Tag Archives: Gavin Duffy

Heineken Cup Round-Up

Photo via Ben Sutherland

Ulster 31-10 Aironi

Friday 9th December @ Ravenhill

Ulster did exactly what was needed as they ran in five tries to secure five points against Aironi in Pool 4. Stephen Ferris, Adam D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson scored the tries while Ian Humphreys added three conversions in another erratic kicking display. Ferris was Man of the Match again for Ulster. The Ireland flanker is in scintillating form at the moment with three tries in two matches.

Following this win, Ulster sit second in Pool 4. They will need another bonus point win next weekend when they travel to Italy for the return fixture with Aironi. While they did what was required at Ravenhill on Friday night, Ulster are aware that they will need to improve to get the five points at Stadio Luigi Zaffanella. Ulster are still well in contention in this pool and even if they don’t win the group they will be hopeful of going through to the quarter-finals as one of the best runners-up.

Here’s Pool 4 at the half-way stage:

Here’s footage of the Ulster tries, excluding the first from Ferris:

Connacht 10-14 Gloucester

Saturday 10th December @ The Sportsground

Connacht extended their losing streak to 9 games with this home loss to Gloucester in Pool 6. Read the full match report here. This game was certainly there for the taking for Eric Elwood’s side. Once again, errors at crucial times in the game cost Connacht as they came up short. An outstanding, inspirational display from ex-Ireland flanker John Muldoon was not matched by others.

Connacht travel to Gloucester next weekend for the return fixture and the fear now is that this run of losses will extend into double figures. It will take a mighty effort for the province to record what would be their first ever Heineken Cup win. Captain Gavin Duffy is aware of the scale of the challenge but remains hopeful that Connacht can end their losing streak.

Connacht are rock-bottom of Pool 6, and only Aironi have less points in the Heineken Cup after three matches. The potential to win games is there for Connacht. If they can start to take more of the chances they create and cut out just a portion of the errors they are making then a win will come.

Here’s a look at Pool 6 after three matches:

Scarlets 14-17 Munster

Saturday 10th December @ Parc y Scarlets

Munster secured their third win from three in Pool 1 with a hard-earned win away to the Scarlets. You can read the full match report here. This win leaves Munster sitting top of the pool and well-positioned to go on and claim a home quarter-final. The Scarlets come to Thomond Park in the return fixture next weekend.

Munster have home fixtures with the Scarlets and Castres and a visit to Northampton still to negotiate. It’s hard to see Munster losing in Thomond Park, and they are favourites to win the two home matches. The trip to Franklin Gardens will be a tough test, despite the fact that the Saints are now out of reckoning and and will presumably focus on the Aviva Premiership.

After the disappointment of failure to progress from the group stages in last year’s Heineken Cup, Munster look well-placed for a return to their traditional place in the knock-out stages of the tournament. The likes of O’Gara and O’Connell will make sure the squad take nothing for granted but will also be confident of topping the group.

Here’s how Pool 1 looks at the half-way stage:

Bath 13-18 Leinster 

Sunday 11th December @ The Rec

Jonathan Sexton’s accuracy from the tee was enough for Leinster to claim a valuable away win in Pool 3. The Irish province butchered a number of good try-scoring chances, but still came away from The Rec with a victory after Sexton kicked two late penalties to win the game. England international wing Matt Banahan scored the only try of the game for Bath. The home team enjoyed the majority of possession in the first half, but Leinster’s defence was solid.

Following yesterday’s game, Schmidt has urged his team to be more clinical in finishing the opportunities they create. Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien all made clean line breaks for Leinster but the defending champions failed to convert them into tries. Still, a win away from home in the Heineken Cup is a positive outcome, no matter how it is achieved.

Leinster are now top of the pool with two home games to come, as well as a trip to Glasgow. Joe Schmidt’s side should go on and top the group now for a home quarter-final. Glasgow look like Leinster’s biggest rivals for that top spot but the Scottish side still face trips to Montpellier and Bath. Once again, the senior members of Leinster’s squad will ensure complacency does no take root, but the Leinster squad is full of confidence and players in form.

Here’s how Pool 3 shapes up at the half-way point:

Here’s the highlights from the Leinster vs. Bath game:

Pool tables courtesy of ESPN Scrum.

Photo courtesy : Ben Sutherland

Connacht Miss Opportunity to End Losing-Streak

Match Report – Heineken Cup

Connacht 10-14 Gloucester

10th December @ The Sportsground

Burns kicked three penalties in Gloucester's win. Photo via Pierre-Selim

Muldoon won another turnover penalty as Gloucester ran the clock down. O’Connor produced a long touch-finder up to the half-way line. With the clock ticking past the 80 minute mark, could Connacht come up with the last-gasp try that would end their torrid losing-streak? As Flavin set himself to throw, the rain suddenly started to fall, heavily. The black clouds had rolled in over the Sportsground as Freddie Burns put Gloucester 14-10 up with eight minutes left. Now, they burst all over Connacht as they tried in vain to pierce the Cherry and Whites’ defence. This nine match losing-streak is a black cloud over Connacht rugby at the moment and is threatening to break their season.

