Murray Kinsella reports from the Sportsground
CONNACHT WILL FACE Gloucester in the Champions Cup qualification play-offs next Sunday after they finished seventh in the Guinness Pro12 on a thrilling final day of the regular season.
Pat Lam’s men will have to travel to Kingsholm again, having lost their Challenge Cup quarter-final against David Humphreys’ side in the same venue earlier this season. Should the westerners emerge with victory, they would then move on to play the seventh-placed Top 14 finishers at home for a place in next season’s Champions Cup.
In the end, Connacht were thankful of Leinster’s 36-23 win in Edinburgh, ensuring that the Scots couldn’t jump into that seventh position. Jordi Murphy’s late try in Murrayfield will be toasted heartily in Galway and further afield tonight.
In a similar vein, Connacht denying the Ospreys a bonus point along with their win was a huge favour for Munster.
Steve Tandy’s Ospreys move on to play Anthony Foley’s side away next weekend in the semi-finals, with the southern province having racked up a bonus-point win over the Dragons to leapfrog the Ospreys for second position in the final Pro12 table.
A determined second-half fightback brought Connacht close to a win in this afternoon’s clash against the Ospreys, though a superb first-half display from the Welsh region meant they were deserved 24-20 winners.
Connacht were poor in the opening 40 minutes, missing far too many tackles, but with a strong wind behind them in the second period Lam’s side showed impressive character to push the Ospreys close, scoring tries through Eoghan Masterson and Denis Buckley.
A scrum penalty allowed Dan Biggar to fire over the first points of the afternoon for the Ospreys with a wind-assisted 51-metre effort in the sixth minute, before the out-half smartly finished off the Welsh region’s first try.
The Ospreys pack shunted Connacht’s scrum off the ball, number eight Baker and Webb transferred the ball through Biggar and on to centre Ben John, who broke past a disorganised Connacht defence and offloaded inside to Biggar to score.
Playing against the wind, Connacht struggled to bring the game out of their own half, but a harsh breakdown penalty for an illegal-looking Alun-Wyn Jones denied them a chance to build anything on a 25th-minute visit to the Ospreys 22.
Biggar launched his kick deep into the home side’s half and on second phase from the lineout attack, John took a perfect line between the innattentive Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney to run clear for the Ospreys second.
Biggar converted that try and did the same when Webb finished another flowing Ospreys attack two minutes later. Fullback Dan Evans offloaded superbly to Hanno Dirksen, who shipped the ball to Webb to beat Tiernan O’Halloran’s despairing covering tackle.
24-0 down with half an hour gone, the remainder of the half was an exercise in damage limitation for Lam’s men, who continued to be pinned inside their defensive territory by the intelligent Ospreys.
Steve Tandy’s side very nearly had the bonus point on the stroke of half time, but long-striding wing Eli Walker was denied by TMO Seamus Flannery after knocking on over the tryline.
Connacht’s task of launching a comeback started well after the break, the Ospreys holding on in the tackle directly from the kick-off and allowing Carty to kick Connacht’s opening points of the game.
With the firm wind behind them, getting into the Ospreys half proved easier for Lam’s side and when Dmitri Arhip went off his feet at the breakdown, Carty added his second penalty.
With replacement scrum-half John Cooney, on for the injured Kieran Marmion in the first half, running a much-improved exiting game and Connacht’s maul beginning to power up, the momentum suddenly had shifted.
Twice Dan McFarland’s always impressive maul fired and on the second occasion some of the back joined in to help openside Eoghan Masterson over the line. Carty curled in the conversion from the left of the posts to bring Connacht back to 24-13.
The Ospreys drew breath, however, and expertly managed the majority of the final quarter as they opted against chasing the bonus point any time they did have possession.
Webb and Biggar looked to take the pace out of the game whenever possible, as well as continuing to hassle Connacht’s ball at the breakdown and set-piece. With results swinging to and fro elsewhere, Lam’s men continued to fight for another try.
That came through the yet-again impressive loosehead prop Buckley, TMO Flannery confirming the close-range score and Carty converting again.
Tries: Eoghan Masterson, Denis Buckley
Conversions: Jack Carty [2 from 2]
Penalties: Jack Carty [2 from 2]
Tries: Dan Biggar, Ben John, Rhys Webb
Conversions: Dan Biggar [3 from 3]
Penalties: Dan Biggar [1 from 1]
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy (Shane O’Leary ’69); Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (John Cooney ’21); Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You (Finlay Bealham ’65); Andrew Browne, Aly Muldowney; John Muldoon (capt.), Eoghan Masterson (George Naoupu ’60), Eoin McKeon (Michael Swift ’65).
Replacements not used: Dave Heffernan, JP Cooney, Miah Nikora.
OSPREYS: Dan Evans (Sam Davies ’66); Hanno Dirksen, Ben John, Josh Matavesi (Jonathan Spratt ’80), Eli Walker; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin (Sam Parry ’76), Dmitri Arhip (Marc Thomas ’55); Tyler Ardron, Alun Wyn Jones (capt.); James King (Dan Lydiate ’60), Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker.
Replacements not used: Aaron Jarvis, Rory Thornton, Tom Habberfield.
Referee: Marius Mitrea [FIR].