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Connacht denied fourth Pro12 victory in agonising finale against Cardiff

Pat Lam’s men had to settle for a share of the points at the Sportsground as the Blues fought back.

John Muldoon's side were denied at the death.
John Muldoon's side were denied at the death.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Connacht 24

Cardiff Blues 24

CONNACHT WERE DENIED their fourth win of the season in heart-breaking fashion, with a try from Sam Hobbs in the final minute allowing the Cardiff Blues to grab a 24-24 draw in Galway.

The westerners looked to be heading for a victory after a remarkable attacking blitz early in the second-half saw them into a 24-10 lead, but decisions to pursue a bonus point rather than extend that advantage by kicking for goal ultimately proved to be costly.

The draw means Pat Lam’s side have lost just once in their five opening Guinness Pro12 fixtures, but this certainly felt like one that got away. More positively, Ireland hopefuls Kieran Marmion, Robbie Henshaw and Nathan White all scored tries to further their hopes of international involvement in November.

In front of a lively 5,242 crowd at the Sportsground, the westerners showed that their arc of improvement under Lam remains on the rise, but the failure to close out a game that they were dominating at one stage showed the inexperience in their ranks.

The sides went into the break at 10-10, after a first half in which they both scored a try, conversion and penalty. It was Connacht who had drawn first blood after an energetic start, with centre Craig Ronaldson slotting a seventh-minute penalty from the left of the posts.

Mark Hammett’s men almost responded with a try immediately, but the physically impressive Danie Poolman hauled Lewis Jones down a metre short, following a smart sniping break from the scrum-half.

The initial momentum of the attack had come from Alex Cuthbert’s midfield burst through a Jack Carty tackle, but was ended by a knock-on from Macauley Cook as the tryline beckoned.

[image alt="George Naoupu and Kieran Marmion celebrate with Robbie Henshaw after he scored his side's opening try" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2014/10/george-naoupu-and-kieran-marmion-celebrate-with-robbie-henshaw-after-he-scored-his-sides-opening-try-630x390.jpg" width="630" height="390" class="alignnone" /end]

The Blues did have their try in the 20th-minute, however, as fullback Adam Thomas crashed through from close-range, breaking inside Henshaw’s tackle too easily. Connacht’s habit of not getting their clearing kicks into touch had contributed to the pressure the Blues had created in the build-up.

Patchell’s conversion saw Cardiff into a 7-3 lead, and Connacht took 10 minutes to reclaim it. The forwards set the platform from a line-out maul, Poolman boshed them a few metres closer, then Henshaw danced back to the left of the ruck and stretched through Cook’s tackle to dot down.

Referee Neil Paterson reviewed the grounding with his TMO, awarding the try and allowing Ronaldson to put Connacht out to 10-7. Patchell’s penalty from 42 metres out, poorly struck but on target, leveled the game as the interval approached.

A sublime start to the second period saw Connacht power into a 24-10 lead before the 50th minute had arrived, with first Marmion and then White dotting down.

The scrum-half crossed when Connacht cleverly attacked down the blindside through Willie Faloon after an initial maul. The flanker offloaded to the in-form Marmion, who sidestepped Dan Fish and beat off Sam Warburton’s tackle.

Minutes later, White was the beneficiary of a highly intelligent line-out move, as Mick Kearney claimed the throw and popped down to Quinn Roux.

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[image alt="Kieran Marmion gets past Dan Fish to score his side's second try" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2014/10/kieran-marmion-gets-past-dan-fish-to-score-his-sides-second-try-630x392.jpg" width="630" height="392" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

The South African lock slipped a disguised pass to White coming back down the short blindside and the Irish-qualified tighthead hammered through Lewis Jones’ tackle to score.

Two superb touchline conversions from Ronaldson added to the huge momentum swing.

Connacht turned down opportunities to kick for the posts thereafter, confident in their ability to secure a bonus point. Inaccuracy at the line-out denied them on one promising occasion, a consistent problem for Lam’s side throughout the evening.

The Blues hung on, soaked up the pressure and clawed their way back into the game when Cook dived over under the posts after a series of forward drives close to the Connacht line.

Patchell’s conversion brought Cardiff back to within seven points with 71 minutes on the clock. With both benches having been emptied by then, the game became more broken up, but the Blues came forward with renewed vigour in the closing minutes.

Their final passage of attack ended with Hobbs scoring against the base of the left post, with Paterson awarding the try after an interminable consultation with his TMO. Connacht manufactured a late, late drop goal chance for Carty, but the Blues came up with the crucial block down.

Connacht scorers:

Tries: R Henshaw, K Marmion, N White

Conversions: C Ronaldson [3 from 3]

Penalties: C Ronaldson [1 from 1]

Cardiff scorers:

Tries: A Thomas, M Cook, S Hobbs

Conversions: R Patchell [3 from 3]

Penalties: R Patchell [1 from 1]

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Niyi Adeolokun (Fionn Carr ’68), Robbie Henshaw, Craig Ronaldson (Shane Layden ’66), Danie Poolman; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion (Ian Porter ’72); Ronan Loughney (Denis Buckley ’19 – concussion bin, ’47 permanent sub), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt ’71), Nathan White (Rodney Ah You ’54); Mick Kearney, Quinn Roux (Aly Muldowney ’61); John Muldoon (capt.), Willie Faloon (Eoin McKeon ’51), George Naoupu.

CARDIFF BLUES: Adam Thomas; Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen (Gareth Davies ’72), Gavin Evans, Dan Fish; Rhys Patchell, Lewis Jones (Tavis Knoyle ’65); Gethin Jenkins (Sam Hobbs ’61), Matthew Rees (capt.) (Kristian Dacey ’72), Taufa’ao Filise (Scott Andrews ’50); Jarrad Hoeata, Filo Paulo; Macauley Cook, Sam Warburton (Josh Navidi ’50), Manoa Vosawai (Josh Turnbull ’62).

Replacements not used: Geraint Walsh.

Referee: Neil Paterson [SRU].

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