Tag Archives: Eoin Griffin

Positive Signs From Connacht

Connacht Rugby

Connacht have recovered well from a tough mid-season run. (c) Pierre-Selim.

There’s been plenty of good news from the West in recent times. The coup of Leinster’s Nathan White last month was followed up by the capture of experienced outhalf Dan Parks. Equally positive is the revelation that all four of Dave Gannon, Paul O’Donohoe, Dave Moore and Kyle Tonetti have extended their contracts beyond the end of this season.

Earlier in the campaign, the highly promising trio of Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin and Dave McSharry tied themselves to their home province for at least another two seasons. It’s a hugely encouraging sign that these ambitious prospects want to be part of a progressing Connacht.

Unfortunately, it’s been a frustrating campaign for Elwood and his squad to date. Their infamous 14-game losing streak from the end of September until mid-January wasn’t a totally fair reflection of their performances. Of those 14 games, only 5 were lost by more than 10 points, and came against powerhouses like Toulouse, Munster and Ulster. Many of the losses came by narrow margins, due to the lack of accuracy in Connacht’s finishing and an inability to close out winning positions.

That’s not to excuse the bad run, a loss is still very much a loss and there were some poor displays along the way. Momentum is a vital factor in any league and not just in regard to winning. Anyone involved in a side racking up consecutive losses will know that the momentum of losing can be hard to stop. Connacht did it manfully, with their heroic 9-8 Heineken Cup win over quarter-final chasing Harlequins. That night at the Sportsground will never be forgotten in Galway.

O'Halloran has signed on for at least another two years. (c) Pierre-Selim.

The fact that Connacht were in the Heineken Cup at all was certainly a contributing factor to their poor PRO12 form. Compared to the massive squads at Munster, Ulster and Leinster, Elwood’s player base is small. The combined demands of the PRO12 and HC stretched the squad. The coach had very little room for rotation, making minimal changes from week to week. Big efforts and narrow misses in Pool 1 against Harlequins away, and both ties with Gloucester took a lot out of the players.

The signings of Parks and White could make an influential difference next season. New Zealander White has been impressive in his 16 appearances for Leinster this season. He will add leadership on and off the pitch, as well as strong scrummaging at tighthead. With Brett Wilkinson packing down at loosehead and the likes of Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You and Dylan Rogers providing cover and competition, Connacht look like being well-stocked in the front-row for next season.

Parks is an interesting acquisition, but the deal makes sense. At 33, concerns will be raised that Parks is past it as this level. However, age is not really a concern here. Much like Ronan O’Gara, Parks’ playing style and strengths have never been reliant on physical attributes. He will kick the corners to put Connacht into good positions, he will release his outside backs when it’s on, and most crucially, he will take any points on offer.

The Scot is the all-time record scorer in the PRO12/Celtic League with 1338 points in his 128 games since 2003. This season, he has kept his rate up with 75 points in 9 games for the Blues. Parks’ reliable boot is what Connacht have missed at times this season. Niall O’Connor has done well in patches, but too many times Connacht have come away from good territory with nothing to show on the scoreboard. Parks will convert a high percentage of any penalties on offer and if nothing’s on, will try the drop goal.

Parks Penalty

Parks will convert territory and possession into points. (c) Simon Williams.

White and Parks should improve the team next season and if Elwood can add one or two more players of decent quality, Connacht will be heading into next season with higher expectations. With the young players hopefully continuing to improve, Connacht will hope for a Leinster, Munster or Ulster Heineken Cup win and the top-tier European qualification that would bring.

For now the focus is on a strong finish to the PRO12 season. Connacht sit 10th coming into tomorrow evening’s clash with Munster in Galway. There’s 5 games left including this derby, and Connacht can rise up the table with a good run. Munster at home, Dragons away, then Ulster and Aironi at home will all look like winnable fixtures to Elwood and his management team.

9th is the highest Connacht have ever finished in this league. Treviso in 8th are only 5 points ahead and that should be the target. 4 wins from the 5 in these remaining games would also allow the western province to equal their record for most amounts of wins in a league season, set at 8 all the way back in 2003/04. It’s a big ask but certainly achievable. Time to ‘front up, rise up’.

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Photos courtesy: Simon WilliamsPierre-Selim.

