Sporting memories : Wallabies win, but Connacht steal the show with 15-man move

Connacht 20 Australia 37

On a week when Connacht Rugby and Galway GAA lost one of its former players, the well-respected gentleman Jimmy Glynn, our memory is of the visit to Galway of the Australian Rugby team in 1996. Few sports people have the opportunity to test themselves against the best in the world, but Jimmy Glynn did against the All Blacks in 1974. Some 22 years later when the Wallabies came to visit, Jimmy remained an avid follower of the game through his involvement with Corinthians RFC.

True, the Australians won handily in the end - running in four second-half tries to Connacht's one - but they had to pull out all the stops after trailing the home side by 12-7 at half-time.

Connacht won great plaudits for their spirited and tenacious performance and it was the home side which stole the limelight when three minutes from time they went over for their only try. The highlight was not the try itself, but the manner in which it was scored. Elwood had sweetly kicked a penalty into touch just five metres from the Australian line, and in a novel move Connnacht put every single player into the line out. The move worked wonders.

Shane Leahy claimed the ball at the front of the line, and all 15 players pushed their Irish A lock over the line to claim the try. It may have been a little too late, but it will undoubtedly become one of the most memorable moves in Connacht rugby history.

"We have had it up our sleeve all season," said coach Gatland, "and there were a few other moves that we did not get the opportuni­ty to use," he said after the match.

Delighted with his side's display, Gatland said he hoped the players had "got a lot out of it".

"It is a great experience for the players. They played particularly well in the first half, and you know when you are playing an international side that they are always going to come back at you."

Gatland said he had expect­ed the Australians to maul the ball a lot more than they did, while his own side had "kicked away possession too often".

Once again Eric Elwood, he said, was the pivotal man.

"He has been out­standing all season - he has made the difference in our side."

Although the Australians are in the process of rebuild­ing for the next World Cup, he believed some had come to Galway for a "romp", but "got a bit of a surprise".

"Our players gave it 100 per cent, they put the Australians under pressure in the first half, and I would hope on reflection they would want to go back out and improve yet again on their display."

Connacht can be well pleased with their display. In the first half they were totally dominated in the line-outs by Australia's big locks Tim Gavin and David Griffin, but the Aussies could make lit­tle use of possession as every time they tried to spin the ball out wide they were hit by a committed Connacht defence.

Once again it was local hero, outhalf Eric Elwood, who was the pivotal man. Setting up attacks, Elwood was all over the pitch, showing no signs of weariness from having played for Ireland A the previous day. He put the provincial side into the lead after 18 minutes with a penalty from just inside the 10m line, but two minutes later the Wallabies struck their first blow when they stretched Connacht's defence to the maximum, and Gavin, standing in the backline, found his way through for the only first-half try, which fullback Tim Wallace converted.

However, Connacht not only kept in touch but deserved their half-time lead of 12-7 after Elwood kicked another three penalties. Captain Rory Rodgers led by example in a keen backrow of Neil Taylor and Barry Gavin, while wingers Michael Kearins and Nigel Carolan - the latter having the ominous task of marking David Campese - refused to let any Wallaby skip past them.

However, the turning point came with­in minutes of the second half. Elwood had extended Connacht's lead to 15-7, but four minutes later Australian No 8 Owen Finnegan caught Connacht's backrow for the first time, and his break set up scrumhalf George Gregan for the first of his two tries. Wallace converted, and took no chances six minutes later when he kicked a penalty from the 22 to put the Aussies into a lead they never relinquished.

The Wallabies certainly stepped up a gear in the second half, and prevented from opening up play, they were forced to change their tactics to a tight game. It worked for them, although Connacht were let off the hook twice when two tries were disallowed - one for a for­ward pass and the other when Gavin dropped the ball just as he was diving over the line. However, in the end the pressure paid off and Connacht were forced to concede a try when Gregan nipped through on the blind from a five metre scrum after 59 minutes. Six minutes later the Aussies kicked for touch just five metres out, won the line-out, and Finnegan claimed the touchdown. Although Wallace missed the conver­sion, he kicked a penalty after 69 min­utes to put Australia into a comfortable 15 -30 lead.

With just a minute left on the clock Connacht then pulled off their master stroke - a 15 man line-out which the side has practised throughout the sea­son, but used only once in Sweden earl­ier this year. Although the Wallabies had the last say with a try from centre Alistair Murdoch, it was Connacht's ingenious move which provided the 8,000 specta­tors with the most special memory.

Connacht: B Carey, M Kearins, A Reddan, N Barry, N Carolan, E Elwood, C McGuinness, J Maher, B Mulcahy, M Finlay, S Leahy, G Heaslip, N Taylor, R Rodgers, B Gavin. Subs: M Reilly for N Taylor (57m ), R Ward for J Maher (62m ), M Murphy for Barry(76m ).

Australia: T Wallace, B Tune, A Murdoch, R Tombs, D Campese, S Larkham, G Gregan, C Blades, M Caputo, A Heath, D Griffin, T Gavin, T Kefu, B Robinson, O Finegan. Subs, T Horan, D Herbert, S Payne, DWilliams, A Blades, M Foley.

Galway Advertiser, 14th, November 1996


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