CONNACHT’S Euro campaign remains firmly on track. Last evening Connacht proved worthy of their favourites’ tag in this rematch against Worcester Warriors, cementing their place as pool leaders and strengthening their hopes of qualification in this season’s Amlin Challenge Cup.
The Warriors had arrived on the back of an unexpected home defeat last week seeking revenge, but they offered little in the way of sustained attacking rugby after the opening half. While the Sixways’ fixture was a tight affair with the honours only decided in the last remaining minutes, last night’s fixture at a freezing Sportsground was never in doubt in a second half dominated by the home side.
Despite little between them on the scoreboard until Connacht extended the lead to two scores midway through the second half, Connacht always looked the more comfortable, particularly up front where they had control.
“Winning games like this game is a huge plus, because we didn’t play that well consistently throughout the full 80 minutes,” said Michael Bradley.
“But we did enough and had enough in the tank and we got over the line and that’s good. But the number one requirement today was to win the match and we were very nervous about the potential in their backs and that showed in the first half, but we adjusted in the second half.”
There had been a fear that Worcester, who had made 10 changes from the previous week, would play a more dangerous open game, utilising the more youthful back line. They certainly started that way, posting a try in the 23rd minute, but in the second half, Worcester failed to get sufficient decent possession to threaten the Connacht line.
Although Connacht shaded the scoreboard by 8-7 at the break, they had outplayed Worcester for much of the first half. As expected Worcester changed tactics from last weekend’s fixture and adopted a running game, keeping ball in hand, but apart from that single well-worked try, the home side withstood any charge from the Warriors.
Connacht had not helped themselves, conceding a free from a delayed line-out and losing 10m for indiscipline, but from the scrum, it was Chris Pennell, who impressed on the wing last week, who broke into the line late and charged through from 20 metres out to touch down. Outhalf Matthew Jones, just back from injury, posted the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Connacht, however, replied almost immediately, winning the battle on the floor, and Ian Keatley, who had an uncharacteristically mediocre game with both this tactical and goal-kicking, converted the penalty to close the gap.
However the outhalf played his part in Connacht’s try five minutes later, looping around centre Aidan Wynne before a quick ruck which saw captain John Muldoon break through down the right wing, breaking through the cover to touch down. Crucially Connacht added a second within seven minutes of the restart when Murphy took a quick tap and broke through the cover, setting up a backline move which stretched the Worcester defence. With a three-to-one overlap, Fionn Carr supplied Gavin Duffy, who finished in the left corner for a second unconverted try.
Duffy once again was exemplary under the high ball, but Connacht did make hard work of this victory, too often kicking possession away, even in try-scoring positions. Troy Nathan added impetus to the attack in the second half, as did top-try scorer Fionn Carr, but they were unable to finish off their scoring chances.
It was not until the 65th minute that Connacht extended the lead to two scores when Keatley struck a 25m penalty, and after Jones missed a similar effort three minutes later, there was really only one result.
Keatley was content to score a drop goal in the 78th minute to post a fourth win on the trot in this season’s Euro campaign, setting up a likely head-to-head with Montpellier in the New Year for qualification honours.
Connacht scorers: Tries: Muldoon, Duffy. Pens: Keatley 2. Drop Goals: Keatley.
CONNACHT: G Duffy; L Bibo, N Ta’auso, A Wynne, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris; M McCarthy, B Upton; J Muldoon (capt), R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: T Nathan for Bibo (52) J Hagan for Morris (68), M Swift for Ofisa and M McComish for Taoupu (72)
Worcester scorers: Tries: Pennell. Cons: Jones
WORCESTER WARRIORS: C Pennell; M Garvey, A Grove, C MacRae, R Gear; M Jones, J Arr; A Black, C Fortey, O Sougens; G Kitchener, W Bowley; J Collins, J Abbott, M Cox.
Replacements: T Taumoepeau for Sourgens (44), T Wood for Abbott (45), O Frost for Arr, D Rasmussen for Grove (75), J Gilding for Fortey (79).
Referee: P Gauzere (France)
Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 5 Montauban 24 Newcastle 19.
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