Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Wild West
Connnacht's fortress breached as Edinburgh grind out win in Galway
Pat Lam’s men suffered their first home defeat of the season against the Scots.

Connacht 13

Edinburgh 16

CONNACHT’S PROUD HOME record suffered its first blemish of the season as Alan Solomons’ dogged Edinburgh secured a gritty 16-13 victory on a miserable evening at the Sportsground.

Ross Ford and Roddy Grant tackle Kieran Marmion James Crombie / INPHO Kieran Marmion is wrapped up by the willing Edinburgh defence. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

One of the primary aims for Pat Lam and his squad this season has been to ensure their Galway ground is a fortress, but intermittent set-piece issues for Connacht and Edinburgh’s resilience saw the ramparts broken down.

On a wet and windy evening, Connacht will rue their inability to get on the scoreboard in the second half, as they played into an unpredicatable and draining wind.

Eight-placed Edinburgh move to within five points of Connacht in the Guinness Pro12 table after this success in what was billed as a crucial game in the battle for European spots pre-match.

A late injury to dynamic centre Bundee Aki will be further cause for concern on a disappointing night for Lam’s Champions Cup hopefuls.

Connacht enjoyed encouraging territory in the opening exchanges, as Edinburgh halfbacks Greig Tonks and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne struggled with their kicking game against the strong wind.

Miah Nikora saw his first penalty attempt bounce back off the woodwork in the ninth minute, following a typically aggressive carry from the powerful Aki. But Solomons’ side were game and damagingly cut through the Connacht defence five minutes later.

Robbie Henshaw and Greig Tonks James Crombie / INPHO Robbie Henshaw looks to beat Edinburgh's Greig Tonks. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The slippery Dougie Fife scythed outside Willie Faloon’s poor tackle attempt inside the Connacht 22, leading to a penalty that Hidalgo-Clyne quick tapped. A phase later, David Denton crashed over from close-range off a simple short pass.

Too soft from Lam’s defence, with the Edinburgh scrum-half converting for a 7-0 lead. Nikora shortened the visitors’ lead with 24 minutes on the clock, however, punishing Anton Bresler for not rolling away.

Kieran Marmion was lively again for Connacht, but the home side’s attack was restricted to one-off runners outside the Ireland international. Fife created another attacking chance down the left for Edinburgh, an opportunity spoiled by his teammates going off their feet at a ruck in the Connacht 22.

Ross Ford was in strong form for the Scots, throwing well and carrying strongly, while Hidalgo-Clyne’s influence steadily grew throughout.

As the final 10 minutes of the first half rolled around though, Connacht found a new gust of energy, threatening first through Muldoon wide on the left. The back row was tackled into touch, but Lam’s men came back almost immediately.

Henshaw and Aki combined to smash Phil Burleigh in midfield, winning a penalty at the subsequent ruck and Nikora found the corner. Connacht hammered at the Edinburgh line, drawing Ben Toolis into getting himself sin binned for failing to release after the tackle.

Connacht could have opted for an easy three points, but backed their scrum under the posts. Denis Buckley and Rodney Ah You got a powerful shove going, and referee Leighton Hodges didn’t hesitate for a second when Edinburgh attempted to drag it down.

Penalty try, converted by Nikora.

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Miah Nikora kicks a penalty James Crombie / INPHO Nikora slots a kick with the assitance of Darragh Leader. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Right on the stroke of the break, the increasingly ill-discipline Scots infringed again and Nikora slotted a 30-metre penalty in the testing conditions for a 13-7 half-time lead.

It was Connacht’s discipline that proved the issue after the interval, allowing Hidalgo-Clyne to kick two confident penalties before the 50-minute mark, the second against Ah You at the scrum.

The Edinburgh nine then slotted a gorgeous grubber in behind the Connacht defence from a scrum 35 metres out, with Fife winning the race to the ball. The 24-year-old wing couldn’t gather as he slid over the tryline though, letting Lam’s side off the hook.

Connacht attempted to run the ball out from behind their own line, were turned over and came offside to concede another penalty. This time, Hidalgo-Clyne was wide to the left to leave it finely poised at 13-13 heading into the decisive final act.

It was the Edinburgh scrum-half who slotted the game-winning penalty with 10 minutes remaining, keeping his cool from 40 metres out.

Still, Connacht had time to manufacture a score, but a yellow card to replacement prop Finlay Bealham didn’t help the cause, nor did an injury to Aki with three minutes left. Lam had already emptied his bench at that stage, meaning Connacht fought in vain with only 13 men.

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Penalty try

Conversions: Miah Nikora [1 from 1]

Penalties: Miah Nikora [2 from 3]

Edinburgh scorers:

Tries: David Denton

Conversions: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne [1 from 1]

Penalties: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne [3 from 4]

CONNACHT: Mils Muliaina (Dave McSharry ’64); Darragh Leader, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Danie Poolman; Miah Nikora (Jack Carty ’54), Kieran Marmion (John Cooney ’56); Denis Buckley (Ronan Loughney ’64), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan ’66), Rodney Ah You (Finlay Bealham ’50); Quinn Roux (Ultan Dillane ’64), Aly Muldowney; John Muldoon (capt.), Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon (George Naoupu ’56).

EDINBURGH: Jack Cuthbert; Dougie Fife, Matt Scott, Phil Burleigh, Tim Visser; Greig Tonks, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford (capt.) (Neil Cochrane ’63), WP Nel; Anton Bresler (Fraser McKenzie ’77), Ben Toolis (yellow card ’38 – ’48); Roddy Grant, Hamish Watson, David Denton.

Replacements not used: Rory Sutherland, John Andress, Tomas Leonardi, Sean Kennedy, Jade Te Rure, Andries Strauss.

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