Connacht 11 Ospreys 32
by Rob Murphy at the Sportsground
HERE are some positives to be taken from Saturday’s second straight defeat at the Sportsground and Pat Lam certainly was keen to point to an improved work rate and the fact that Connacht led here 11-10 after an hour of rugby but, by the end of the game, his side were once again well beaten, once again clearly off the pace.
A shambolic pre-season programme that yielded only one competitive game has left the Connacht team on the back foot and struggling going into week three of the new season and facing what is now a pivotal fixture away to Zebre of Italy on Saturday evening. That’s not just a must win, it is a character defining game for Connacht. The attitude of the entire group will be under the spotlight this weekend.
A win won’t solve all the problems either as the team must travel to Llanelli a week later before home games against Edinburgh, Ulster and Toulouse. There’s just no way of side stepping the reality. Connacht are in a real mire at the moment and a lot of the blame is being placed on a pre-season that saw two of their three planned games cancelled.
Of course, many are also pointing to the departures from the squad during the off season. Aly Muldowney’s name stands out in these discussions. The 32-year-old second row was on the team of the week in French national newspapers at the weekend after his performance for Grenoble in their home tie with Brive.
However, two games into the season, it is far to early to judge the real impact of losing the likes of Muldowney, Robbie Henshaw and AJ MacGinty among others. The squad is well off their best form for the moment and desperately seeking redemption in the coming weeks. A fully fit, settled Connacht team will surely offer more than what we saw here in the final 20 minutes.
In fact, even though Connacht led on the hour mark, the Ospreys seemed to have an edge for most of that period. Their defensive stand before half time maintained a 10-3 lead and was akin to the type of organised intensity we saw from Connacht last season. The brilliant Rhys Webb had powered over for their first half try. Sam Davies had converted and added a penalty, while Jack Carty had Connacht’s only reply.
In the second half, Connacht got within four when Carty scored again and had the extra man when Ospreys’ influential number eight Tyler Ardron was-sin binned. They took advantage as well with Eoin McKeon scoring after a brilliant set of attacking phases that included some great work from Tiernan O’Halloran and quick hands along the backline with Bundee Aki giving the final pass.
5′ 0-3 – penalty: Sam Davies
20′ 3-3 – penalty: Jack Carty
29′ 3-10 – try: Rhys Webb; conversion – Sam Davies
Halftime Connacht 3 Ospreys 10
46′ 6-10 – penalty: Jack Carty
57′ 11-10 – try: Eoin McKeon
63′ 11-13 – penalty: Sam Davies
71′ 11-18 – try: Tyler Ardron
74′ 11-25 – try: Rhys Webb; conversion – Sam Davies
77′ 11-32 – try: Jeff Hassler; conversion – Sam Davies
51′ yellow card – Tyler Ardron
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Ronan Loughney, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Danny Qualter; Eoin McKeon, James Connolly, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: JP Cooney for Bealham (60), Lewis Stevenson for Qualter (68), Caolin Blade for Marmion (68), Shane O’Leary for Carty (66). Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Rory Moloney, Danie Poolman.
Ospreys: Dan Evans; Jeff Hassler, Ben John, Josh Matavesi, Eli Walker; Sam Davies, Rhys Webb (capt); Nicky Smith, Sam Parry, Dmitri Arhip, Bradley Davies, Rory Thornton, Olly Cracknell, Justin Tipuric, Tyler Ardron.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin for Parry (66), Paul James for Smith (56), Ma’afu Fia for Arhip (56), Lloyd Ashley for Thornton (44), James King for Cracknell (60), Tom Habberfield for Walker (74).Dan Baker, Jonathan Spratt
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)