Saturday’s bonus point win over top-of-the-table Scarlets at the Sportsground was significant for Pat Lam’s squad, while denying the Welsh a losing bonus point was testament to Connacht’s growing maturity.
Lam agreed: “There was quality endeavour out there. You don’t have to have all the rock stars, just people who are willing to work. We are not getting ahead of ourselves, we have a long way to go.”
Despite a horror spell after the break when the Scarlets racked up 10 points in three minutes to reduce the deficit to 13-10, Connacht produced another two tries by the 64th minute and held out in the closing stages. Lam continued: “This whole 16 week block has been tough, a lot of lessons learned in adversity. It is a relief we got through this period — a quarter-final of Challenge Cup in April, and second in the table is a wonderful effort by this group of men.”
The pack held sway, turning the screw in the scrum. From two penalties kicked to touch, lock Aly Muldowney secured line-out possession and the pack forced their way over with Kiwi-born flanker Jake Heenan touching down at the start and end of the first half as the held a 13-0 interval lead.
The game could have turned on its head when Scarlets reduced the arrears to three points after the interval. Out-half Aled Thomas posted a penalty, and two minutes he converted DTH van de Merwe’s try.
The visitors’ indiscipline proved crucial with yellow cards to Phil John and Tom Price. Connacht capitalised with another maul from a penalty to touch — this time Heenan claiming the line-out and man of the match Denis Buckley touching down in the 51st minute, with Jack Carty adding the conversion. Replacement prop Rodney Ah You burst over for the fourth try, again converted to give Connacht a 31-10 lead.
The final 10 minutes belonged to Scarlets who came close to bonus point territory when centre Gareth Owen grabbed a 73rd minute try which Thomas converted.
T O’Halloran, D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, C Blade, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, G Naoupu, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt), J Heenan, E Masterson.
R Parata for Healy (30), U Dillane for Naoupu (57), R Ah You for Bealham (61), J Connolly for Heenan (64), C Ronaldson for Carty (65), R Loughney for Buckley and D Heffernan for McCartney (66), I Porter for Blade).
L Williams, T Williams, G Owen H Parks, DTH van der Merwe, A Thomas, R Williams, P John, E Elias, R Jones, T Price, L Rawlins, A Shingler, W Boyde, M Allen.
P Edwards for R Jones (35), D Evans for Allen (53), M Allen for Evans (57), M Collins for L Williams (61), K Myhill for Elias (65),.
Ben Whitehouse (Wales)