PRO12 Preview: Scarlets vs. Connacht

ST vs Connacht-10

Connacht's hard work this season is starting to pay off. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Friday 2nd March, 19.30 (Not televised)

It’s been a great two weeks for Connacht and their supporters with the signings of Nathan White and Dan Parks being announced for next season, as well as the winless run in the PRO12 ending with a well-deserved 26-13 win over Edinburgh last Friday. The Connacht squad must be buzzing at the moment and rightfully so. Since ending their torrid 14-game losing streak with that famous 9-8 win over Harlequins in January, the outlook at the province has become increasingly positive. Hopefully that will continue at Parc y Scarlets tomorrow night.

Eric Elwood has had to make several changes to last weekend’s victorious team. Brett Wilkinson and Mike McCarthy are on Ireland duty this week so miss out. That means a first start for Munster’s on-loan tighthead Peter Borlase, with Ronan Loughney moving over to loosehead. 20-year-old Dave Heffernan wins his first cap at blindside while fellow Connacht Academy member Mick Kearney starts in the second-row.

There’s youth in the backline too where Dave McSharry and Eoin Griffin renew the midfield partnership that showed such promise earlier in the season. Niall O’Connor misses out through injury, meaning a rare start for Miah Nikora at flyhalf. The bench features several other youngsters with Academy prop Denis Buckley joined by Eoghan Grace, Dave Moore, Matt Jarvis and Kyle Tonetti.

Meanwhile, the Scarlets have been able to bolster their team with four released Wales squad players in Liam Williams on the right wing, Rhodri Jones at loosehead as well as Aaron Shingler and the brilliantly-named Lou Reed in the second-row. Worryingly, the Scarlets are aiming for their seventh consecutive  home league win. Last weekend’s 34-20 win over Treviso ensure that the Welsh region are still in the play-off race.

Having written off Connacht last weekend this is even harder to call, but the Scarlets have more to play for tomorrow night. Verdict: Scarlets by 3.

Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Gareth Maule (capt.), 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Liam Davies, 8 Kieran Murphy. 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Aaron Shingler, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Subs: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Phil John, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Mat Gilbert, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Nick Reynolds, 23 Viliame Iongi.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 Dave Heffernan, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Peter Borlase, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Ronan Loughney.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Stewart Maguire, 19 John Muldoon, 20 Eoghan Grace, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Kyle Tonetti.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).

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Photo courtesy:  Pierre-Selim.

PRO12 Previews

Blues vs. Ulster @ Cardiff Arms Park

Friday 17th February, 19.05 (BBC NI)

Gavin Henson

Henson returns from international duty to start for the Blues. (c) Mauro Quercia.

Ulster go to Cardiff looking to continue their push for a play-off spot. Sitting 5th in the table, Ulster are just a point ahead of the Blues. The Welsh side do have a game in hand over Ulster, so a win for the Irish province becomes even more important. Brian McLaughlin welcomes back three Irish internationals this weekend, as Paddy Wallace, Chris Henry and Tom Court have all been released from the Irish camp for this fixture.

In total there are four personnel changes to the side that earned a bonus point win over the Dragons last time out. Wallace replaces Adam D’Arcy, Henry is in for Mike McComish, Court starts ahead of Callum Black and Nigel Brady is preferred to Andy Kyriacou at hooker. Johann Muller is sidelined with a calf injury, so Henry takes the captaincy. Elsewhere, Ian Whitten moves from the centre out to the wing, with Stefan Terblanche shifting to fullback.

Cardiff welcome back three international players of their own. Scrumhalf Lloyd Williams, centre Gavin Henson and prop Scott Andrews have all been released from Welsh duty. Dan Parks starts at outhalf following his international retirement. Recently announced Munster signing Casey Laulala is out with hamstring trouble. This is not the most formidable Blues team, and Ulster come into the fixture with confidence and momentum. They are the more settled side. Verdict: Ulster by 5-7 points.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Richard Mustoe, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 Paul Tito (capt.), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Ryan Tyrell, 1 John Yapp.
Subs: 16 T Rhys Thomas, 17 Nathan Trevett, 18 Ryan Harford, 19 Maama Molitika, 20 Martyn Williams, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Chris Czekaj.

Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Nevin Spence, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Chris Henry (capt.), 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Nigel Brady, 1 Tom Court.
Subs: 16 Andi Kyriacou, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Tim Barker, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Simon Danielli, 23 Adam D’Arcy.

Referee: George Clancy

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Leinster vs. Scarlets @ The RDS

Friday 17th February, 19.35 (TG4)

Isa Nacewa and Fergus McFadden (kicking) are both in the Leinster team. (c) Ken Bohane.

Joe Schmidt’s team includes four players who were involved in Ireland’s loss to Wales in the opening round of the Six Nations. Sean Cronin, Eoin Reddan, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney all return to the Leinster starting fifteen. Jack McGrath gets his second start of the season at loosehead, while Rhys Ruddock comes in at No.8. In the backline, Eoin O’Malley joins McFadden in the centre.

