Connacht 29 Cardiff Blues 22
Connacht have secured their place in the Guinness PRO14 play-offs with a seven-point win over Cardiff Blues in the Sportsground this afternoon.
First half-tries from Caolin Blade and Gavin Thornbury saw the home side seven points ahead at the break but it wasn’t until Matt Healy crossed for an opportunistic try that a win looked in sight. Cardiff hit back in the 79th minute but Connacht held on for the win.
As well as a PRO14 quarter-final, Andy Friend’s men have also secured their place in the top flight of European rugby for next season.
The difficult conditions and strong wind certainly played their part in Galway today. Jack Carty missed his opening penalty opportunity after just three minutes following brilliant work in the breakdown by Colby Fainga’a. The home side look threatening in the opening quarter but their over-eagerness to get points on the board cost them as they made a string of unforced errors. Dave Heffernan knocked on the ball while trying to offload before Tiernan O’Halloran sent a forward pass to Darragh Leader after Jarrad Butler managed to regain possession on the ground.
Though they endured less possession, Cardiff proved themselves to be a dangerous outfit with Matthew Morgan and Owen Lane both showing their pace out wide where Connacht were often found lacking, However, it was the men from the west who registered the first points of the game after 11 minutes when Paul Boyle caught Rory Thornton out of position and slipped through the gap before offloading to Caolin Blade who easily dodged the tackles and finished under the post, allowing Carty to slot the conversion without an issue.
Carty’s form in open play has been superb in recent times and that continued today as he showed a superb bit of skill and composure to send a crossfield kick to Matt Healy in front of their own try line after Tiernan Halloran brilliantly read the play and intercepted a pass to elude the danger. However, Tom Farrell knocked on the ball after taking Healy’s pass and Connacht handed the advantage right back to their visitors.
Cardiff soon punished their hosts for their lack of composure. Lane made a searing break, dodging the tackles of his opposite number while Carty was dragged away by the decoy runner and the Cardiff winger dotted the ball down under the posts. Gareth Anscombe nailed the conversion to level the game after 20 minutes.
The next period of play saw possession bounce from one side to the other through a string of errors. Bundee Aki brilliantly ripped the ball away in contact but, again, it was knocked on, this time through Boyle. However, Connacht were awarded a free-kick from the scrum and opted for the put in themselves. The home side lost control of the ball in the resulting phases, allowing Thornton to poach it but Boyle soon made up for his earlier mistake by forcing a turnover at the breakdown.
Carty chose to kick to the corner and from the line out and maul, Connacht bundled over the line with Gavin Thornbury receiving the plaudits. From the sideline, Carty sent a brilliant conversion between the posts. As Connacht grew in confidence, they began to force errors from Cardiff, however, Carty was unable to punish them as his attempted penalty was pulled wide by the wind.
Connacht emerged a much more composed outfit in the second half and quickly asserted their dominance. Within the opening 10 minutes, Carty had increased the gap to 10 points when Cardiff were penalised on their own line. Their next score also came from the fly-half when he produced a moment of individual magic with a mesmerising kick and chase. The pace of Morgan proved no match for that of the 26-year-old and Carty ran over for his fourth try of the season.
Úd den scoth! Draíochtúil ó Jack Carty & @connachtrugby
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) April 13, 2019
Just as Connacht looked to be dominating proceedings, they again allowed Cardiff a foothold in this game, conceding a penalty just five minutes later which Anscombe slotted with ease. Another penalty followed when Buckley was deemed to have dragged down the scrum and Connacht were forced to defend in numbers. The home side initially held firm but were eventually caught out wide when Jason Harries looked to have crossed in the corner despite the attention of Kieran Marmion and Halloran. However, the TMO deemed that the ball was grounded at the same time Harries’ hand went into touch and Cardiff were awarded a five-metre scrum. This time, however, there was no breaking the Connacht defence.
Cardiff continued to pile the pressure on the home side and as they drew out penalties, they continuously refused to kick at goal, preferring to kick deep into the corner. On their third attempt, they managed to set up an advantageous maul and Lloyd Williams and Jarrod Evans both made breaks for the line. Referee, Mike Adamson, signalled for yet another penalty and from the resulting line out and maul, Josh Turnbull bundled over in the corner. Anscombe showed his class to nail the conversion from the sideline, leaving seven between the sides once again.
Connacht struck back immediately from the restart. The ball bounced around before Fainga’a booted it down the line. Farrell followed it up drawing away the defence, allowing Healy to squeeze in the corner. After a lengthy consultation, Adamson awarded the try much to the delight of the sold-out crowd, though Carty missed the conversion. Another late try from Harries left Cardiff trailing by seven and while they desperately looked for the equaliser, Connacht held on for the win.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Jason Harries; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Ethan Lewis, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, Seb Davies, Olly Robinson.
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Dmitri Arhip, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Lloyd Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)