ON paper Connacht looked to be fielding a relatively strong team when they travelled to Swansea on Saturday to face one of the best sides in the Pro 12 so far this season and one of the most explosive attacking outfits in European rugby. In reality though, this was a patched up Connacht side that were once again outfoxed and out battled in a key game, this time by the Ospreys.
Only six of the 15 that lined out in last year’s Pro12 final were starting here for Connacht, as well as the trio who were already signed up by other clubs the day they took to the Murrayfield pitch, (Henshaw, Muldowney and MacGinty). The likes of John Muldoon, Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Kieron Marmion were all unavailable to Pat Lam for this one.
What the Connacht Head Coach had at his disposal was a fully fit first choice front row who once again delivered a brilliant and completely dominant display at scrum time and a fully fit first choice back three who demonstrated in the stats, at least, that they are still in top form. Tiernan O’Halloran made 123 metres on 12 carries, Niyi Adeolokun made 92 metres on nine carries, while Matt Healy had 74 metres, also on nine carries.
The problem, however, comes with what Connacht did with the gains they made from these two key areas of the field. The scrum penalties led to lineout opportunities and that set piece area is in disarray at the moment, four key lineouts in Ospreys territory were turned over while the advantage they had in the back three was completely negated by the fact that their rookie centre partnership was found wanting.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jack Carty picked up a serious knee injury during a first half where Connacht conceded two tries in the first 15 minutes. With three other out halves all unavailable through injury, third choice scrum half Caolin Blade was next in line to slot in to stand off and while he put his heart and soul into the role, it was always asking a lot against the league’s most potent attack.
In terms of scoring, the Ospreys bagged two tries from back row forwards Dan Baker and Olly Cracknell in the first half, all coming from surging attacking rugby with the initial break starting inside their own half on each occasion. By half time, Connacht had fought back in general play but they failed to convert numerous chances and inexplicably, for the second week running, turned down an easy three points along the way.
Early in the second half, Sam Davies kicked his side into a 17-0 lead before Nicky Smith powered over for a third try and while Sean O’Brien got his first try for his province on 72 minutes, that was just a consolation as Ashley Beck sealed the bonus point for one of the title favourites with the last play of the game.
Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune.