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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 13 April 2021

Awesome Aki and Carty class ensures Connacht dominate Scarlets

Tries from Tom Farrell, Cian Kelleher and Niyi Adeolokun gave Connacht their second win of the season.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Connacht 33

Scarlets 20

Sean Farrell reports from the Sportsground

ON THE NORTH end of Lough Atalia as you approach College Road and the Sportsground, Connacht have a billboard erected advertising their ‘month of champions’.

It’s a particularly difficult September out west as the 2016 champions opened their Pro14 campaign against 2015 winners Glasgow and will next week meet the reigning champions Leinster.

After losing to Glasgow Warriors in week one, Andy Friend’s men left no doubt that they remain more than capable of shining in exalted company as they claimed their second win of the season.

Bundee Aki and Connacht didn’t have the ideal pre-season relationship, with the centre’s return to New Zealand causing some disquiet. His return in Edinburgh last week brought a slight criticism from Friend, but any rustiness seems to have been left in Scotland as Aki lit the fuse for a terrific, energetic attacking display this evening.

From continually popping up on Jack Carty’s shoulder to make breaks or gainlines, to smashing Scarlets where they stood, Aki set an unrelenting tone.

A scrum in Scarlets’ 22 mercifully brought the breathless helter-skelter opening three-minute period to a close, but Connacht hadn’t lost the scent. Aki found a crucial gap on a superb angle and, once tackled in front of the posts, he twisted to offload inside to Tom Farrell.

Jack Carty’s kick opened the advantage up to 7-0 and after another excellent Connacht scrum earned a 16th minute penalty he made it 10-3, though Leigh Halfpenny had his sights well calibrated and kept Scarlets in touch.

Aki was more a decoy for the Westerners’ brilliant second try. The visitors struggled to cope with the attacking width Carty created and the options Connacht passers had once they reached those areas and so Cian Kelleher was ideally equipped to finish after Matt Healy slipped him a 25th-minute pass.

Unfortunately for Kelleher, he almost immediately found himself on the receiving end of another bit of wing magic as Johnny McNicholl’s show-and-go left him flat-footed and the visitors celebrating a timely seven-point riposte.

The Sportsground faithful grew frustrated with a series of decisions by Marius Mitrea, but the players stayed the course and returned to piling pressure on last year’s beaten finalists. The way in which they changed the point of contact and presented dangerous support lines kept Wayne Pivac’s men on the back foot and Carty kicked his side to a thoroughly deserved 20-13 half-time advantage.

This was not a case of Wales’ leading side taking the en vogue option of sending a fully rotated squad to do battle. Ken Owens led the resistance, Uzair Cassiem and Blade Thomson continued to settle in, Halfpenny lasted an hour before injury took him ashore and Rhys Patchell could scarcely have imagined a more uncomfortable return after concussion.

Connacht had drawn a line in the sand in the opening 40, so the second half was about turning the screw ever tighter. And by the time Tom Prydie ran in a score against the run of play with nine minutes remaining, Carty had continued a run of sweet ball-striking to nudge the scoreboard up to 26 -20.

Jack Carty kicks a penalty Source: James Crombie/INPHO

If that lead gave any onlookers nerves for the closing stages, they were well and truly blown away with five minutes to go as Caolin Blade went on the poach and turned over red ball to a charging Sean O’Brien who in turn set Niyi Adeolokun on the gallop under the posts to seal a seriously impressive win that lifts Connacht above Munster in Pro14 Conference A.



Tries: T Farrell, C Kelleher, N Adeolokun

Conversions: J Carty (3/3) 

Penalties: J Carty (4/4)


Tries: J McNicholl, T Prydie

Conversions: L Halfpenny (1/1), R Patchell (1/1)

Penalties: L Halfpenny (2/2)

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher (Niyi Adeolokun ’64), Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty (Craig Ronaldson ‘ 78), Kieran Marmion (Caolin Blade ’62). Denis Buckley (Peter McCabe ’64), Dave Heffernan (Tom McCartney ’54), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy ’62), Gavin Thornbury (Ultan Dillane ’4), Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien; Jarrad Butler, Robin Copeland (Colby Fainga’a ’64)

Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny (Angus O’Brien ’65); Tom Prydie, Kieron Fonotia (Paul Asquith ’59), Hadleigh Parkes, Johnny McNicholl, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies (Sam Hidalgo-Clyne ’50). Phil Price (Wyn Jones ’55), Ken Owens (Ryan Elias ’63), Samson Lee (Werner Kruger ’63); Jake Ball, Steve Cummins (David Bullbring ’4); Ed Kennedy
Lewis Rawlins (Uzair Cassiem ’55), Blade Thomson

Referee: M Mitrea

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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