominated in the scrum.

“To score four tries to three and not win the game is frustrating,” said Connacht coach Pat Lam. “The thing that killed us was 20-plus turnovers and wobbles at set-piece time. That 10 minutes after half-time was woeful. We have to be honest with ourselves, as individuals, as units, and as a team.”

Connacht had carved out a 17-10 lead, courtesy of three superb tries, two from right wing Danie Poolman in the opening half, while left-wing Matt Healy, always a threat, posted a try in each half to secure the bonus point.

Connacht, attacking from the start, were rewarded when Willie Faloon supplied Poolman who skated in after six minutes, while out-half Jack Carty, a last-minute replacement for Craig Ronaldson who suffered a leg strain in warm-up, was unable to add the conversion.

However Exeter, helped by some poor kicking, were able to establish field position. Three lineouts, three scrums, three penalties, and six minutes later, they were rewarded with a penalty try, with Henry Slade slotting the conversion in the 20th minute.

Connacht’s response was immediate. Winning their first penalty, they took advantage to kick for touch, and with all but Mils Muliaina and Poolman joining in the drive, Connacht forced their way over, with Willie Faloon claiming the touchdown. Although Carty missed the conversion, and Slade posted one of two penalty attempts to draw level, Connacht finished the half with a flourish. From Healy’s counterattack, Connacht capitalised on a rushed Exeter defence to find space out wide and Poolman finished off, with Carty converting for a 17-10 lead.

Exeter had cut that lead to four within minutes of the restart. Henry Slade struck a penalty after Connacht were pinged at the breakdown, and when Poolman’s pass was intercepted, Australian international Dan Mumm raced in unopposed. Slade had no difficulty adding the extras and a 57th minute penalty as the Chiefs took control.

Flanker Don Armand should have extended the lead from a second intercept, but he made amends for his knock-on to claim Exeter’s third try as Slade’s conversion pushed the lead to 17-30.

As Connacht continued to concede penalties and territory, Slade posted a 70th minute penalty to dash Connacht’s automatic qualification hopes.

The only consolation was a fourth try from Healy, set up by the influential Robbie Henshaw, which Carty converted. Darragh Leader had the chance to grab a second bonus point, but his effort from 10m sailed wide.

CONNACHT: M Muliaina; D Poolman, R Henshaw, D McSharry, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (c), W Faloon, G Naoupu.

Replacements: D Leader for McSharry (39), F Bealham for Ah You (ht), A Browne for Muldowney and E McKeon for Muldoon (64m), JP Cooney for Buckley and D Heffernan for McCartney (68), M Nikora for Muliaina and C Blade for Marmion (70m).

EXETER: P Dollman; I Whitten, J Nowell, S Hill, M Jess; H Slade, D Lewis; B Moon, L Cowan-Dickie, A Brown, D Mumm (c), D Welch, D Ewers, D Armand, T Waldrom.

Replacements: H Thomas for Lewis (64), K Horstman for Welch and C Rimmer for Brown (65), G Bateman for Cowan-Dickie, B Sturgess for Moon, and J Scaysbrook for Armand (75).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).

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