Wasps 32 Connacht 17: This was an opportunity lost by Connacht but they will get little time to dwell on it.
Instead, they will get a speedy opportunity to right some wrongs when Wasps come to the Sportsground on Saturday with the English side now in pole position of this Champions Cup pool.
It was always going to be a tall order at the Ricoh Arena and the visiting supporters in the crowd of 13,364 had fears of a drubbing to book-end a week that started with the announcement of Pat Lam’s departure at the end of the season.
That hammering never materialised but in a game where Connacht made 501 metres with ball in hand to Wasps 281, it was disappointing to leave Coventry empty-handed.
Chronic failure in the lineout and an inability to make kicks at the posts count left the visitors with too much ground to make up.
But Connacht, while unlikely now to win the pool, can still qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time but will need to secure victory at a sold-out Sportsground on Saturday will keep that dream alive. And they will take a lot of heart from this display, not least the way their scrum managed to offset some of the damage done by losing half a dozen of their own line-outs.
Lam will look to correct his side’s shortcomings and surprising inaccuracy rather than dwell too much on what was let slip from their grasp yesterday.
“The most frustrating thing is that we genuinely felt that we had some opportunities. We had a chance there and we haven’t taken it.
“We have to regroup and there is no doubt next week is crucial. I said before the game, if we win one we have got a great chance of getting through, if we win two we are through. We get home, get in front of our crowd and dust ourselves down, get ourselves back.
“If we can get a win next week we are right back into it again.”
Connacht trailed 13-10 at the break but should have been ahead given that they had the bulk of possession but a malfunctioning lineout which saw them lose four of their first five throws, undermined their display.
Wasps were full of swagger initially and were well worth an early lead when Wallaby Kurtley Beale crowned his debut by finishing off a multi-phase attack after eight minutes, with Jimmy Gopperth converting to make it 7-0.
Connacht’s lineout trouble saw them again turn over possession after going to the corner with a penalty from 35 metres on the right after 13 minutes. But they never panicked and they got a huge break when Beale was harshly binned for a tackle on Niyi Adeolokun after 17 minutes.
While Wasps coach Dai Young was fairly scathing of the decision by French referee Alexandre Ruiz, Beale himself had no issue with yellow card. “It’s a big part of our game, contact to the head. They are cracking down on it a lot more. Player welfare comes before anything else. It was just unfortunate that I got caught up in the wrong position. I was just unlucky, I just caught him on the chin,” said the Wallaby.
Jack Carty, having earlier missed an attempt from the left on the 22, found the range to get Connacht off the mark. Kieran Marmion kept cracking holes in the home cover as Wasps continued to fan out in defence, and he got Connacht back on terms when John Muldoon did well to break off the base off a scrum in the right corner, with his scrum-half coming through in a perfect line to score.
Carty tied the game at 10-10 with a superb conversion. Wasps, with Beale back on board, finished the half strongly but they couldn’t find a way through despite Stacey Ili having to go off injured and Bundee Aki struggling a dead leg. But Gopperth got another penalty after Nepia Fox-Matamua was pinged to lead 13-10 at the break.
Hopes that the lineout woes would be resolved at the interval were dashed when Connacht turned over another one on the resumption and did not clear their lines. They were left with a mountain to climb when Wasps drove superbly off a lineout for Nathan Hughes to get their second try, with Gopperth adding the extras to make it 20-10.
But Connacht got right back into it when Rory Parata intercepted Gopperth’s pass just outside the home 22 to score under the posts. It was a brave call by the 22-year old for it would probably have been seven points at the other end if he had missed.
Carty’s conversion made it 20-17 with 34 minutes remaining but it was Wasps who got stronger as the game progressed, with Connacht forced to reschuffle their backline with two scrum-halves on the field when Caolin Blade replaced winger Kelleher.
Wasps slowly turned the screw and the game changed when Carty missed a penalty to tie the match and then Wasps skipper Joe Launchbury finished off a fine move after hefty flanker Ashley Johnson won a good turnover on the turf. Gopperth again converted to make it 25-17 after 63 minutes and Wasps never look like coughing up that lead but neither did Connacht look like securing a bonus point and it was Wasps who made it a full haul when Josh Bassett finished in the left corner after good hands from Gopperth and Beale.
Scorers for Wasps:
Tries: K Beale, N Hughes, J Launchbury, J Bassett; Cons: J Gopperth (3); Pens: J Gopperth (2)
Scorers for Connacht:
Tries: K Marmion, R Parata; Cons: J Carty (2); Pens: J Carty
R Miller; C Wade, A Leiua (B Macken 49), K Beale (F Halai 73), J Bassett; J Gopperth, D Robson (J Simpson 62); M Mullan (T Bristow 73), T Taylor, M Moore (J Cooper-Woolley 54); J Launchbury, K Myall (J Gaskell 67); A Johnson (A Rieder 73), T Young (G Thompson 67), N Hughes.
T O’Halloran (M Healy 47); N Adeolokun, S Ili (R Parata 38), B Aki, C Kelleher (C Blade 52); J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley (JP Cooney 73), T McCartney (D Heffernan 67), C Carey (F Bealham 45); U Dillane, Q Roux (S O’Brien 62); N Fox-Matamua, J Heenan (E McKeon 45), J Muldoon.
Alexandre Ruiz (FFR).
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