With an 11-point return from a possible 15 in the opening three Guinness Pro 12 games, Connacht coach Pat Lam is happy, but not yet satisfied.
Saturday’s five tries and bonus point win over the Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground was Connacht’s first in three seasons, but having “gifted” Cardiff two bonus points was “disappointing”, according to Lam.
“I just don’t know what it is about Cardiff, we just can’t shake them off. It is fair to say I was not happy at half time - to have gifted them 17 points. Against Glasgow we were on the wrong side of calls, this was all our own fault, just a little sloppiness. However once we got that sorted, we were able to impose our game. It was pleasing that after 49 minutes we kicked into gear and stepped it up a notch.”
Connacht secured their third bonus point in three games in this nine-try Pro 12 fixture, playing with confidence for long periods. Although despite early domination, they gifted the Blues an intercept try when attacking inside their opponents’ half, and right wing Aled Summerhill read the long pass perfectly to scamper home from 60 metres, with outhalf Rhys Patchell converting.
However with Tiernan O’Halloran exemplary in the air, and the pack making headway via the direct route, scrumhalf Kieran Marmion’s sniping break from a ruck opened Connacht’s try count, and Carty’s conversion had the sides level after 10 minutes.
A delightful grubber kick from the outhalf provided Connacht with a line-out five metres out, and with Andrew Browne securing possession, the driving maul was finished by Nepia Fox-Matamua for his third try in three games.
Carty added the extras before Connacht had bagged the third try two minutes later, Danie Poolman finishing a sweet backline move for a 19-7 lead.
However elementary mistakes handed Cardiff the initiative, and they capitalised with a try from No 8 Josh Turnbull. Patchell’s conversion closed the gap to 19-14, and when O’Halloran was yellow-carded, Patchell potted the penalty to close the gap to three points at the break.
Cardiff picked up where they left off after the restart, but after some desperate defending and a super tackle from Rory Parata, fullback Dan Fish eventually touched down for their third try, Patchell’s conversion giving the Blues a 24-19 lead after 48 minutes.
Connacht, however, regained the initiative for a vital 10 minute period. Displaying variation in their play and confidence with the ball in hand, they were rewarded after some patient phase play when O’Halloran touched down from Carty’s chip, and the outhalf added the conversion to put Connacht in front again.
And in another display of going through the phases, replacement Aly Muldowney charged over the line for Connacht’s fifth try six minutes later, Carty’s conversion ensuring the hosts were in the driving seat again.
Carty then struck a 79th-minute penalty to seal their second Pro 12 victory this season, but the Blues bagged a fourth try and losing bonus point when, four minutes into injury time, prop Sam Hobbs crashed over with Davies converting.
“That was disappointing. We should have finished them off, but we got penalised, and penalised again, and then with a couple of minutes to go, we were just defending, defending, defending. So, great we got the five, but certainly disappointed to gift them two points,” says Lam.
The win sees Connacht in fourth place in the Pro 12 table - one point behind leaders Scarlets, Edinburgh and Munster.
However coach Pat Lam remains concerned with the huge mountain Connacht still must climb in the run of 16 games on the trot.
“It’s unheard of. Even in Super Rugby we had nine games before a break and that was tough. Last year it was nine or 10 games. We knew it was going to happen, so we have prepared accordingly. This week we will give the players a break and encourage them to get away from the Sportsground because 16 weeks of seeing each other every day is going to be a challenge.
“As a management team we have looked at it. It is certainly an advantage to the bigger squads, so for us, it is the reason we brought in so many players from the Acadamy to try to close that gap, because we are going to need everybody. There is no way the same 15 can play week-in week-out, so we are going to have to manage the squad really well.”
Connacht resume the Pro 12 on Friday week (October 16 ) with a home fixture against Zebre.
Connacht Rugby: T O’Halloran, D Poolman, R Parata, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, Q Roux, A Browne, J Muldoon (cpt ), N Fox-Matamua, E McKeon. Replacements, A Muldowney for Roux (51m ), J Cooney for Marmion (55 ), F Carr for Poolman (63 ), D Heffernan for McCartney (72 ), G Naoupu for Browne, C O’Donnell for Bealham (79 ), and JP Cooney for Buckley (all 79 ).
Cardiff Blues: D Fish, A Summerhill, T Isaacs, G Evans, R Smith, R Patchell, T Knoyle, S Hobbs, K Dacey, C Mitchell, J Hoeata, L Reed, J Navidi (cpt ), E Jenkins, J Turnbull. Replacements, G Smith for Summerhill (19m ) , G Davies for Fish (58m ), J Down for Hoeata (64 ), M Rees for Dacey and L Jones for Knoyle (72m ) , M Vasowai for Jenkins (73 ).
Referee: N Hennessy (WFU ).