Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
# feel the blues
Blunt first half paves way for late suffering as Cardiff win in Galway
Darragh Leader’s try and brilliant conversion in the second half looked set to give Connacht a hard-fought win until Willis Halaholo popped up.

Connacht 15

Cardiff Blues 17

Sean Farrell reports from the Sportsground

TRIES AT THE tail end of either half from Willis Halaholo left the Sportsground silently contemplating a third defeat of the season.

Eoin McKeon after the game James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Just before the centre touched down for the second time, it looked like Kieran Keane’s men had tidied up their act just enough to sneak the home win as Darragh Leader rounded off an excellent 60th minute try and also nervelessly converted into the teeth of a strong wind after Shane Delahunt gave the Westerners a late lead.

Instead, Connacht will be left to contemplate a first half riddled with errors and indiscipline.

The best of Connacht’s first 40 came in the opening 10 minutes as they mounted pressure in the Blues 22 and showed a sense of creativity with grubber kicks. Too often though, their possessions were cut short by a penalty count that would reach seven by the half-time whistle. An 11th minute Craig Ronaldson penalty was all the Westerners could muster with the strong wind backing them and keeping the Blues penned in for long stretches.

The mood in Galway was summed up in the 25th minute when Bundee Aki managed to counter ruck his way into possession. Ultan Dillane attempted to get a quick pass away, but was off balance so Denis Buckley had to contend with a ball fizzed at his knees. He knocked on and the groans rippled around the 4,659 in the ground.

Referee Marius Mitrea would take the brunt of the ire from the home fans. Never more so than when he issued a yellow card to captain John Muldoon as he got tangled and took out Nick Williams as the big man awaited an offload from the counter-attacking Josh Navidi.

The 32nd minute punishment would mean Connacht would end the half down on numbers and the scoreboard was soon tilted in the Blues’ favour too as Llpyd Williams popped a pass to WIllis Halaholo on a scything run past Eoghan Masterson and he left Darragh Leader on the floor with a gorgeous step to go under the posts to leave the score 3 – 7 at the interval.

Jarrod Evans kicks the winning conversion James Crombie / INPHO Jarrod Evans kicks the winning conversion. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

With the strength of the wind coming from the College Road end, it was an ominous outcome for Connacht who had to turn and face the wind that helped them rake in so much yardage with the boot.

Yet, with the wind in their face, they managed to grit their teeth and hits from Dillane and injections of tempo from Leader and Stacey Ili managed to put the Blues on the back foot.

Debutant out-half Andrew Deegan passed smoothly all day and his fluency was put to good use before the hour as Connacht strung 30 phases of pressure together before Leader finished off in the left corner.

The Blues soon put themselves back in front with a huge Steve Shingler penalty to give them an 8 – 10 buffer. A small margin that would look ever smaller as the hosts mounted pressure that brought a TMO decision after a Tom Farrell touchdown – ruled out for Eoin McKeon’s block –  and ultimately a try for Delahunt off an excellent maul.

Ultan Dillane tackled by Rey Lee-Lo James Crombie / INPHO Ultan Dillane tackled by Rey Lee-Lo. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The excellence of Leader’s conversion brought the Sportsground noise to its height and it felt like they would celebrate a hard-won victory until Halaholo popped up with two minutes remaining to turn the volume all the way down before Jarrod Evans stroked over a gorgeous winning conversion.

Jarrod Evans kicks the winning conversion James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The double disappointment for Connacht is that Cardiff Blues are a pool rival and this match allowed them to break their winless start to this season and pull within two points of the western province in Conference A of the pro14.



Tries: D Leader, S Delahunt

Conversions: A Deegan (0/1) D Leader (1/1)

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Penalties: C Ronaldson (1/1)

Cardiff Blues

Tries: W Halaholo (2)

Conversions: S Shingler (1/1) J Evans (1/1)

Penalties: S Shingler (1/1)

Connacht Rugby: Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson (Tom Farrell ’51), Rory Scholes (Stacey Ili ’40), Andrew Deegan, Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade ’67), Denis Buckley (Denis Coulson ’72), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt ’67), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey ’64), Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (Gavin Thornbury ’65), Eoghan Masterson (Eoin McKeon ’64), Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon

Cardiff Blues: Rhun Williams (Mathew Morgan ’65); Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Tom James; Steve Shingler (Jarrod Evans ’65), Lloyd Williams (Tomos Williams ’65); Brad Thyer Corey Domachowski ’65), Kristian Dacey (Ethan Lewis ’60), Taufa’ao Filise (Kieran Assiratti ’45), Seb Davies, Damian Welch, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams Olly Robinson ’50).

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