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Good times keep rolling for Connacht as they see off Leinster in Galway

Pat Lam’s men battled to a wonderful 10-9 victory at the Sportsground to make it three wins from three Pro12 games.

Robbie Henshaw hails the superb Sportsground support.
Robbie Henshaw hails the superb Sportsground support.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Connacht 10

Leinster 9

CONNACHT’S ENCOURAGING START to the season continued with a spirited 10-9 win over Leinster at the Sportsground, one that was built on a remarkably determined defensive performance.

Leinster will wonder how they failed to score more points in a game that saw them enjoy long periods of territorial dominance, but this evening was all about Connacht and their vocal support.

Pat Lam’s men have three wins from three in the Guinness Pro12 and the positivity surrounding them will only build further. Kieran Marmion’s excellent solo try powered them to success, while the effort without possession was dogged.

The home side’s lack of discipline in the opening exchanges was a worry, as Ian Madigan struck three penalties in the first 16 minutes to help Leinster into a healthy 9-0 lead. Little did we think that would be the extent of the scoring from Matt O’Connor’s men.

Connacht struggled to get to grips with the eastern province’s ruck speed and varied attack early on, creeping offside, leaving hands in the ruck and otherwise offering up a passive defensive line.

But after a rocky opening quarter, Lam’s side got their attacking shapes flowing to grab some momentum, with out-half Jack Carty kicking behind Leinster, as well as adding width with his passing. Darragh Leader and Niyi Adeolokun counter-attacked willingly throughout.

Robbie Henshaw and Jimmy Gopperth Robbie Henshaw smashes Jimmy Gopperth. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Carty was on target with his second penalty attempt of the evening, striking from 40 metres to get Connacht onto the scoreboard after 22 minutes. Almost instantly in the aftermath of that boost, captain John Muldoon was yellow-carded – referee John Lacey deciding to punish the repeated infringements.

Leinster almost had the first try of the fixture on the 28-minute mark as Madigan scooted through from Eoin Reddan’s pass, but the TMO showed that the would-be assist had travelled forward.

Connacht dealt with their numerical disadvantage stoically, Niyi Adeolokun saving one try chance down the left-hand side by tackling Sean Cronin ball-and-all, before Robbie Henshaw unleashed an unforgettable right-shouldered hit on the unfortunate Jimmy Gopperth.

Brendan Macken’s impressive linebreak on the counter-attack from a lovely Madigan pass almost allowed Leinster to end the half with another score, but Connacht scrambled to cut off the threat.

Lacey went to the TMO again after Dominic Ryan’s pick and drive had brought Leinster close, but with no try in evidence, Connacht delivered a morale-boosting penalty from the subsequent scrum to head into the break with morale boosted.

After Leader’s long-range effort at goal early in the second-half was wide, Leinster again went on to enjoy territory and possession on account of Connacht’s penalty count. But again, Lam’s defence performed superbly, repelling an ominous-looking Leinster maul after 52 minutes.

Dave Heffernan tackled by Jack McGrath and Dominic Ryan Dave Heffernan runs into some heavy Leinster defence. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster would have wondered again how their lead was not greater, and then they were struck by a sucker-punch. Kieran Marmion spotted a hole on the left fringe of a ruck 40 metres from Leinster’s line and darted through. His pace took him one-on-one with Rob Kearney, whom he danced past with a gorgeous show of footwork to score.

Carty’s conversion took Connacht into a 10-9 lead and the Sportsground rocked. Matt O’Connor made changes, bringing in Gordon D’Arcy and Shane Jennings, but Lam’s men continued to hold firm, even under pressure in their own 22.

Kearney came close to a Leinster try on the 69-minute mark, after kick-starting an attack and winning the race to Eoin Reddan’s clever chip over Leader, but the fullback’s nudge on the ball had too much on it and scuttled into touch.

The introduction of Craig Ronaldson added composure to Connacht’s play in the final 10 minutes, with his intelligent kicking keeping Leinster pinned back.

Two sniping breaks from replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath brought Leinster back to within kicking distance with time running out, however. Jimmy Gopperth set himself up for the drop goal, but Connacht were all over him and forced the Kiwi to run the ball again.

McGrath knocked-on under pressure at the base of the next ruck. With the Sportsground in raucous form, Connacht held firm at the scrum and Matt Healy fired into touch to finish a memorable night in Galway.

Connacht scorers:

Tries: K Marmion

Conversions: J Carty

Penalties: J Carty

Leinster scorers:

Penalties: I Madigan [3]

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader (Craig Ronaldson ’69), Niyi Adeolokun (Fionn Carr ’41), Robbie Henshaw, Dave McSharry, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (Ian Porter ’69); Denis Buckley (Ronan Loughney ’80), Dave Heffernan, Nathan White (Rodney Ah You ’65); Aly Muldowney, Quinn Roux (Mick Kearney ’50); John Muldoon (capt.) (YC ’25), Willie Faloon (George Naoupu ’32), Eoin McKeon.

Replacements not used: Shane Delahunt.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brendan Macken (Gordon D’Arcy ’58), Ian Madigan, Darragh Fanning; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan (Luke McGrath ’76); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’46), Sean Cronin, Mike Ross (Tadhg Furlong ’65); Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan (Shane Jennings ’65) (Tom Denton ’70), Jamie Heaslip (capt.).

Replacements not used: Bryan Byrne, Mick McGrath.

Referee: John Lacey [IRFU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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