Scarlets’ coach Nigel Davies also received the boost of returning international players. Veteran outhalf Stephen Jones and wing Liam Williams are joined in the backline by centre Scott Williams, who made a brief appearance against Scotland last weekend. Up front, prop Rhodri Jones has been released from the Welsh camp to start at loosehead. England international Ben Morgan will surely be sprung from the Scarlets’ bench at some stage.

Leinster come into this weekend 10 points clear of the 2nd-placed Ospreys. With the Welsh region at home to Aironi tonight, they will expect a bonus point win and hope to close that gap. However, Leinster are on an 11 game winning-streak and have named a strong side for this clash with the Scarlets. They should maintain their dominance of the PRO12 with another win. Verdict: Leinster bonus point win.

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 David Kearney, 13 Eoin O’Malley, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Kevin McLaughlin (capt.), 5 Devin Toner, 4 Damian Browne, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Nathan White, 19 Leo Auva’a, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Brendan Macken.

Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Gareth Maule (capt.), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 1 Rhodri Jones, 2 Emyr Phillips, 3 Deacon Manu, 4 Sione Timani, 5 Dominic Day, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 Kieran Murphy.
Subs: 16 Craig Hawkins, 17 Phil John, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Adam Warren, 23 Viliame Iongi.

Referee: Nigel Owens

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Treviso vs. Munster @ Stadio di Monigo

Saturday 18th February, 15.15 (RTE2)

BJ Botha has fine game in the loose copy

Munster's last game was the 51-36 win over the Saints. Botha, O'Mahony and Horan all return for this one. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Munster’s match with Aironi last weekend was called off due to the snowy conditions in Italy, but this one will be completely unaffected. Without a game, Munster dropped to 4th in the league. Still, they are only one point behind the Warriors in 3rd and have a game in hand. Munster will be hoping for a favour from Connacht in their clash with the Warriors. Tony McGahan will be eager to keep the pressure on the Ospreys, sitting in 2nd. A home semi-final in the play-offs is a realistic expectation for Munster.

McGahan has included returning Ireland squad members Ronan O’Gara, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony in his side for this tie with Treviso. The other big news is that Felix Jones is named in the match day squad for the first time this season. He’s joined there by Tommy O’Donnell, also just back from injury. Mick O’Driscoll captains the side from second-row while Ian Keatley’s ankle injury means he is ruled out.

Treviso have made wholesale changes to the side beaten by Leinster last weekend. Fabio Semenzato and Willem de Waal form a new half-back partnership, while Tommaso Iannone comes in on the wing. There’s a new second-row of Corniel Van Zyl and Antonio Pavanello, while Paul Derbyshire is chosen at blindside. Munster lost 19-8 here last year so will certainly not be complacent. Having not played in just under a month, expect some rustiness from Munster. Verdict: Munster win by 10 points.

Benetton Treviso: 15 Ludovico Nitoglia, 14 Tommaso Iannone, 13 Ezio Galon, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Brendan Williams, 10 Willem De Waal, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Marco Filippucci, 7 Benjamin Vermaak, 6 Paul Derbyshire, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 4 Antonio Pavanello (cap.), 3 Pedro Di Santo, 2 Franco Sbaraglini, 1 Matteo Muccignat.
Subs: 16 Enrico Ceccato, 17 Augusto Allori, 18 Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Gonzalo Padrò, 21 Gonzalo Garcia, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Alberto Di Bernardo.

Munster: 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Tomas O’Leary, 1 Wian du Preez, 2 Damien Varley, 3 BJ Botha, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Mick O’Driscoll (capt.), 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 8 James Coughlan.                                                                                                            Subs: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Felix Jones.

Referee: Neil Hennessey

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Connacht vs. Warriors @ The Sportsground

Saturday 18th February, 17.30 (TG4)

Niall O'Connor penalty kick

Niall O'Connor continues at outhalf. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

Connacht’s losing bonus point against the Blues last weekend lifted them to 10th in the table, just a single point ahead of 11th-placed Newport-Gwent Dragons. As mentioned above, the Warriors come into this game looking to consolidate 3rd position, as well as hoping to close the gap on the Ospreys. Eric Elwood’s side haven’t won in the PRO12 since the 23rd of September, but with confidence boosted by the recent win over Harlequins, Connacht believe they can beat a weakened Warriors side.

