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Connacht's European season ends with high-scoring defeat to Leicester
Andy Friend’s men scored 32 points but conceded 48 in their Challenge Cup clash.

Leicester 48

Connacht 32

TYPICALLY, IT WAS entertaining but Connacht’s European season came to an end in the Challenge Cup round-of-16 as they came up short against Leicester at Welford Road.

john-porch-dejected Andy Watts / INPHO Connacht fullback John Porch. Andy Watts / INPHO / INPHO

There were moments of quality from Andy Friend’s men and they made the Premiership side battle all the way into the closing minutes, but they will be left with regrets after giving up too many easy scores.

Steve Borthwick’s Tigers always found a response to Connacht’s flashes of attacking inspiration and the western province must now look to the Rainbow Cup as a means of finishing their season with success.

Kieran Marmion’s early try appeared to bode well for the visitors but Leicester pulled clear in the first half, only for Friend’s men to twice draw back within two points in the second 40 minutes. 

There are changes ahead of Connacht with stalwart coaches Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy leaving at the end of this season, and they will fly home from Leicester with some frustration after allowing their English opposition to score seven tries.

Leicester left out some key players for the Challenge Cup clash but Connacht couldn’t take advantage as the Tigers finished strongly. 

kieran-marmion-scores-his-sides-opening-try James Crombie / INPHO Kieran Marmion scores the opener for Connacht. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Connacht started superbly and led in the eighth minute after academy centre Sean O’Brien made a scything break before passing back inside to scrum-half Kieran Marmion running a smart support line for the finish.

Carty couldn’t convert and Leicester were soon able to hit back as hooker Charlie Clare dotted down at the back of a powerful maul, with fullback Zack Henry wide off the tee to leave the game at 5-5.

Tigers hit the front in the 15th minute as left wing Guy Porter sprinted home from 35 metres out following a breakdown turnover from centre Matt Scott as Connacht ambitiously tried to counter-attack out of their own half. 

Henry converted this time but Connacht closed the gap when a big break from captain Paul Boyle led to a penalty that Carty slotted for 12-8. 

Leicester’s discipline slipped in response to the pressure and Clare was binned for a late no-arms tackle in the 27th minute.

paul-boyle-makes-a-break James Crombie / INPHO Connacht captain Paul Boyle makes a break. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

But as Connacht were applying pressure in the home side’s 22, Carty spilled the ball and Porter scooped it up to sprint away, feeding centre Matias Moroni to finish in the right corner.

Even with Clare still in the bin, Leicester added their fourth try as Henry finished far too easily, converting his own score for 24-8.

Clare returned after his side had scored 12 points without him but Connacht did narrow the margin by three points when Carty knocked over a penalty with the clock over five minutes in the red before the break.

Friend’s men made a strong start to the second half as Tom Daly laid the platform with a powerful carry off a lineout before Eoghan Masterson made a clever decision to pick and carry as Leicester’s defence went to sleep, the Connacht flanker finishing and Carty converting. 

Borthwick’s men briefly stymied the Connacht resurgence and ex-Ulster out-half Johnny McPhillips popped over a penalty heading towards the final quarter to push them 27-18 in front.

matias-moroni-breaks-free-to-score-a-try James Crombie / INPHO Matias Moroni finishes for Leicester. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

But Connacht showed their fight as prolific wing Alex Wootton finished emphatically from replacement scrum-half Caolin Blade’s pass, battering through a pair of tackles for a TMO-confirmed score that Carty converted.

Suddenly, Connacht were back within two points and Carty had a chance to nudge them in front with a 63rd-minute but was wide to the right. 

In their time of need, Leicester went to traditional strengths. A five-metre maul carried hooker Clare over for his second try and McPhillips converted to shift the Tigers 34-25 in front heading towards the closing 10 minutes. 

That looked like that but Connacht refused to go down, Boyle making another clever pick and carry when Tigers failed to fill the pillar position in defence, allowing the number eight to burst away to score, with sub out-half Conor Fitzgerald converting.

Again, Connacht trailed by only two but Leicester came up with a convincing response as replacement lock Harry Wells powered his way over from close-range in the 74th minute for a converted try.

South African number eight Jasper Wiese sealed the deal with a powerful late try before Connacht fullback John Porch was sin-binned for a tackle in the air. 

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Leicester scorers:

Tries: Charlie Clare [2], Guy Porter, Matias Moroni, Zack Henry, Harry Wells, Jasper Wiese

Conversions: Zack Henry [2 from 4], Johnny McPhillips [3 from 3]

Penalties: Johnny McPhillips [1 from 1]

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Sean O’Brien, Eoghan Masterson, Alex Wootton, Paul Boyle

Conversions: Jack Carty [2 from 3], Conor Fitzgerald [1 from 1]

Penalties: Jack Carty [2 from 3]

LEICESTER: Zack Henry; Harry Potter, Matias Moroni, Matt Scott, Guy Porter; Johnny McPhillips, Ben Youngs (captain); Luan de Bruin, Charlie Clare, Joe Heyes; Cameron Henderson, Tomas Lavanini; George Martin, Luke Wallace, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: Nic Dolly, James Whitcombe, Will Hurd, Harry Wells, Tommy Reffell, Ben White, Dan Kelly, Freddie Steward.  

CONNACHT: John Porch; Alex Wootton, Sean O’Brien, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, David Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury; Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (captain).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Jordan Duggan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Oisin Dowling, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan.

Referee: Adam Jones [WRU].

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