Tag Archives: Kyle Tonetti

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.

RaboDirect PRO12 Round 10 Previews

Ulster vs. Scarlets @ Ravenhill

Friday 2nd November (19.05) on BBCNI

Rory Best returns at hooker. Photo via Alex Sanz

Ulster are the first province into action this weekend when they take on the in-form Scarlets at Ravenhill. Ulster are on a poor run in the PRO12, winning only one of their last six fixtures. However, their form at Ravenhill is reassuring. Brian McLaughlin’s side have lost only one of their last twelve games in Belfast. Meanwhile, the Scarlets are on an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions, seven wins and one draw away to the Ospreys. Last weekend, the Scarlets had a 22-12 victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons to move up to sixth in the table. Ulster lost 19-9 to Glasgow to drop to eighth.

The Scarlets are missing 8 of their key players who are in camp with Wales ahead of the international clash with Australia. There are still familiar names in their side with Stephen Jones captaining at outhalf and strong-running Scot Sean Lamont on the wing. New signing Viliame Iongi starts on the other wing. The pacy utility back featured for Tonga at the recent World Cup. Welsh international Rob McCusker starts at openside while Fiji captain Deacon Manu lines up at tighthead. Elsewhere, the Scarlets Head of Rugby, Nigel Davies, has put his trust in youth with the likes of Daniel Evens, Nick Reynolds, Gareth Davies and Mat Gilbert all under the age of 23.

Ulster are boosted by the return of their big-name players. Stephen Ferris, Rory Best, Chris Henry and Craig Gilroy all return after being rested last weekend. New Zealand international John Afoa has returned from a trip home and comes in at tighthead. Ruan Pienaar is back in the squad for the first time since injuring a hamstring when Ulster travelled to the Scarlets in October. Adam D’Arcy holds onto the fullback slot as Simon Danielli drops out of the match-day squad.

These sides met as recently as the 29th of October, when the Scarlets came out on top with a 24-17 win at Parc y Scarlets. The line-ups were similar to this weekend’s, but crucially Ulster were without Ferris and Best. The Scarlets haven’t won in Ireland since beating Connacht in January 2009. This is a vital match for Ulster’s season as they aim to make a move back up the PRO12 table. For that reason, expect an improved Ulster performance and a win to go with it.

Connacht vs. Treviso @ The Sportsground

Friday 2nd November (19.30) 

Brendan Williams is on the wing for Treviso. Photo via Alex Sanz

Connacht have now gone seven matches without a win in all competitions following their 17-9 loss to the Ospreys last Saturday. It was late September the last time Eric Elwood’s men enjoyed a win and they need to arrest this run of form this weekend. Treviso certainly don’t present an easy opportunity to get that elusive win, as they have been increasingly impressive this season, securing a draw with the Ospreys and running Leinster close in their two most recent fixtures. Treviso sit seventh in the league table, two places above Connacht, but only four points separate the sides.

After last weekend’s poor showing against the Ospreys, Elwood has made several changes in a bid to freshen his team. Ethienne Reynecke and Ronan Loughney come into the front row while Michael Swift comes into the second-row. David Gannon drops back to blindside. There’s a new half-back partnership with Frank Murphy and Niall O’Connor given the chance to impress. With Eoin Griffin injured, recent signing Kyle Tonetti comes into the centre and will hope to inject some creativity into the Connacht backline. Out wide, Mark McCrea starts on the right wing.

For Treviso, a big, experienced pack includes Italian internationals Michele Rizzo, Franco Sbaraglini, Ignacio Rouyet, Manoa Vosawai and Paul Derbyshire. Scrumhalf Fabio Semenzato is Italy’s first-choice 9 and can be a tricky customer. Kris Burton is dropped after missing three important kicks against Leinster last weekend, so South African Willem de Waal comes in at outhalf. The 34-year-old Ezio Galon comes into the centre and Connacht’s Tonetti should look to use his pace against the ex-Italy international.

This is a Treviso side who are starting to believe in themselves as they become more and more accustomed to the PRO12 league. The days of an easy win against this Italian team are long gone. Still, with home advantage, their strong desire to end their long losing streak, and a fresh-looking team, Connacht should end their losing streak this weekend.

