It proved another memorable evening for Connacht Rugby, and all the more so for the young talent that rose to the rare challenge of an international XV visiting the Galway Sportsground.
Manu Samoa, ranked 11th in the world, would have expected to run in a handy result in Tuesday evening’s warm-up to Saturday’s first international of their Northern Hemisphere tour. Although it might have been a shadow test side, it boasted a host of the Sevens World Series winning side, including sensation Mikaele Pesamino, packed with power and pace to test any side.
Yet the home outfit showed a resilience in defence and an attacking capability that produced three tries which were sufficient to see off the South Sea Islanders. A huge fillip for Connacht's future stars, several of whom were starting their first match of the season, Connacht coach Eric Elwood was understandably delighted.
"It was an opportunity for the younger lads to get some game time and it is part of their development and growth to play in big games like this, and, to give them credit, they were up against some big powerful men tonight.
“I think the character of the lads showed - the desire to hang in there, the desire to play rugby as well. Yes, there were always going to be mistakes with the amount of changes to the team, but credit to them, I though their application and desire to win was fantastic.”
Samoa had edged the first half by two tries to one, but outhalf Miah Nikora was on target with three penalties to ensure Connacht were just a single point behind at the break, 16 - 17.
The Samoans, in their fine tradition of sevens rugby, looked more comfortable attacking with the ball in hand and from broken play than in defence, but it was not until the 19th minute that flanker Mikioka Timoteo had the power to force a gap through the Connacht cover from a reverse pass. Until then both sides had created chances with Samoan outhalf and sevens player Lolo Lui and Connacht's Miah Nikora trading penalties.
Prompted by some swift distribution from Nikora, supported by the experienced Troy Nathan at fullback, and with u-20 player Eoin Griffin looking every inch a part of the developing Connacht jigsaw, Connacht relished the chance to display their attacking skills. And they came away with points on each of their forays into their opponents' 22.
The visitors were unlucky not to add to their scoring tally on two occasions, but they were gifted a 34th minute try when flanker Selesele broke from the ruck to waltz through a porous cover.
Connacht’s response was immediate. From a sweeping attacking move Nathan found the gap before offloading in the tackle to the supporting Tuohy who dotted down in the left corner. Nikora added the extras from the touchline and knocked over a penalty when scrumhalf Poluleuligaga was yellow-carded to take a two-point lead after the restart. Yet again Samoa carved out an opportunity, and despite pressure on a line-out, Lui set up a super attack from half way which replacement Brando Vaaulu finished for their third try.
The introduction of captain John Muldoon, however, added impetus to the home side, and with Nathan giving territorial dominance with his touchfinders, Connacht responded through their pack. Patient and persistent driving was eventually rewarded when Muldoon got the touchdown, and Nikora, who was 100 per cent on target all evening, added the conversion to give Connacht a 26 - 22 lead after 62 minutes. The home side continued to maintain the initiative, and although they should have scored again from Conor O'Loughlin's break, it was enough to take Samoa’s scalp.
Yellow cards: Poliuleuligaga 43m; Paulo 58m
Connacht: T Nathan, S Monaghan, E Griffin, A Wynne, B Tuohy, M Nikora, C Willis, R Loughney, A Flavin, B Fa’amausili, A Browne, B Upton, E McKeon, M McComish, E Taylor. Replacements, D Rogers for Fa’amausili 52m, J Muldoon for McKeown 52m, D Fanning for Monaghan 55, C O'Loughlin for Willis 59m, D Murphy for Flavin 65; S Conneely for Taylor and R Sweeney for Loughney 74m.
Manu Samoa: M Pesamino, F Otto, U Setu, J Helleur, S Sinoti, L Lui(cpt ), J Poluleluligaga, S Lemalu, T Paulo, L Mulipola, C Slade, D Leo, M Timoteo, F Selesele, R Muagututia. Replacements, B Vaaulu for Setu HT, Leleimalefaga for Mulipolo 60m, U Mai for Poluleuigaga 54m, G Williams for Pessamino 72, J Tekori for Timeteo 76m.
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU ).