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Connacht finish season on a high with bonus-point win over the Ospreys

Caolin Blade was outstanding as Andy Friend’s men deservedly beat the Welsh visitors.

Connacht 26

Ospreys 19

TYPICALLY, THERE WAS plenty of entertainment as Connacht finished their season in winning fashion in Galway.

peter-sullivan-scores-a-try Peter Sullivan scores in the corner for Connacht. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A wild first half at the Sportsground included seven tries as the visiting Ospreys played their part and though the second half was scoreless, there were still moments like Jack Carty’s delightful cover work and offload under pressure as Connacht defended their seven-point lead.

The Welsh region had more to play for coming into this contest, their Rainbow Cup final hopes still alive at that stage, but Connacht always had the attacking quality and ambition to cause them problems.

Andy Friend’s notched a bonus point inside the opening 31 minutes to underline their ability with ball in hand – something that has rarely been in doubt. More frustratingly, some sloppy moments around restarts and discipline by Connacht allowed the Ospreys to stay well in the fight.

While they conceded three tries, Connacht’s defence also had some important moments of defiance as the Ospreys desperately attempted to draw level in the second half, with captain Jarrad Butler and Lions centre Bundee Aki providing plenty of physicality.  

Connacht hooker Shane Delahunt notched a try on the occasion of his 100th cap, while Caolin Blade was outstanding once again at scrum-half, surely managing to impress Ireland boss Andy Farrell ahead of his side’s July Tests.

shane-delahunt-scores-a-try-on-the-occasion-of-his-100th-cap-for-the-province Shane Delahunt scores on his 100th Connacht cap. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Connacht showed their attacking intent early on as a brilliant counter-attack from deep in their own 22 nearly resulted in Blade scoring at the other end. The scrum-half was dragged down five metres out and then his opposite number, Rhys Webb, deliberately knocked the ball on to earn himself a yellow card. 

Friend’s men kicked into the left corner and Delahunt sniped over to score from the ensuing maul, marking his milestone in style.

The 14-man Ospreys did respond strongly five minutes later as back row Morgan Morris forced his way over following a close-range maul, but Connacht proceeded to score from the very next restart. 

The visitors spilt the ball and Blade intelligently rolled a grubber kick into the exposed backfield for Bundee Aki to pounce on for Connacht’s second. Their third came after some powerful carrying in the Ospreys 22 by Cian Prendergast and Delahunt, second row Ultan Dillane applying the finishing touch by smashing over underneath the posts.

The Ospreys’ maul proved effective again, however, as hooker Sam Parry dotted down at the tail in what was a free-scoring first half, with Connacht notching their bonus-point try just after the half-hour mark when Jack Carty’s clever floated pass bounced up for right wing Peter Sullivan to score in the corner.

bundee-aki-scores-a-try-supported-by-alex-wootton-and-ben-odonnell Bundee Aki gets on the end of Caolin Blade's clever kick. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Connacht led 26-12 but the Welsh region managed to bag a third try before the break, applying major pressure in the Connacht 22 with the clock in the red, leading to a yellow card for Connacht’s Dominic Robertson-McCoy at scrum time and then another score for Parry, who forced his way over from a metre out in the 47th minute.

Stephen Myler’s conversion brought the Ospreys back to 26-19 at the end of a frenetic, action-packed first half.  

Toby Booth’s men went very close to notching the first points of the second half, as centre Joe Hawkins sauntered through some poor Connacht midfield defence all the way to within touching distance but his effort was ruled out by referee Mike Adamson, who felt Hawkins had taken an extra roll on the ground to reach the tryline.

Connacht should have extended their lead with a 57th-minute penalty from Carty following a big impact by Aussie left wing Ben O’Donnell – who broke away on the counter-attack and offloaded to Alex Wootton, then won a jackal turnover penalty after the ball has gone loose – but the out-half was wide with his shot at goal.

The westerners subsequently needed some huge defence five metres out from their tryline to prevent the Ospreys from barging over for another maul score that might have seen them draw level.

rhys-webb-celebrates-as-mike-adamson-awards-ospreys-a-try The Ospreys scored three first-half tries. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Carty showed major composure and skill to track back into his 22 as the game headed into the closing 10 minutes, sliding down onto the ball after the Ospreys had hacked ahead, then nonchalantly flicking the ball away one-handed to Wootton, who blasted it clear into touch. 

Ospreys used their captain’s challenge to earn a penalty against Connacht replacement scrum-half Kieran Marmion in the 74th minute but Marmion himself won a turnover penalty at the breakdown during the subsequent Ospreys possession.

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The closing minutes saw Connacht back on the attack as they saw out their 2020/21 campaign with a satisfying win, the extra members of their squad even blasting out a rendition of The Fields of Athenry in celebration.

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Shane Delahunt, Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane, Peter Sullivan

Conversions: Jack Carty [3 from 4]

Penalties: Jack Carty [0 from 1]

Ospreys scorers:

Tries: Morgan Morris, Sam Parry [2]

Conversions: Stephen Myler [2 from 3]

CONNACHT: Alex Wootton; Peter Sullivan, Bundee Aki, Tom Daly (Sammy Arnold ’68), Ben O’Donnell; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion ’70); Jordan Duggan (Matthew Burke ’40), Shane Delahunt (Jonny Murphy ’70), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (yellow card ’44) (Jack Aungier ’56); Niall Murray (Oisin Dowling ’57), Ultan Dillane; Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler (captain) (Jack Aungier ’44 to ’48), Eoghan Masterson (Sean Masterson ’57).

Replacements: Conor Fitzgerald.

OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Dewi Cross, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Joe Hawkins, Luke Morgan (Max Nagy ’70); Stephen Myler (Luke Price ’70), Rhys Webb (captain) (yellow card ’9) (Reuben Morgan-Williams ’70); Nicky Smith (Gareth Thomas ’55), Sam Parry (Ifan Phillips), Tom Botha (Ma’afu Fia ’46); Adam Beard, Bradley Davies (Rhys Davies ’55); Will Griffiths, Morgan Morris, Ethan Roots (Sam Cross ’70). 

Referee: Mike Adamson [SRU].

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