Connacht made a promising start as they looked for their first ever Heineken Cup win. An early turnover by Ethienne Reynecke led to Mark McCrea’s kick up the right being collected by Frank Murphy. With an overlap out to the left, Connacht butchered the opportunity when Niall O’Connor and a forward runner collided. Soon after, Dave McSharry bounced off Burns’ tackle and Connacht threatened out wide, but Kyle Tonetti’s offload to Gavin Duffy was knocked-on. Still, it was an encouraging start from Eric Elwood’s charges.

Burns was on target with his first penalty effort, from 45 metres out after Connacht were caught offside. The former England U20 outhalf had a strong wind behind him and easily cleared the posts. O’Connor had a chance to respond for Connacht when Dario Chistolini dropped his bind at a scrum. However, the Irish Wolfhounds international connected poorly with his strike and pushed the kickable penalty wide.

Burns’ next effort was from inside his own half and despite having the distance again, he was narrowly wide with the penalty. He made amends for that miss when Connacht were pinged for slowing the ball down after Burns had burst into their 22. Five minutes later, Burns had another chance from long distance after Ray Ofisa was pinged for hands in the ruck. The Gloucester outhalf hit the post to let Connacht off the hook as their penalty count continued to rise.

A lack of accuracy affected Connacht all afternoon and that was summed up in one passage of play on the 25 minute mark. Jim Hamilton gave away a penalty for a shove on Mike McCarthy and O’Connor opted to go for the corner. However, the outhalf’s kick failed to find the safety of touch and Olly Morgan kicked out of his 22. At the ensuing lineout, Connacht knocked on under no pressure, allowing Gloucester to come back downfield, eventually coming away with a try.

Captain Luke Narraway, Charlie Sharples and James Simpson-Daniel all made ground for the Cherry and Whites before scrumhalf Rory Lawson switched play back to the blindside and Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu offloaded intelligently in the tackle for Simpson-Daniel to finish from just a metre out on the left-hand touchline. Burns pulled his conversion to the left of the posts to leave the score 11-0 in the away team’s favour.

Connacht bounced back within minutes as O’Connor launched a huge garryowen. Lawson’s attempted catch went loose and captain Duffy was on to the bouncing ball in a flash. He stepped the tackle of fullback Morgan to dive over just to the left of the uprights. O’Connor added the simple conversion and Connacht were back to 11-7.

That score gave Connacht a visible lift as Muldoon broke from the restart and then McSharry made big yards with a bustling carry. McCrea then measured a beautiful kick into touch inside Gloucester’s 22 and suddenly it was Connacht taking the game to the visitors. McCarthy pinched Scott Lawson’s throw to the lineout and Connacht shifted the ball wide. The move broke down as McSharry knocked on but at least Connacht were showing the ability to threaten the Gloucester defence.

The half almost finished with a second Gloucester try as Henry Trinder dinked a kick over the Connacht defence. Sharples got to the bouncing ball behind Connacht’s try line, but the TMO ruled that he had touched the ball down on the dead ball line. Connacht went in at the break trailing by four points but with a strong wind behind them in the second half they could expect to put pressure on Gloucester.

The Gloucester pack, pictured in action against Toulouse, got on top in the second-half. Photo via Pierre-Selim

A positive start by Connacht after half-time led to O’Connor reducing the deficit with a penalty on the 22, slightly to the right of the posts. But the western province failed to build on that score as Gloucester got firmly on top in a low-scoring second-half. Gloucester enjoyed a period of sustained territory as they repeatedly went to their maul in an effort to grind down the Connacht resistance. With John Muldoon to the fore, Connacht repelled the Gloucester efforts but each time they got themselves into good positions, their lack of accuracy in basic skills let them down.

First, neat interplay between Tonetti and replacement Fetu’u Vainikolo was spoiled by a spilled ball. Then a Vainikolo knock-on from a Gloucester clearance allowed the Aviva Premiership side back into the Connacht half. Muldoon won a fantastic turnover to end that Gloucester attack and O’Connor gave Connacht good field position. Substitute hooker Adrian Flavin hit his man from the lineout and the Connacht maul went forward. But Eoin McKeon took the ball on and was turned over as he became isolated. Once again, a promising position wasted for Connacht.

When referee Neil Paterson caught Connacht offside under their own posts, Burns gave Gloucester a four-point lead with his third successful penalty. With the score out to 14-10, it meant Connacht would have to come up with a try to avoid their ninth defeat in a row. Muldoon’s turnover gave them one last chance but in truth it never looked likely.

Connacht now have to travel to Gloucester for the return leg of this double-header next weekend. They simply have to cut down on the amount of errors they are making, both individual and collective, if they are to end this awful streak before it comes to double figures. Unsuccessful lineouts, knock-ons, missed kicks and lack of composure in promising positions are killing Connacht. Apart from the 36-10 loss to Toulouse, Connacht are not losing these matches by big margins. If they can cut out even some of the errors then these margins will start to turn in their favour. That didn’t happen here and Connacht missed out on a good chance to finally record a win.

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