Elwood makes just two changes to the team from last weekend’s defeat. Ray Ofisa is out with a knee injury so Eoghan Grace comes in at openside. Since joining from Exeter last summer, Grace has had limited opportunities, missing plenty of the season through injury. He will be out to prove himself capable at this level. The other change sees Henry Fa’afili come into the centre in place of Dave McSharry, with Eoin Griffin back on the bench.

Glasgow haven’t won in Connacht since 2007. Looking to reverse that trend, coach Sean Lineen has made just one change to the team that beat the Scarlets 19-9 last weekend, Pat MacArthur replacing Dougie Hall at hooker. Duncan Weir is on the bench after being an unused substitute in Scotland’s loss to Wales last Sunday. Scotland international Graeme Morrison captains the side from midfield. Glasgow will consider this a good chance to shake off their Galway hoodoo, but similarly, Connacht will see it as another chance to pick off a team missing their international players. Verdict: Connacht by 1-3 points.

Connacht:15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Kyle Tonetti, 12 Henry Fa’afili, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Niall O’Connor, 9 Paul O’Donohoe, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Eoghan Grace, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Stewart Maguire, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Mick Kearney, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Eoin Griffin.

Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Troy Nathan, 12 Graeme Morrison (capt.), 11 David Lemi, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Tom Ryder, 4 Rob Verbakel, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Ryan Grant.
Subs: 16 Finlay Gillies, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 George Hunter, 19 Nick Campbell, 20 Duncan Weir, 21 Alex Dunbar, 22 Colin Shaw, 23 Calum Forrester.

Referee: Peter Allan

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Photos courtesy:  Ken BohaneMauro Quercia, Ivan O’Riordan, Sum_of_Marc.

Four On Form

Heineken Cup Round 1 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting

In what will become a weekly feature of this blog, Four on Form looks at four Irish players who really hit form in the previous weekend’s action.

Last weekend saw wins for Munster and Ulster, a draw for Leinster and a narrow loss for Connacht in the first round of Heineken Cup action. Who were the Irish players who stood out in these matches?

Please feel free to comment at the bottom of this article letting me know who you think should have been included here or disagreeing with any of the selections. Any feedback at all would be appreciated.

Peter O’Mahony

Heineken Cup debutant O’Mahony is an obvious choice. He collected the Man of the Match award after Munster’s dramatic win over Northampton. The 22-year-old backrow was brilliantly aggressive and his workrate was never-ending. As early as the 3rd minute, O’Mahony was hounding Chris Ashton and Ben Foden into conceding the lineout which led to Varley’s opening try. Eighty minutes later, O’Mahony was still going, carrying several times during the 41 phases before O’Gara’s drop goal.

In between, he put himself about the pitch to great effect, with one important carry in the lead up to Howlett’s try. O’Mahony has already captained Munster several times this season in the PRO12 and is clearly a natural leader. He showcased his abrasive, determined side here and will hope to build on this showing. His reputation will continue to grow with performances like this and they will not go unnoticed by Declan Kidney and the Irish management team.

Sean Cronin

Cronin started Leinster’s visit to Montpellier on the bench, but had a telling impact when he was sprung in the 57th minute. With Leinster struggling to make real incisions into the Montpellier defence, Cronin made an immediate impact after taking an inside pass from Fergus McFadden. Cronin burst through a slight gap in the defence but was eventually tackled. This was only a taste of what was to come. Released by D’Arcy out wide, the hooker showed great pace to get outside Montpellier’s Gorgodze. After being dragged down by the Georgian’s tackle, but crucially not held, Cronin displayed determination to bounce back up on his feet and drive over for the try.

This was Cronin’s Heineken Cup debut, having played in the Amlin Challenge Cup with Connacht last season. Cronin will hope that his blistering 23-minute cameo will be enough for Joe Schmidt to install him ahead of Richardt Strauss for Sunday’s clash with Glasgow at the RDS. Cronin will be eager to prove that his set piece abilities match his undoubtedly dynamic contributions in possession.

Eoin Griffin

Yet another Heineken Cup debutant, outside centre Griffin had an impressive game for Connacht away to Harlequins. The Galway-native showcased his attacking threat when he cut through the ‘Quins line from a Mia Nikora pass and put Tiernan O’Halloran over for a try. Griffin has nailed down the 13 shirt for Connacht in recent times and his confidence grows with every game. The former Ireland U20 international combines good physical strength with fine handling skills and a calm head in defence.

Griffin displayed tremendous potential against Harlequins, carrying the ball well, showing a good burst of pace and being extremely solid in defence. He had no problems shackling the physically bigger Harlequins centre Jordan Turner-Hall. Griffin is another of the confident young players currently coming through within the Irish provinces. He will hope to continue his progress against Toulouse this Saturday.

