Connacht forced to relinquish proud opening night record

Connacht 3

Ospreys 16

If Connacht achieve Heineken Cup rugby status next season, the loss of their unbroken record of victories on Magners League opening nights will be gladly relinquished.

On Friday the international-backed Ospreys utilised all their forward muscle to ensure Connacht would not rack up an eighth opening weekend victory. But what Connacht might bemoan is their inability to bag at least a bonus point at home - the only losing side not to do so at the weekend.

Still Connacht will have plenty of opportunities in this new season, and coach Michael Bradley was understandably pleased with his team’s commitment and the performance of his new league debutants.

"It was a tough game of rugby and there are a couple of work-ons for us. The effort was huge, the commitment excellent, but we just weren't able to turn them over on the day.

"It was important to us that we started the second half well at 13-3. Really the Ospreys' defence were disciplined and didn't give us too many opportunities in the second half and unfortunately for us they ran out winners.”

Connacht’s performance was anything but poor, but they were up against a Welsh side that essentially won last season's Grand Slam and Five Nations. Unfortunately they will face teams of similar calibre throughout the season, and as a result Connacht, more than most, cannot afford to let opportunities slip.

“We created a number of opportunities,” said Bradley. “ Both sides had limited opportunities, but we created as much as the Ospreys, but weren’t able to close them out - a turnover lineout, opportunity to scrum right on half time and the whistle goes, turnover penalty 10 minutes to go when in their 22, a little bit of frustration in the collision area. In a game like this it was important to get within one score of the Ospreys and unfortunately today we were unable to do it.

“We were happy enough at half time playing into the wind. We were a bit disappointed with their try, even though it was well worked. We were aware of it and should have defended it, but the kick through by Hook was worked excellently.”

Connacht’s newcomers also performed well. Hooker Sean Cronin bore the biggest burden against a formidable Ospreys' front row, and in the line-outs he maintained Connacht's excellent production.Outhalf Ian Keatley did all that was asked of him. Not afraid to get involved, he also produced a couple of excellent touchfinders in the second half, while Fionn Carr looked assured.

In appalling weather it was the Ospreys' pack who commanded the breakdown, put pressure on the Connacht scrum, and were physically superior.

That strength up front, particularly in the second half, prevented Connacht building any momentum, and breaking through for a vital try.

As it was the Ospreys would have been a little nervous at half time, having posted just 13 points with a wind that looked to be worth up to 20. They had ruled possession and territory as a result of playing into the wind, but they only had a try and two penalties for their efforts, which became increasingly ragged as the half progressed against a gritty Connacht pack.

The visitors had enjoyed a positive start with Hook striking his opening penalty after four minutes, and with Connacht struggling in the loose against a rampant backrow, led by Ryan Jones, the home side got little change when in possession.

An ambitious kick from Hook just inside his own half very nearly had the legs, but not the accuracy, and when Hook missed another penalty, the Ospreys were just three points ahead.

Crucially they scored a try within a minute. Byrne had set up field position with a midfield surge after Connacht scrumhalf Frank Murphy had opted to clear from a creaking scrum. Hook did not look to have executed the best chip – in fact it looked like he was about to spill the ball – but managed to kick through and in the race for the line it was Scottish international Nikki Walker who prevailed ahead of Connacht's Liam Bibo in his first start in a Magners League fixture.

Despite the wind the Ospreys failed to threaten the Connacht line, apart from another chip from Hook, who also managed a three-pointer when Connacht skipper John Muldoon was sinbinned. And in the closing stages of the half, it was Connacht who were in the ascendancy. Keatley was just short with a penalty, and although Connacht had forced themselves into a scoring position, the halftime whistle interrupted.

Within minutes of the restart it looked like Connacht would make an impact. Ospreys hooker Huw Bennett also was yellow carded and Keatley struck Connacht's first points. Connacht continued to disrupt their opponents' line-out – their best feature of the day – as the home outfit enjoyed a period of territorial advantage. Keatley put in a similar chip to Hook through the middle, but on this occasion it was the Ospreys fullback Lee Byrne who got the bounce, denying John Hearty a try.

After the introducton of Duncan Jones, Connacht immediately conceded a penalty in the scrum - sufficient for Hook to bag his third penalty on 72 minutes and the first away points of the season.

Yellow Cards: John Muldoon, Andrew Farley; Ospreys: Huw Bennett

Connacht: F Carr, L Bibo, G Duffy, K Matthews, J Hearty, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris, M McCarthy, A Farley, J Muldoon (cpt ), R Ofisa, C Rigney. Replacements, A Flavin for Cronin (69 ), R Loughney for Morris 69, Troy Nathan for Keatley 75.

Ospreys: L Bryne, N Walker, S Parker, A Bishop, T Bowe, J Hook , R Webb, P James, H Bennett, C Griffiths, I Gough, I Evans, A Lloyd, M Holah, R Jones (cpt ). Replacements, E Shervington for Bennett 56, F TiaTia for Lloyd 60m, A Jones for Gough 65, R Wells for Webb 65, D Jones for James 69.

Referee: Neil Patterson (Scotland )


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