IT is hard to credit the mood around Connacht right now. There’s certainly optimism around the group and an air of defiance too. They might have only managed one point from their last two matches, but there is no denying that they turned a corner in terms of performance levels and discipline. After the low of the Cardiff home defeat, the future was looking a little more positive as the Connacht bus drove out of Belfast on Friday night.
One win from six is still the cold reality of the season so far but, in that regard, the real damage was done in September. These past two games, in Ulster and before that in Llanelli, were about knuckling down and beginning the recovery of this campaign. Victories were always highly unlikely away to two of the league’s leading sides, but it would be churlish to ignore how close they came to winning both of these daunting fixtures.
Ulster weren’t in top form by any means here, fresh off a loss to Zebre in Parma they looked nervous and out of kilter at times. That certainly played a part in Connacht being so competitive, in fact, had the home side finished off even one of their two golden opportunities for tries early on, the victory might have been achieved with a lot less fuss.
As it was however, Connacht stayed in touch during a tricky first half hour thanks to a an ever improving defensive effort, a rock solid lineout and a scrum that was dominant. Bit by bit they grew in confidence and by half time they were ahead off the back of a Tom McCartney try which came at the end of a scintillating period of attacking play that saw Bundee Aki heavily involved along with a host of backs and forwards.
The second half started at breakneck speed with the crowd on edge and the lead changing hands right up until the defining moment of the contest in the 56th minute. A searing break from Connacht from their own 22 saw Jarred Butler and Steve Crosbie combine to release Matt Healy. The winger made 40 metres but elected to chip over Charles Piutau when the pass was on, it was a costly error that led to a try at the other end.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.