Stephen Ferris

Ferris continued from where he left off at the World Cup during Ulster’s clash with Clermont. Ferris lifted the decibel levels at Ravenhill every time he carried ball. His physicality is always second to none and that was on full display last weekend. Ferris was a wrecking ball every time he had possession, knocking defenders backwards at every opportunity. He continued his position as every scrum half’s nightmare when he held up Morgan Parra, turning over the ball.

Ferris never took a backward step in a tough opening fixture for Ulster. Himself and opposite number Julian Bonnaire stepped up nose to nose just after half time, typifying this particular battle. Ferris made hard yards all day for his side and put himself about in defence too. He was replaced with four minutes left having made 12 tackles and made a huge contribution to his side’s 16-11 victory.

 

Photo courtesy:  Jukka Zitting

Boot of Evans Denies Connacht

Match Report

Harlequins 25-17 Connacht

11th November @ The Stoop

Connacht suffered disappointment on their Heineken Cup debut at the Stoop on Friday night, being denied a deserved losing bonus point in the dying stages of the match. Eric Elwood’s men scored two tries to Harlequins’ one but ultimately it was the boot of Nick Evans that denied them anything in this match. The New Zealander struck 20 of his side’s points.

Evans' 20 point haul denied Connacht

Evans kicked 20 points. Photo via David Howlett

As expected of any debutants, Connacht came bursting out of the blocks in this game, showing they were not afraid to run the ball from deep early on. However, it was ‘Quins who got on the scoreboard first, a penalty from Evans after Gavin Duffy was penalised for holding onto the ball in the tackle. Mia Nikora responded two minutes with a penalty of his own after Harlequins were punished for the same offence. Evans restored the lead with his second penalty for Conor O’Shea’s team when referee Jerome Garces spotted Connacht offside.

Connacht’s positive start to the game was rewarded in the 13th minute as Eoin Griffin sliced through the Harlequins defensive line after an intelligent decoy run by second-row Michael Swift. 22-year-old centre Griffin drew the last defender to send Tiernan O’Halloran over for Connacht’s first ever try in the Heineken Cup. Nikora added the extras to put Connacht 10-6 up.

Harlequins surged back at the Western province and began to put multiple phases together. Evans reduced the deficit to 10-9 when he slotted another penalty after his side went through 20 phases of play, Connacht doing well to deny a try with ‘Quins threatening from just metres out.

In the 31st minute, after ‘Quins again went through numerous phases, scrumhalf Karl Dickson sniped over from close-range for what would be the only try for the current Aviva Premiership leaders. Evans made no mistake with the conversion, 16-10 to Harlequins. The All Black hit another penalty soon after to extend this lead after a high tackle on Chris Robshaw.

Encouragingly, Connacht finished the half attacking in Harlequins territory and came out after half time re-invigorated. After ‘Quins had a try correctly disallowed, Connacht’s replacement outhalf, Niall O’Connor, missed his first effort at goal. A well-judged Gavin Duffy cross-kick then allowed Brian Tuohy to bundle Sam Smith into touch five metres from his own line, setting up promising field position for Connacht. After strong carries by Swift and John Muldoon amongst others, Tuohy floated a beautiful skip pass to Duffy who went over in the corner against his former club. O’Connor added the conversion.

Once again, Harlequins responded well to Connacht’s try. The TMO denied them a score in the 67th minute, Mike McCarthy doing just enough to deny Smith a score from Evans’ grubber. Evans then put his side 22-17 up after John Muldoon was caught offside. ‘Quins nearly put the game beyond doubt as Joe Marler broke from inside his own half, feeding Mike Brown, who in turn offloaded to Nick Easter. Easter’s attempted offload to Smith was knocked on and Connacht remained in losing bonus point territory.

From the resulting set piece, though, Connacht were penalized for hands in the scrum and Evans stepped up to slot what was the final score of the game. Connacht valiantly made one last effort but ‘Quins aggressive defence denied them any chance of a point.

So, in the end disappointment for Connacht. They showed cutting edge at times going forward and defended bravely. Ultimately, it was Harlequins’ ability to retain possession and go through multiple phases that stretched Connacht, forcing them into conceding the penalties that cost them here. Elwood and his players will take encouragement from this performance ahead of Toulouse’s visit to The Sportsground. This may be Connacht’s debut season at the top table of European club rugby but they showed that they are not here to merely make up the numbers.

Photo courtesy: David Howlett