Connacht’s hunger rewarded

Connacht 16 Llanelli Scarlets 10

Connacht learned that a good start was half the battle when they overcame the Scarlets to record their second win of the Magners League.

Leading 13-3 at half time, Connacht maintained their composure and their rhythm in a high-tempo second half to deny Llanelli a first away league win his season.

It was a day when the pack took control, particularly in the loose and in the scrum, while Connacht's backs held their defensive lines until a 79th minute try gave the visitors a bonus point. But it was not enough to deny Connacht on the night when coach Michal Bradley accepted their backs were to the walls after failing to build on their European form last week in Glasgow.

The Scarlets, minus their six Wales squad members, had an early opportunity but Rhys Priestland's effort was wide, and it was Connacht who bagged the first points when Keatley struck a 13th minute effort from just inside the 10m line. It came after Connacht's first solid foray into the 22 gave them field position and although they coughed up possession, Troy Nathan's tackle forced the penalty when the Scarlets attempted to counterattack.

Keatley could have added another minutes later, but he was on target in the 18th minute as the home side continued to dominate field position while his counterpart's ambitious effort from inside the Scarlet's half lacked the legs.

With Connacht putting in the tackles, keeping the visitors pinned back with some judicious kicking, and maintaining their discipline, the momentum swung the way of the home side. Although they lost Keith Matthews to the sin-bin after a tackle on fullback Daniel Evans, the Scarlets lost lock Vernon Cooper, having already been warned by the referee, and it was the home side who took advantage. They turned the screw up front, and when they had the Scarlets on retreat 10m from the line, Frank Murphy's sniping run set up Johnny O'Connor who found the supporting Mike McComish to finish off. It was a timely try just before the break and when Keatley added the touchline conversion, Connacht had the momentum and the lead.

The Scarlets, as expected, upped the tempo, but it took until the 57th minute when they added to their scoreline with a Priestland penalty after Brett Wilkinson was yellow carded for a scrummage offence. However an immense defensive effort kept the Scarlets out, particularly after a series of short forward drives was halted short of the line courtesy of a turnover initiated by Johnny O'Connor. It was not the only crucial turnover on the night as captain John Muldoon, replacement lock Andrew Browne, Sean Cronin and Bernie Upton maintained their intensity on the floor.

At the back Gavin Duffy gave the Scarlets no change with the high ball, and when Keatley added to his tally with a 65th minute penalty, Connacht maintained their stranglehold on the game for a well deserved victory.

Yellow Cards: K Matthews (26m ), B Wilkinson (56m ); Llanelli, V Cooper (33m ).

Connacht: G Duffy, T Nathan, N Ta'auso, K Matthews, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris, M McCarthy, B Upton, J Muldoon, J O'Connor, M McComish.Replacements, A Browne for McCarthy (55m ), J Hagan for Morris (55m ), M Swift for McComish (66m ), A Flavin for Cronin (72m ).

Llanelli Scarlets: D Evans, M Stoddart, S Lamont, R Higgitt, L Williams, R Priestland, T Knoyle, I Thomas, K Owens P John, V Cooper D Welch, S Easterby, R Pugh, D Lyons.Replacements, A Shingler for Cooper and J Turnbull for Easterby (61m ), J Corsi for John, E M Phillips for Owens, G Davies for Knoyle, D Newton for Priestland, G Maule for Higgitt (all 72m ).

Referee: G Knox (Scotland )



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