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Connacht destroy the Bulls with performance filled with passion and panache

Connacht got a bonus point win over the Bulls at the Sportsground tonight in the second game of this URC season.

Tom Daly celebrates with Tom Farrell.
Tom Daly celebrates with Tom Farrell.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

CONNACHT 34

BULLS 7

Garry Doyle at the Sportsground

HERE IN GALWAY’S Sportsground, normality made a welcome comeback. After a season where all you could hear from the terraces were echoes, there was something stirring about having a crowd back in the place.

The shouts, the cries, the songs, they all added up to create a special atmosphere. And that was just the warm-up.

The game itself drew you in early and never allowed you look away. It was dramatic, error-ridden at times, but compelling, mainly because there was a knock-out feel to proceedings, neither team feeling they could afford a second successive defeat after opening-day losses.

And while you wouldn’t have given a prayer for Connacht’s chances early on – the Bulls scoring with their first attack – after that nervy opening, they found a way into the game and ultimately found a way to win it.

Five tries – a slalom effort from winger, Mack Hansen, being the pick of them – grabbed the headlines. But there was much more to it than that. The grit, the spirit to recover from their terrible start, the calmness of Dave Heffernan to correct an early line-out glitch, they were all factors.

So was the brilliance of some individual performances. Tiernan O’Halloran looks like the 2016 version of Tiernan O’Halloran again; Heffernan was immense around the park, the midfield pairing of Tom Farrell and Tom Daly were outstanding while Cian Prendergast has added his name to the lengthy queue of talented flankers seeking Andy Farrell’s attention.

mack-hansen-on-his-way-to-scoring-a-try Hansen scores his try. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

As for the Bulls, well what can you say? They impressed during the warm-up. They impressed in the opening 10 minutes.

Trouble is – a game of rugby lasts 80.

Still, when there was 1 minute, 42 seconds on the clock, no one was mocking them then.

By this stage, the Bulls had scored, Zak Burger with the opportunist break, out-half Johan Goosen arriving in support; Harold Vorster carrying close to the line; Lizo Gpoboka getting across it.

Goosen converted and the gasps and murmurs which followed those moments told you everything you needed to know. This Connacht crowd were worried.

They didn’t need to be. Even allowing for some basic errors, Jack Carty kicked out on the full on four minutes; Heffernan’s opening throw didn’t find its intended target; Connacht were doing certain things well.

Farrell, for a start, was having a great game; Prendergast an even better one.

Those Bulls may have started brightly, their line-out functioning well, their scrum solid, their defence organised. But on 11 minutes they were on the back foot, relying on front-rower, Joe van Zyl, to make a crucial steal after John Porch had put Connacht deep in Bulls territory.

It didn’t matter. Within a minute, Connacht were level, Heffernan and Prendergast establishing a fine rhythm at the set-piece, Prendergast’s take allowing Connacht set up their maul, before Kieran Marmion realised there were gaps to exploit elsewhere.

They did just that, Daly and Farrell showing magic in their fingertips to set up Carty, who had looped around the back to enter the line at the key stage and provide O’Halloran with the easiest of finishes. Carty’s conversion made it 7-7.

mack-hansen-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-teammates Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

His penalty, just over 20 minutes later, made it 10-7 but by then Connacht were cursing a couple of marginal errors, Daly’s delivery to Porch ruled forward, after a thrilling rat-a-tat-tat exchange of passes between Daly, Carty and Porch led to the disallowed try.

A further chance, created by Prendergast’s take, Marmion’s break and Heffernan’s carry brought them to the line, Prendergast just stopped inches short of it. In the end, they left with three points, Carty kicking a penalty after the Bulls were caught offside. 10-7, Connacht.

It would get better after the break. For starters, on 44 minutes, there was the first Daly try, scored when Connacht had an option to kick a penalty, but when they trusted their judgement and went for glory. It paid off, Marmion again making the smart decision to release his backs, rather than just leaving the forwards to do an endless amount of grunt work. Daly, eventually, showed clever feet as well as brute strength to get across. Carty converted and Connacht had a 17-7 lead.

Soon the gap would be up to 15, Hansen scoring the try of his life, when he collected a Garryowen in his own half, before he weaved his way in between five Bulls defenders, pretending to go right when his intention was to drift left before he changed direction once more, to score.

There and then, you could sense the self-pity kicking into the Bulls. The rain fell, the pressure from Connacht remained full-on. Farrell got the try his performance deserved around eight minutes from time and then Daly rounded things off with a fifth try in the closing minute.

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And with that, the crowd roared its raucous approval and memories of lockdowns and empty stadiums seemed a million miles away.

Connacht

Tries: O’Halloran, Daly 2, Hansen, Farrell

Conversion: Carty (3/5)

Penalty: Carty (1/1)

Bulls

Tries: Lizo Gqoboka

Conversions: Goosen (1/1)

CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Jordan Duggan (rep: Matthew Burke ’61), Dave Heffernan (rep: Shane Delahunt ’65), Finlay Bealham (rep:Jack Aungier ’63); Oisin Dowling (Leva Fifita 52), Ultan Dillane; Cian Prendergast (Sam Arnold ’69), Jarrad Butler (Conor Oliver ’60), Abraham Papali’i (Paul Boyle ’45).

Replacements: Caolin Blade

BULLS: Ruan Combrinck; Cornal Hendricks, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Stravino Jacobs (Steadman Gans ’72); Johan Goosen (Chris Smith ’61), Zak Burger (rep: Embrose Papier ‘55); Lizo Gqoboka (rep: Simphiwe Matanzima ‘55), Joe van Zyl (rep: Bismarck du Plessis ’50), Jacques van Rooyen (rep: Mornay Smith ’55); Walt Steenkamp (Janko Swanepoel 63), Ruan Nortje; Marcell Coetzee (captain), Arno Botha, Elrigh Louw (Jacques du Plessis ’50).

Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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