Connacht 47 Enisei-STM 5: France beckons again for Connacht in this year’s European Challenge Cup quarter-finals and a meeting with Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble in April.
Having lost their chance of a home fixture, Connacht completed their campaign with a focused eight-try winning performance over Russian visitors Enisei-STM to top pool one, helped by Newcastle eventually pulling ahead of nearest rivals Brive. It is Connacht’s eighth quarter-final in 11 seasons, and coach Pat Lam is relishing the chance to see just how far his squad can go.
“I was determined to get in the quarter-finals because you are playing rugby in April and May and I look forward to what this group of guys can do in nice weather,” says Lam.
“It was backs to the wall and we only had ourselves to blame. We had to win, we had to get a bonus point, we did that. Now we are through, you have to be in it to win it.”
Although Connacht’s focus has now quickly returned to the Pro 12 and a visit from top-of-the-table Scarlets on Saturday, Lam says his side will be prepared for whatever Grenoble will throw at them.
“It’s a one-off game and they have a big Irish contingent. We played them in pre season when they were well prepared and we now go back there when we are better prepared.” Lam paid tribute to his captain John Muldoon who changed tactics to play with the wind. “He won the toss and opted to go with the wind when we normally go into the wind first. He rallied the boys, and said, ‘look if we are going to take this win, it’s my call and we are going to have to raise the tempo, we are going have to speed the game up, and be accurate’. I think the boys responded well to him.”
It was also the perfect opportunity for Connacht’s four Irish squad members to have game time, particularly Robbie Henshaw and man of the match Kieran Marmion returning from injury, who were both influential in Connacht’s try feast. Four were scored in a one-sided first-half through full-back Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy, prop Denis Buckley, and Danie Poolman to establish a 25-0 lead. Henshaw bagged the fifth immediately after the break before the Russians capitalised on their first penalty, their pack forcing their way over with flanker Vitalii Orlov touching down. Connacht completed the rout with three more tries. Replacement hooker Tom McCartney crashed over in the 52nd minute, before O’Halloran sent Healy through for his second, while replacement scrum-half Caolan Blade wrapped up the game with an eighth try.
T O’Halloran; D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; A MacGinty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, N White; U Dillane, A Muldowney; J Muldoon, J Connolly, E Masterson.
J Carty for MacGinty, T McCartney for Heffernan, F Bealham for Buckley (all 51), R Ah You for White (53) , C Blade for Marmion (57), G Naoupu for Muldowney (59), S O’Brien for Muldoon (61), R Parata for O’Halloran (70).
R Gaisin; J Baranovs, D Kacharava, M Babaev, D Simplikevich; Y Kushnarev, A Shcherban; A Volkov, N Gasanov, I Zykov; U Saulite, V Krasylnyk; V Orlov, A Temnov, A Rudoi.
I Kurashov for Shcherban (42), N Serkov for Krasylnyk (47) ).
T Foley (England).
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