Connacht 15 Cardiff 17
By Rob Murphy at the Sportsground
Cantankerous is probably the best way of describing Kieran Keane after this latest Connacht misstep.
Grouchy, grumpy, tetchy, or testy might also work. He’s a unique individual and could hardly be any less like Pat Lam if he tried.
The new era is well and truly up and running and it has started in reverse.
A last gasp try from Will Halaholo helped Cardiff snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the Sportsground on Saturday.
The subsequent final whistle a minute later was met with jolting wall of silence from the home support.
It’s probably far too soon for flat out anger but the disdain for the effort they had witnessed was palpable.
No one can act surprised though at this third loss in four games. Based on the three previous outings, this was always on the cards.
Everything on display here has been evident in the defeats to the Dragons and Glasgow and the sub par effort against the Kings.
Connacht lack discipline, purpose and accuracy at the moment.
Players seem to be demotivated and distracted. The individual effort might be there in patches, the collective effort is conspicuous by its absence. The result is a team misfiring in possession, one that is slow to take chances and prone to self destruction at key moments.
The wind howled at the backs of the men in green in the first half and they started with gusto, seemingly in reaction to the abject display in Newport the previous weekend.
Wave upon wave of attacks had Cardiff under pressure in their own 22 and seemed set to yield the game’s opening try.
Yet by the 17 minute mark the scoreboard read just 3-0. Craig Ronaldson’s penalty all that the westerners had to show for their efforts.
Multiple attacks had broken down in the 22. The back three were not sparking, the centre partnership on different wavelengths and the pack losing out to a rampant back row from the Blues.
Josh Navidi, Josh Turnbull and Nick Williams were dominating their opponents. It didn’t stop there, second rows Damien Welsh and young Seb Davies had a field day too, with big carries, lineout disruptions and plenty of bone crunching tackles during a half where they defended stoically against the elements.
By half time, Cardiff actually led having spent the second quarter of the contest on the front foot despite the elements.
Halaholo again the hero with a scything break through the middle of the Connacht defence on the 22. Denis Buckley caught napping there.
The conversion was easily dispatched and the four point half time lead must have been a surprise to the visitors considering the conditions.
After the break, Connacht’s territorial stats improved and they even notched up a couple of tries but the ill discipline continued.
John Muldoon’s first half sin binning (a fourth for the team in as many games) was for tackling a player without the ball.
It was merely one of many moments that would have been out of character for this side 12 months ago.
In the second half, interference with lineout jumpers and side entry at ruck time were the most common infractions.
The highlights after half time included a try from Darragh Leader at the end of a 30 phase attack that showcased some much needed patience and perseverance.
Although Keane suggested afterwards that such a high phase count might also reflect negatively on their attack play.
When attack coach with the world class Waikato based Chiefs, he probably expected scores to come in the single digit phase count.
Typically, Connacht botched the next two plays after that try.
The conversion first where new signing Andrew Deegan was used to kick into a strong wind rather than Leader, who would later prove he had much more power for such a kick.
Then, with two minutes of the restart Connacht had conceded a penalty at lineout time and Steve Shingler had kicked his side back into the lead by two, 10-8.
The replacements for Connacht didn’t offer much but Stacey Ili had arrived on at half time for the ineffective Rory Scholes.
Ili added a lot of spark and direction to the attack play. By the time the second try arrived, Connacht had five new faces in the pack. One of those, Shane Delahunt, got the score at the back of an all powerful maul from a well executed five metre line out.
That score came on 77 minutes. The roar that greeted it was topped by the one that followed Leader’s touchline conversion into the wind.
All seemed to be well then, Connacht led by five and just needed to see out the final 120 seconds. They couldn’t do that. Muldoon took the restart but at the next phase, possession was lost through a knock on.
Set in motion
The resulting scrum was dominated by the replacement front row of Cardiff and this helped set in motion a very simple two phase attack.
First it went from right to left and then back across the field where for some inexplicable reason, Cardiff suddenly had a four man overlap.
Not that they needed it as Halaholo ghosted through some soft shoulders and cantered home.
The conversion from Jarrod Evans was sublime, the game was up.
Keane certainly has no interest in chatting at the moment. hHis anger might well be enough to appease the supporters at this early stage.
It is safe to assume that he’ll be attempting some serious remedial work to steady the ship this week. But at some point he’ll have to find some happiness in his new role and that won’t be easy given the fixture list
Three away games are now on the cards in Llanelli, Belfast and Geneva (where they play nearby French side Oyonnax in the Challenge Cup).
The Scarlets, reigning champions, are first up on Friday.
If the attacks remain blunt and one dimensional, if key leaders in the backline continue to run up blind alleys and if the pack continues to misfire, the result could be touching the half century marker. It would hardly be surprising.
11′ 3-0 – penalty: Craig Ronaldson
38′ 3-7 – try: Willis Halaholo ; conversion – Steve Shingler
Half-time Connacht 3 Cardiff 7
60′ 8-7 – try: Darragh Leader
64′ 8-10 – penalty: Steve Shingler
75′ 15-10 – try: Shane Delahunt; conversion – Darragh Leader
78′ 15-17 – try: Willis Halaholo; conversion – Jarrod Evans
33′ yellow card – John Muldoon
Connacht: D Leader; C Kelleher, B Aki, C Ronaldson, R Scholes; A Deegan, K Marmion; D Buckley, A Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, Q Roux; E Masterson, J Butler, J Muldoon
Replacements: S Ili for Scholes (half-time), T Farrell for Ronaldson (51 mins), C Carey for Bealham and E McKeon for Masterson (63 mins), G Thornbury for Roux (65 mins), S Delahunt for Heffernan and C Blade for Marmion (67 mins), D Coulson for Buckley (72 mins).
Cardiff Blues: R Williams; A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, T James; S Shingler, L Williams; B Thyer K Dacey, T Filise; S Davies, D Welch; J Turnbull, J Navidi, N Williams.
Replacements: K Assiratti for Filise (43 mins), O Robinson for Williams (49 mins), G Earl for Welch (55 mins), E Lewis for Dacey (61 mins), T Williams for Lloyd and C Domachowski for Thyer (65 mins), J Evans for Shingler and M Morgan for Williams (72 mins).
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)