Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Connacht fall just short

A losing bonus point for Eric Elwood’s men but it could have been more, writes John O’Sullivan

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Michael Bradley returned to Connacht on Saturday last and guided his Edinburgh side to an admittedly fortuitous 24-23 victory.

Games in the Sportsground are invariably played in horrible conditions, but Saturday was different; the weather, for once, was calm and perfect for open rugby. Both teams, though, didn’t make the most of the weather and the amount of handling errors, from both sides, bordered on comical.

Eric Elwood’s side had several changes in personnel from their previous game, defeat away at Newport Gwent Dragons, particularly in the pack where regular starters Nathan White, Mike McCarthy, rumoured to be joining Leinster next season, Michael Swift, George Nauopuo and John Muldoon were all missing. In their place came Brett Wilkinson, Andrew Browne, Mick Kearney, Eoin McKeown and Willie Faloon respectively.

A win would have catapulted the men in green over their Scottish counterparts in the League table, but, due to the number of Internationals in Edinburgh’s team and the thrown together nature of Connacht’s pack, Connacht can be proud of their performance.

As per usual, Dan Parks was imperious in his kicking, ending the evening with a 100% record. However, the Australian born Scotland international resorted to cross field kicks too often and didn’t link Connacht’s back line as effectively as in previous weeks.

The game was barely five minutes old when Lions hopeful Tim Visser surged over the line for Edinburgh’s and the games opening try. The try was Visser’s tenth of the campaign, and should he sustain his form he should be the first Dutch player to represent the Lions.

Connacht responded excellently and scored a try of their own a little over five minutes later. New signing Jason Harris-Wright got the kudos after a rumbling maul from the forwards. Greig Laidlaw, one of the finest Scottish talents in a number of years, proved pivotal to Edinburgh as he created Edinburgh’s second try, scored by Matt Scott. Laidlaw’s incisive chip bounced favourably for Scott who carried his momentum onto the ball and over the line. Once again, Eric Elwood’s men replied quickly and Dan Parks slotted another penalty to leave the score 17-13 to Edinburgh at half time.

The Scots scored a third try soon after half time as impressive loose forward Stuart McInally showed fantastic pace to race over the line. Laidlaw, again, added the conversion to make the score 24-16. South African centre Danny Poolman crossed after some intricate backs play, Dan Parks added the conversion to make the score 24-23. Connacht probed and probed but couldn’t find the break through, with the former Scottish international sending a late drop goal attempt agonisingly close.

The result, naturally, will hurt Connacht, particularly as Edinburgh are so close to them in the table. However, contextually, gaining a losing bonus point is no shame. Edinburgh made last season’s Heineken Cup semi finals, disposing of French giants Toulouse in the process, and, despite starting this season abysmally in comparison to last, didn’t become a bad team over night. Connacht’s pack was missing several key components and their replacements can be happy with their performance, if not the result, against a team packed with internationals.

Back to back Heineken Cup games against Biarritz await Connacht - their preparation wasn’t ideal, but to rule them out would be a foolish move.

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