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The controversial winning score.
The controversial winning score.

Connacht stunned by last-minute score as Leicester sneak controversial win

Connacht lost 29-28 to Leicester in the Champions Cup today.
Jan 15th 2022, 5:31 PM 35,882 56

CONNACHT 28

LEICESTER 29

Garry Doyle reports from the Sportsground

IT TOOK 56 minutes for Connacht to build the dream and then as many seconds for Leicester to destroy it. After their last quarter charge came their last minute winner, a score surrounded in controversy, as replacement wing, Hosea Saumaki, squeezed across the line.

In doing so, his foot appeared to be in touch. Subsequent replays proved that it wasn’t and to be fair to referee, Mathieu Raynal, he quizzed his TMO about the incident before allowing the try to stand.

Victory then to Leicester, this year’s poster boys of the English Premiership, a team who came to Galway with big reputations and who travel home with five points, a place in the last 16 and possibly a new found respect for Connacht.

While that’s all well and good, it is results that Andy Friend really wants. A win here would have pretty much left Connacht in the next round. As it is, two bonus points still leave them with a chance of getting there. A win over Stade Francais next weekend will be enough. Perhaps a losing bonus point might even do.

What hurts, though, is the fact they were nearly home and hosed here. Ahead by 18 points with 56 minutes on the clock, they proceeded to cough up three tries from there to the finish line. Two of those – including Saumaki’s winning score – came down the left wing. It wasn’t that they ran out of steam or even ideas. They just panicked a little once the Tigers got a run on them. That, in the end, proved crucial.

So were other things. Like, early on, Connacht didn’t make life easy for themselves, a knock-on from Matt Healy gifting Leicester territory inside 30 seconds. They didn’t waste it, winning a breakdown penalty, allowing Freddie Burns kick to the corner, from where a trick play saw Ollie Chessum collect Nic Dolly’s throw before swiftly offloading to Harry Wells. A few seconds later Joe Heyes was crossing for the game’s opening score and there was barely three minutes on the clock.

Soon there were 10 points on the scoreboard, Leicester scoring again off a minor Connacht mistake, their front row guilty this time of going too early into the scrum, Leicester getting the subsequent put-in, Burns taking advantage of the space provided to kick wide to wing, Kini Murimurivalu, who collected before crossing. Ten minutes played, ten points scored by Leicester.

kini-murimurivalu-scores-a-try-despite-tiernan-ohalloran Leicester’s Kini Murimurivalu scores a try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Mistakes kept on coming. John Porch knocked on, a few minutes later Conor Oliver’s pass to Porch was marginally off direction. Had it stayed on course, a try would have come. Nonetheless, one soon did arrive, after Freddie Steward misinterpreted the laws to accidentally get caught offside.

Having already missed a kick at goal from an easier angle, Carty wisely decided this time to kick to the corner and all of a sudden it was the Connacht maul that was ripping into the Tigers. From the ensuing phase, Healy set Tiernan O’Halloran clear and the gap was down to three.

More to the point, a psychological button had been pressed. Until that moment, 16 minutes in, you couldn’t help feel that Connacht were showing a little too much space and respect to their vaunted opponents. Yes, they top the Premiership; yes, they are past winners of this competition; yes, they are English rugby royalty.

Yet as soon as that O’Halloran try was executed, you felt you were watching a different game. Certainly you were watching a different Connacht. All of a sudden their passes were sticking. They were winning collisions, irking the Tigers at the breakdown and on 25 minutes, they did something no one envisaged in the pre-match predictions, winning a scrum penalty.

That was a big moment, all the more so after Cian Prendergast followed up from that platform to get across the line – the try eventually awarded after a bit of confusion engulfed referee, Raynal, who questioned whether Bundee Aki was guilty of an illegal block in the build-up. Turns out he wasn’t. Turns out, Carty’s conversion made it 14-10.

cian-prendergast-scores-his-sides-second-try Cian Prendergast gets across for a try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It stayed that way until half-time even allowing for one Jonah Lomu-esque run from Murimurivalu when he bounced off Arnold and Porch en route to the Connacht 22. It took Connacht’s second smallest player, Healy, to take him down. Until that moment, Murimurivalu looked as unstoppable as tears at a playschool.

You could have said the same about Connacht in the third quarter. A switch in tactics saw them revert to what they do best, with tip on passes complemented by clever running lines. It helped that Leicester flanker, Tommy Reffell, spent ten minutes in the bin during this period.

In his absence, the scoreboard moved from 14-10 to Connacht to 28-10, Kieran Marmion and O’Halloran with the tries, Carty credited for being bold enough to go to the corner rather than take a shot at the posts, Porch also credited for his role in O’Halloran’s try, Marmion deservedly getting some glory after slaloming his way to the line.

There and then, you really didn’t imagine Leicester coming back.

But they did.

Winger, Murimurivalu, powered across on 56 minutes – Burns converting to close the gap to 11 before replacement hooker, Charlie Clare, sneaked over from close range on 72. That made it nervy. And Connacht lost their composure. That and the ball. Pressure mounted, an overlap appeared; Saumaki exploited it. Was his foot in touch? It doesn’t matter. Only the result does.

Connacht scorers

Tries: O’Halloran 2, Prendergast, Marmion

Conversions: Carty (4/4)

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Penalties: Carty (0/1)

Leicester scorers

Tries: Heyes, Murimurivalu 2, Clare, Saumaki

Conversions: Burns (2/5)

Penalties:

Connacht

Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Sammy Arnold, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy (rep: Tom Farrell ’60); Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (rep: Caolin Blade ’62); Matthew Burke (Tietie Tuimauga ’61 – rep: Burke ’65)), Shane Delahunt (rep: Dave Heffernan ’47), Finlay Bealham (rep: Jack Aungier ’49); Oisin Dowling (rep: Ultan Dillane ’53), Niall Murray; Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler (rep: Paul Boyle ’61)

Leicester

Bryce Hegarty; Freddie Steward, Matt Scott, Juan Pablo Socino (rep: Dan Kelly 47), Kini Murimurivalu (rep: Hosea Saumaki ’60); Freddie Burns, Richard Wigglesworth (Jack van Poortvliet ’56); Ellis Genge (rep: James Whitcombe ‘), Nic Dolly (rep: Charlie Clare ’47), Joe Heyes (rep: Nephi Leatigaga ’68); Harry Wells, Calum Green; Ollie Chessum, Tommy Reffell (yellow card 42-52), Jasper Wiese

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)

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Garry Doyle

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