CONNACHT’S 2016 RISING moved on to a new level on Easter weekend when they scored a dramatic win over Leinster in a pulsating contest at the Sportsground.
The dreadful weather ensured that this was always going to be a war of attrition but Pat Lam has instilled plenty of fighting quality in this Connacht squad.
Connacht never trailed but had to withstand enormous pressure in the final moments as Leinster came in search of a winner.
But for the second season in a row they left without scoring a try and suffering a one-point defeat.
The strong wind and rain was always going to have a major impact on the game, with Leinster winning the toss and opting to play against the gale.
It proved to be a smart move as they only trailed 7-0 at the break, having soaked up enormous pressure in the opening half.
Connacht only made minimal use of the boot with the wind, opting to try run it as often as possible.
But they found it difficult to find openings in a disciplined Leinster defence who only conceded one penalty against the wind.
And that was from 45 metres with AJ MacGinty never getting hold of his kick after 31 minutes as he tried to negotiate the elements.
By then Connacht’s pressure had yielded the opening score when scrum-half Kieran Marmion, who scored the only try of the corresponding game which Connacht won 10-9 last year, got over after a good move after 14 minutes.
Marmion started the move and the fired-up Bundee Aki and Tiernan O’Halloran were also involved before Niya Adeolokun chipped down the right and Marmion beat his counterpart Luke McGrath to get the touchdown.
MacGinty did well to land the conversion to make it 7-0 but they had to be content with that advantage at the interval.
Connacht lost tighthead Nathan White to injury after just six minutes and was replaced by Finlay Bealham, who made his Irish debut in the Six Nations.
It is believed to be the first time ever that Connacht have replaced a current international player with another during a game.
The attritional nature of the contest continued after the interval but it didn’t take Leinster long to reduce the deficit with Ian Madigan converting a penalty from 30 metres less than two minutes after the restart.
One of the biggest cheers of the day greeted Robbie Henshaw’s introduction after 48 minutes and it was no coincidence that Connacht got go-forward ball after his arrival.
But they failed to make the most of a good chance with a penalty to the right corner after Adeolokun was tackled high by Isa Nacewa, but Aly Muldowney was unable to gather Tom McCartney’s throw and Leinster cleared their lines.
The handling errors continued in the difficult conditions with Connacht chalking up 13 to Leinster’s seven by the hour mark.
Madigan cut the gap to the minimum going into the final quarter when he landed a penalty from 30 metres after Marmion was penalised for offside as he tried to disrupt a Leinster scrum.
Leinster, having emptied most of their international laden bench, piled on the pressure in the closing minutes.
But Connacht held them at bay through a succession of five-metre scrums, turning over the ball a metre from their own line in the final play before the capacity crowd of 7,300 erupted on the full-time whistle as Connacht extended their lead at the top of the table.
Try: Kieran Marmion
Conversion: AJ MacGinty
Penalties: Ian Madigan (2)
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran (Caolin Blade ’66-’71); Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb (Robbie Henshaw ’48), Matt Healy; AJ MacGinty (Shane O’Leary ’61), Kieran Marmion (Blade 74); Denis Buckley (Ronan Loughney ’70), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan ’70), Nathan White (Finlay Bealham ’6); Quinn Roux (Andrew Browne ’50), Aly Muldowney; Sean O’Brien (James Connolly ’66), Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon.
Leinster: Isa Nacewa; Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Ben Te’o, Luke Fitzgerald (Zane Kirchner ’38); Ian Madigan, Luke McGrath (Eoin Reddan ’61); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath ’47), Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin ’50), Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross ’61); Ross Molony, Hayden Triggs (Devin Toner ’61); Dominic Ryan, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock (Jamie Heaslip ’66).
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)