Connacht prepare for what is expected to be the toughest and possibly the deciding fixture of this year’s Junior Interprovincial Championship when they face Leinster in Donnybrook on Saturday at 2.30pm.
Both sides enter Saturday’s match on full points, having overcome Ulster and Munster on opening day with four-try bonus wins.
Leinster, favourites and defending champions, enjoyed a 30-24 victory over Munster, while Connacht secured a comprehensive 36-12 win over Ulster in Tuam.
With only a single score between the sides in the last two years, another tight encounter is expected, but Connacht will be determined to avenge the loss that cost them a first interprovincial crown two seasons ago.
Connacht’s stock in the competition has risen in the last two seasons, and their increased confidence heading into the first junior interprovincial on Saturday against Ulster was justified. Despite playing against the wind, they were 10 - 0 up at the break, before powering to a 36 - 0 lead entering the final 10 minutes.
Connacht dominated the set piece, especially the scrum, where the home side’s front row of Wesley Maxwell, Martin Lee and Tom Toolan had their Ulster opponents in all sorts of trouble.
Outhalf Ger O’Connor opened the scoring with a 15th minute penalty, but it was not until the 35th minute that Connacht added to their total. A series of scrum collapses near the Ulster line led to a warning for Ulster loosehead Matt Wilson. Connacht elected for a further scrum from the ensuing penalty and when it collapsed once more referee Will O’Connor had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try. O’Connor converted to leave the score 10-0 in Connacht’s favour.
Connacht lost prop Wesley Maxwell with a shoulder injury shortly before half time, but second-half replacement outhalf, Sligo’s Paddy Pearson, put Ulster under pressure with some excellent tactical kicking. However it was when Connacht turned defence into attack that they reaped the reward after a wayward pass from Ulster centre Colin Atkinson was intercepted by Connacht winger Rory O’Connor who ran 70 metres to touch down for an excellent try in the corner. Pearson added the sideline conversion for a 17 -0 lead.
Clearly on top, Connacht continued to pressure the Ulster outfit, and a series of rucks and mauls eventually led to scrum half Micky Murphy putting Aaron Spring through a gap in the centre and the winger broke two tackles to touch down in the corner. Pearson again converted for a 24-0 lead. Several miutes later Pearson was again involved, putting Dave Prior away with a lovely skip pass score Connacht’s all-important bonus point fourth try.
As Connacht emptied the bench, Monivea flanker Eoin Rooney made a break which ended with Rory O’Connor claiming his second try and Pearson again added the conversion from the touchline to put Connacht 36 -0 up.
With the game wrapped up, Ulster restored some pride with tries from Gary Hall and David Sharkey, but it was Connacht who celebrated a deserved victory
Connacht Juniors: K Higgins, R O’Connor, D Prior, M Fafita, A Spring, G O’Connor, M Murphy, W Maxwell, M Lee, T Toolan, D Hansberry, W Parker, E Rooney, M Ward, A McNulty. Subs, D McHugh, R Coughlan, B Murphy, J Bowes, P Pearson, T Ellard, J Culkin.