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Guinness Pro14, February 20th 2021.
Connacht 32 Cardiff 17
The Sportsground, Galway @ 7:35pm
Referee: Andrew Brace (IFRU)
A first-half brace of tries from Alex Wootton sent Connacht well on their way to their first home win since early December. The home side had been struggling to find their rhythm prior to his first searing score. However, after that they never looked back. He added a second three minutes later as a shellshocked Cardiff side went into the the dressing room at half time wondering how they were suddenly ten points in arrears. Cardiff did cut that gap to three points just after the hour mark. However, an immediate reposte from captain Jarrad Butler dispelled any notions the visitors had of a comeback. Abraham Papali’i bonus point try near the death was the icing on the cake for Andy Friend’s men.
Dai Young was forced into late changes to his Cardiff side. 18-year-old Mason Grady had been named to make his first start for the club in yesterday’s team announcement. However, an uncertain COVID test return meant that both Grady and Ben Thomas were unable to travel. Harri Millard came in to the staring line-up, while Max Llewellyn and Dan Fish joined the replacements.
Connacht won the toss and chose to play from the college road end, towards the Bohermore end in the first-half. The strong southerly breeze was coming across the pitch and not particularly favouring either side.
Cardiff drove over for the games first try on 11 minutes. Rhys Carre was on the end of drive off the back of line out. Jason Tovey added the extras. Connacht responded four minutes later with three points from Jack Carty from an offside penalty. The gap was reduced to a single point on 22 minutes, when Carty sent over a penalty from 18 yards straight in front of the posts.
Just before the half hour Jason Tovey re-established a four point lead for the Blues after Connacht were pinged for not rolling away.
Four minutes before the break Alex Wootton lit up the game. He found a gap in midfield after Ultan Dillane had made a powerful initial break. Wootton turned on the afterburners to carve trough the Cardiff reargaurd. He took an arcing run past the cover to speed in untouched for his ninth try of the season. Carty added a fine conversion from the lefthand side.
Wotton repeated the trick just three minutes later. This time on the opposite side of the field. Jack Carty cleverly fed Wootton and once again he eased tru a gap to race clear over the cover from just outside the Cardiff 22. The conversion from Carty gave Andy Friend’s side a ten point lead at the interval.
Half-time: Connacht 20 Cardiff 10.
Jason Tovey saw his penalty rebound off the post six minutes into the second-half. Cardiff had been awarded that after Bundee Aki was adjudged to be off his feet at the breakdown. Cardiff did add to their tally on 63 minutes when after a slick looped move off a line-out they recycled the ball from close in a mauled over for the score. Dan Fish who replaced Tovey five minutes earlier added the conversion to bring Cardiff back within three.
Connacht responded to the Cardiff score within three minutes. A maul off a five yard lineout saw captain Jarrad Butler drive over. Carty failed to add the extra’s into the teeth of the wind. Substitute Abraham Papali’i rounded off a great night for the Homeside when he powered over for the bonus point score. Which came off a 5m scrum that was awarded when Reynold Lee-Lo carried the ball over his own line as he slid to gather a kick downfield from Connacht’s Tom Daly. Carty’s conversion brought his personal tally to 12 points for the night.
Munster still lead the way in Conference B. Their win away to fifth placed Edinburgh sees them top the table on 46 points. Connacht consolidate second place in the group as they move up to 37 points, while Scarlets leapfrog their Welsh neighbours Cardiff and climb to third after their 41-17 win over Treviso earlier today.
Connacht: 15. John Porch, 14. Alex Wootton, 13. Tom Daly, 12. Bundee Aki, 11. Matt Healy, 10. Jack Carty, 9. Caolin Blade, 1. Jordan Duggan, 2. Dave Heffernan, 3. Finlay Bealham, 4. Ultan Dillane, 5. Gavin Thornbury, 6. Eoghan Masterson, 7. Jarrad Butler, 8. Paul Boyle. Replacements: Shane Delahunt for Heffernan 57’, Denis Buckley for Duggan 47’, Jack Angier for Bealham 57’, Oisin Dowling for Thornbury 47’, Abraham Papali’i for Boyle 72’, Kieran Marmion for Blade 57’, Sean J O’Brein, Tiernan O’Halloran for Porch 65’.
Cardiff: 15. Matthew Morgan, 14.Owen Lane, 13. Harri Millard, 12. Reynold Lee-Lo, 11. Aled Summerhill, 10. Jason Tovey, 9. Lloyd Williams, 1. Rhys Carre, 2. Liam Belcher, 3. Dimitri Arhip, 4. Seb Davies, 5. Rory Thornton, 6. Shane Lewis-Hughes, 7. Ellis Jenkins, 8.Josh Turnbull. Replacements: Kirby Myhill for Belcher 55’, Corey Domachowski for Carre 55’, Kieron Assiratti for Arhip 58’, Ben Murphy for Davies 65’, Gwilym Bradley, Jamie Hill, Max Llewellyn for Millard 55’, Dan Fish for Tovey 58’.