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Connacht give up strong half-time lead to lose at home to the Ospreys

Andy Friend’s men were second best as the Ospreys won in Ireland for the first time in more than four years.

Connacht 20

Ospreys 26

ANDY FRIEND’S CONNACHT suffered their fifth defeat of the Guinness Pro14 season as they gave up a 17-5 lead to lose at home to the Ospreys.

rhys-webb-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-kieran-williams-and-owen-watkin Ospreys celebrate one of their four tries. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The westerners had built a strong half-time advantage following an entertaining opening 45 minutes, but the visiting Welsh region were impressive in the second period to earn a well-earned bonus-point victory.

Connacht will be frustrated with some loose defensive moments and conceding crucial momentum to the Ospreys maul in the second half, while they only managed to score three points after the break in Galway.

This defeat leaves Friend’s men 11 points behind Conference B leaders Munster when they badly needed to use this rescheduled game to close the gap on Johann van Graan’s side after the southern province’s defeat at home to Leinster last night. 

As for the Ospreys, this was their first away win in Ireland for more than four years. Their victory, which included an excellent performance from double try-scorer Rhys Webb, saw them manage a yellow card for captain Justin Tipuric just before half time, drawing that 10-minute sin-bin window 7-7 and then pushing on to finish the job.

Friend will be disappointed with his side’s error count as they spurned a number of opportunities across the afternoon at the Sportsground. Their next game is in two weekends’ time away to the Dragons, when they will need to be better. 

adam-beard-offloads-to-george-north George North accepts Dan Evans' offload for the opening try. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The home side had an early chance in the visitors’ 22 after wing Peter Sullivan won a breakdown turnover penalty but Conor Fitzgerald’s forward pass allowed the Ospreys to lift the pressure before soon applying it down the other end of the pitch, blocking down the Connacht out-half’s kick.

The Welsh side then struck clinically as Stephen Myler cleverly delayed a pass wide to George North, who freed Justin Tipuric along the touchline before he passed back inside to Dan Evans, who offloaded for North an excellent team try.

Ospreys were looking very dangerous and Connacht needed an important strip in the tackle from Wootton on Ospreys lock Rhys Davies in their 22 after clever play from Tipuric and hooker Sam Parry down the five-metre channel off a lineout.

But tighthead Finlay Bealham started to get an edge over Rhodri Jones at scrum time and Connacht settled into the game, Wootton correctly being denied a possible try in the left corner before Fitzgerald got them onto the scoreboard with three points off the tee.

Connacht’s first try arrived on the back of strong defensive work, Kieran Marmion’s aggression forcing a knock-on from Ospreys centre Kieran Williams, allowing Fitzgerald to scoop up the loose ball just outside Connacht’s 22, step past North, then feed Wootton to finish. Fitzgerald converted smartly for a 10-5 lead.

alex-wootton-celebrates-his-try-with-conor-fitzgerald Alex Wootton scored Connacht's first try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In an entertaining game, Williams soon broke off a clever Ospreys lineout play and passed inside to lock Adam Beard, but his offload was loose and Connacht regathered to clear. Friend’s men finished the half superbly too as the Ospreys’ discipline slipped – a close-range maul penalty seeing captain Tipuric sin-binned.

With the clock ticking into the 45th minute, Connacht used a clever one-two between Paul Boyle and Marmion off the base of the ensuing five-metre scrum, targeting the absence of a number eight at the back of the Ospreys’ set-piece. Boyle finished powerfully and Fitzgerald converted for a tidy 17-5 advantage at the break.

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But the Ospreys came out of half-time superbly, winning a scrum penalty with their seven-man pack and then conjuring a wonderful try as wing Mat Protheroe’s lovely pass put North into space wide on the right, he passed back inside to Williams, and the centre offloaded delicately inside for Protheroe to finish past Sullivan.

With Myler converting, Ospreys were back within five points and, with Tipuric back on the pitch, they soon nudged in front as a huge mauling effort brought them within striking distance and scrum-half Rhys Webb sniped over through Fitzgerald’s tackle attempt.

Myler’s second conversion meant Ospreys led but the see-saw nature of the game continued as the Welsh region edged offside and Fitgerald nailed his shot at goal for a 20-19 Connacht lead heading into the final quarter.

gavin-thornbury Gavin Thornbury claims a lineout for Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Ospreys’ pack was starting to gain the upper hand and another scrum penalty allowed them to kick into the left corner, from where a powerful maul was held up over the Connacht tryline. 

An extended series of scrums followed – Connacht felt they had earned a penalty at one point – with the final set-piece seeing Ospreys win a penalty and go back into the corner. This time, Connacht failed to stop the maul and it was scrum-half Webb who dotted down at the tail in the 68th minute for the bonus-point try.

Myler’s excellent touchline conversion meant Connacht needed a converted try to regain the lead, but they couldn’t muster a response as the Ospreys held firm. 

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Alex Wootton, Paul Boyle

Conversions: Conor Fitzgerald [2 from 2]

Penalties: Conor Fitzgerald [2 from 2]

Ospreys scorers:

Tries: George North, Mat Protheroe, Rhys Webb [2]

Conversions: Stephen Myler [3 from 4]

CONNACHT: John Porch; Peter Sullivan, Tom Daly, Peter Robb, Alex Wootton; Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Jarrad Butler (captain), Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Conor Kenny, Gavin Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy.

OSPREYS: Dan Evans; George North, Owen Watkin, Kieran Williams, Mat Protheroe; Stephen Myler, Rhys Webb; Rhodri Jones, Sam Parry, Ma’afu Fia; Adam Beard, Rhys Davies; Will Griffiths, Justin Tipuric (captain) (yellow card ’43), Dan Lydiate.

Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Gareth Thomas, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, Morgan Morris, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Josh Thomas, Keelan Giles.

Referee: Frank Murphy [IRFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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