Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 24 May 2022

Connacht hammer Wasps in encouraging pre-season rout in Athlone

Andy Friend’s men ran in seven tries in an impressive performance at Dubarry Park.

Connacht 43

Wasps 10

Murray Kinsella reports from Dubarry Park

“OUR GAME IS based around running teams off their feet,” said injured Connacht back row Eoghan Masterson when he was interviewed at half-time in Athlone.

And that’s exactly what Andy Friend’s side did in front of an appreciative crowd at Dubarry Park, with Ireland boss Joe Schmidt among those to enjoy this encouraging performance from the western province.

Rob Miller and Matt Healy Matt Healy makes a break before Connacht's first try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On a warm afternoon, Connacht followed up their 33-24 win over Brive last week in France with a seven-try victory against Dai Young’s Wasps, who finished third in the Premiership last season.

There was concern at seeing new captain Jarrad Butler come off injured after just 15 minutes, applying ice to his rib area, but there were countless positives for Connacht.

New Aussie signing Kyle Godwin got his first start in the 13 shirt and underlined his intelligence and skill in a strong 80-minute performance, while scrum-half Caolin Blade sniped cleverly and out-half Jack Carty showed his creative streak.

Connacht’s new out-half signing David Horwitz was missing through injury, but Carty and his replacement, Craig Ronaldson, both made statements to new head coach Friend.

Niyi Adeolokun scores his sides fourth try Niyi Adeolokun was among the tries. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Matt Healy and Tom Farrell were incisive with their running games, blindside Paul Boyle worked hard and showed excellent passing and tackling technique, while starting props Finlay Bealham and Denis Buckley were aggressive and also link-passed accurately in Connacht’s smooth attacking shape.

Cleverly disguised pull-back passes featured prominently throughout as Connacht looked to lure Wasps defenders out of the defensive line to create space, with their pacy backs and mobile forwards thriving within the high-tempo game plan.

Defensively, to give up only one try to what was a relatively inexperienced Wasps team was highly pleasing, with Connacht showing off some sharp technique in contact.

This is, of course, still pre-season but Friend will be enthusiastic about how his team is looking right now. They will hope to round off a good build-up to the Pro14 in next weekend’s final friendly away to Pat Lam’s Bristol.

Andy Friend and Joe Schmidt Connacht's Andy Friend will be pleased, while the watching Joe Schmidt was surely impressed. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Connacht’s fine defence stood out in the opening stages – Godwin, Butler and Boyle among those showing excellent tackle technique – their attack shone for their first score in the 12th minute.

Scrum-half Blade sniped down the left blindside to feed Healy for a big break up the left-hand touchline to within metres of the Wasps tryline, before Carty slipped Farrell over for the try just to the right of the posts.

Wasps opted for three points off the tee through out-half Billy Searle soon after the quarter mark and following some scrum pressure, but Connacht’s incisive attack continued to cause them problems.

Friend’s men failed to manufacture a score from a five-metre maul after a superb Bealham turnover penalty, but Healy crossed for Connacht’s second try with three minutes remaining in the half.

Tom Farrell makes a break Tom Farrell makes the bust for Connacht's second try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Farrell was the creator this time, scything through Wasps in midfield and into the visitors’ half before showing composure to pass to Healy as the wing burned up on his left and dragged two tacklers over the tryline.

Carty converted for the second time and he very nearly scored a third Connacht try just before the break, sprinting onto his own clever grubber kick and gathering it up in the left corner only to step into touch as he attempted to finish.

Still, a 14-3 lead at the break was satisfactory for Friend and co.

Connacht’s third score continued the theme of the first half, with Blade taking a clever quick tap penalty near the Wasps 22 only to be stopped just short of the tryline. Niyi Adeolokun filled in at scrum-half for a quick recycle and then Godwin’s slick catch-pass under pressure gave Cian Kelleher space to dart into the right corner.

Cian Kelleher scores a try despite Will Rowlands Cian Kelleher scores early in the second half. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The fourth try, 10 minutes later, was another slick one. This time, replacement out-half Ronaldson sent Adeolokun bursting through the Wasps defence with a clever no-look pass, allowing the Ireland-capped wing to skin last defender Ambrose Curtis and score, Ronaldson converting this time.

The fifth featured more slick handling as Connacht swept the ball wide to the left and Boyle’s pass allowed replacement wing Rory Scholes to sprint clear down the left and arc in under the posts.

Connacht’s pack was impressive for the sixth, mauling hard and then bringing their team close with a series of muscular pick and jams, culminating in sub scrum-half James Mitchell stretching out his right arm out of a tackle to ground the ball.

Wasps did bag a consolation score through Callum Sirker in the closing minutes, but it did little to spoil Connacht’s good mood as replacement prop Conor Carey powered over for their final try.

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Cian Kelleher, Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Scholes, James Mitchell, Conor Carey

Conversions: Jack Carty [2 from 3], Craig Ronaldson [2 from 4]

Wasps scorers:

TriesCallum Sirker

ConversionsBilly Searle [1 from 1]

Penalties: Billy Searle [1 from 1]

CONNACHT: Cian Kelleher (Darragh Leader ’50); Niyi Adeolokun (Colm de Buitléar ’65), Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell (Eoin Griffin ’52), Matt Healy (Rory Scholes ’50); Jack Carty (Craig Ronaldson ’52), Caolin Blade (James Mitchell ’52); Denis Buckley (Conan O’Donnell ’58), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt ‘HT), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey ’58); Joe Maksymiw, James Cannon (Cillian Gallagher ’46); Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (James Connolly ’15), Eoin McKeon (Sean O’Brien ’61).

WASPS: Rob Miller; Ambrose Curtis (Callum Sirker), Juan de Jongh (Ross Neal ‘HT), Michael Le Bourgeois (Gaby Lovobalavu ’52), Marcus Watson (Josh Bassett ‘HT); Billy Searle (Jimmy Gopperth ’52 – reversal ’65), Joe Simpson (Will Porter ’52); Tom West (Ben Harris ‘HT), Tommy Taylor (Tom Cruse ‘HT), Will Stuart (Kieran Brookes ‘HT (David Langley ’73)); Will Rowlands (Kearnan Myall ’61), Charlie Matthews; Ashley Johnson (captain) (Tom Willis ’52), Joe Atkinson, Ben Morris.

Referee: Johnny Erskine.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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