Connacht continue to claw their way up the URC table having completed the first series of URC fixtures with a merited 22-19 win over Ospreys.
In this second successive win over Welsh opposition, it was a positive response to a poor start in a season that currently sees 11 teams vying for one of the top eight spots.
It was a much needed win, and Connacht’s head coach Andy Friend says his team is a long way from becoming title contenders, needing to deliver on their attacking prowess to match an ever-improving pack.
Against Osprey in Swansea, Connacht created 12 entries into the 22, but only converted possession into scores on four occasions - a statistic Friend says is “not good enough”.
“There were too many times we were getting in the score zone and either knocking the ball on, turning over a maul, or getting held up - there’s far too many inaccuracies when in that zone - not just tonight, but over the seven games, and we are very aware of it.”
“We’ll take the win most definitely, but we are very aware that we still have a lot of things to tidy up before we can seriously consider being a title contender,” Friend says.
Connacht made hard work of seeing off a young Ospreys’ outfit shorn of their internationals as Toby Booth’s side showed a real ball-winning appetite in both attack and defence. However, that ability to eventually grind out a win, is a positive, says Friend.
“I remember this fixture in my first year and we played up at Bridgend and we were absolutely beaten up, and at 12-0 I was sitting there thinking, ‘have we not learned anything? Can we manage to find a way out of it? So that just shows the resilience of the group, their strength of character, and compliments to Pete Wilkins whose messaging at half-time was clear, calm and direct. The boys got that message and delivered in the second half. It is a step forward.”
There was little between the sides - Connacht edging the territorial stakes, but one concerning statistic was the number of missed tackles - some 21 compared with Osprey's nine, while they also conceded more turnovers than their opponents 15-11.
The first half was a story of missed opportunities, but Connacht came out 14-12 ahead after a disastrous start in which they gifted their hosts two soft tries in eight minutes, and although Connacht’s response was positive, it lacked the clinical edge as they spurned several scoring chances. However, John Porch played a vital role in getting Connacht back on track before Jack Carty floated a pass for Alex Wootton to score after 33 minutes, and Carty nailed the sideline. Four minutes later man of the match Caolin Blade sniped over at the base of a ruck to put Connacht into a 12-14 half-time lead. With another try after the break from Porch, Connacht looked on target for a bonus point, but instead they spent long periods in defence. Carty sensibly opted for a drop goal to put some distance between the sides as Scarlets delivered the game’s final try through Sam Perry.
Ospreys: M Nagy, L Morgan, T Thomas-Wheeler, K Williams, K Giles, J Walsh, R Morgan Williams, R Henry, S Baldwin (C ), T Botha, R Davies, H Sutton, E Roots, H Deaves, M Morris.Replacements: T Davies for Deaves (59m ), S Parry for Baldwin (54 ), G Phillips for Henry (54m ), S Parry for Baldwin (54 ), B Warren for Botha (54 ), J Regan for R Davies (72 ).
Connacht: T O’Halloran, A Wootton, T Farrell, D Hawkshaw, J Porch, J Carty (C ), C Blade, D Buckley, D Tierney-Martin, J Aungier, O Dowling, G Thornbury, S Hurley-Langton, C Oliver, J Butler.Replacements: A Byrne for O’Halloran (36m ), G Stewart for Martin-Tierney and S Illo for Aungier (both 49 ), D Murray for Dowling and P Boyle for Hurley-Langton (59m ), K Marmion for Blade (63 ), T Daly for Wootton (70 ). Referee: Sam Grove White (SRU )