Leinster vs. Cardiff Blues @ The RDS

Friday 2nd November (20.05) on TG4

McFadden starts at inside centre. Photo via M+MD

Leinster are the third Irish province in action on Friday night as they host the Cardiff Blues at the RDS. Leinster had a hard-earned 30-20 win over Treviso last weekend, while the Blues ran riot in the second half to beat Aironi 38-0. Cardiff have won their last four, including Heineken Cup wins over Racing Metro and London Irish. Leinster also come into this tie in great form, unbeaten in eight games. Cardiff have been greatly weakened by international call-ups for Wales’ match with Australia on Saturday.

Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny are amongst the eight Blues players away with the Wales squad. Despite those losses, the Blues can still name Wales internationals outhalf Chris Czekaj, Tom James, John Yapp, Richie Rees and Ceri Sweeney in their side. The New Zealand-capped Xavier Rush starts at No.8 while Paul Tito captains their side from second-row. Centre Casey Lualala has been capped by the All Blacks too and can be a real threat when he’s in the mood.

For Leinster, Isa Nacewa returns at fullback. David Kearney comes in on the right wing, meaning Fergus McFadden moves to inside centre. Eoin O’Malley and Fionn Carr keep their places in the backline. Ian Madigan is retained at outhalf after a confident showing against Treviso. Isaac Boss replaces Eoin Reddan at scrumhalf. In the front row, Richardt Strauss and Nathan White are chosen alongside Cian Healy. Steven Sykes is given a chance to impress beside captain Leo Cullen in the second-row. Sean O’Brien has been selected at No.8 and he is joined in the back-row by Rhys Ruddock and Shane Jennings. Joe Schmidt has also named a strong bench including Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney and Mike Ross.

It’s a formidable-looking Leinster squad on paper. With Cardiff missing so many of their stars Leinster are odds-on favourites for a win at the RDS. Schmidt will hope Munster can do him a favour by beating the Ospreys on Saturday. With a win of their own, that should leave Leinster sitting pretty with the outright lead of the PRO12.

Ospreys vs. Munster @ Liberty Stadium 

Saturday 3rd November (18.30) on RTE2

Gough and Bennett add experience to the Ospreys pack. Photo via Chris Jobling

Munster travel to the table-topping Ospreys for a Saturday evening kick-off. The Ospreys have only lost one match in their nine PRO12 fixtures so far. That loss came at the end of October away to Glasgow. Since then, the Ospreys have won two of their four matches, drawing the other two. Last time out, the Ospreys had a 17-6 win over a poor Connacht side. As with the other Welsh sides this weekend, the Ospreys are weakened by the poorly-scheduled international test against Australia.

The Ospreys have six players in that Welsh match-day squad, including hooker Huw Bennett and outhalf Dan Biggar. Shane Williams plays his last game for Wales before retiring from international rugby. Despite these losses, the Ospreys can still field a decent team. Munster’s backline will be well aware of the threat Tommy Bowe poses. Richard Fussell on the opposite wing can be dangerous on the ball too. Welsh international Andrew Bishop starts in midfield, while 19-year-old outhalf Matthew Morgan is a real prodigy. 22-year-old scrumhalf Rhys Webb is another young player with fantastic potential.

In the front row, 57-times capped Duncan Jones and Richard Hibbard are ex-internationals. Jonathan Thomas and the combative Ian Gough have 131 Welsh caps between them in the second-row. Tom Smith captains the Ospreys from the back-row, where he is joined by Joe Bearman and James King.

For Munster, there is an exciting blend of youth and players on form. Denis Hurley keeps his place at fullback, as does Simon Zebo on the wing. Doug Howlett makes up the  back-three. Will Chambers and Danny Barnes are both retained in midfield. The half-backs are also unchanged, Ian Keatley and Tomas O’Leary.

In the pack, BJ Botha returns and is joined in the front-row by Damien Varley and Marcus Horan. Donnacha O’Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan make up the second-row. In a completely new back-row, Denis Leamy and Niall Ronan are alongside captain Peter O’Mahony. It is a strong Munster team and clearly Tony McGahan is targeting this opportunity to move ahead of the weakened Ospreys. Even without their front-line international players, the Ospreys are still a formidable proposition. However, Munster don’t often miss opportunities like this one. An away win for Munster should be the outcome.

Photos courtesy:  Alex Sanz, M+MD, Chris Jobling