Connacht marked the occasion of the first visit of Portugal to the Galway Sportsground with a useful four-try victory on Sunday.
The up-and-coming Portugal side displayed a typically spirited performance on another wet and windy night in Galway, but it was the home side, with a couple of youngsters making their debuts, who took the honours.
Debutants David Nolan and fullback John O’Brien played a key part in the victory. Nolan put in a gutsy effort in the second row, while O’Brien marked his first game in a Connacht senior jersey with a try. And with local players Ronan Loughney, Aidan Wynne, Daniel Riordan, and Joe Merrigan, all in action, it was a good day for the Connacht academy.
Connacht scored four tries, two in each half, but despite the final scoreline, this was not easy run out. Portugal battled throughout, and came within six points early in the second half before Connacht regained the initiative.
Connacht also struggled with the wind in the opening half, and it was not until two minutes before the interval that Connacht broke away.
Two tries in as many minutes just before the break dealt a blow to their spirited opponents.
The first try came from O’Brien and was made by some excellent quick tempo link play from scrumhalf Kieran Campbell. Centre Aidan Wynne had the final pass and even though the Clifden-born fullback had much work to do, he finished with some style.
A minute later a turnover in midfield paved the way for try number two after Campbell collected and sent Troy Nathan through on the angle. Nathan, playing on the wing instead of his customary outhalf position, sprinted home from half way for a great score. Both were converted from the touchline by Andy Dunne who had also added an early penalty which had been cancelled out by a Pedro Cabral kick.
The late scores might have been a blow to Portugal, but they came out full of energy and endeavour in the second half and within four minutes had a try of their own from winger Goncalo Foro who ran in from 30 metres untouched. Cabral missed the conversion, but brought his side within six midway through the half with his second penalty.
Connacht, however, maintained the momentum, which was aided by a number of replacements, particularly prop Brett Wilkinson who got his side’s third try to stretch the lead to 22-11.
The experienced Mel Deane added the fourth, supplied by scrumhalf Conor O’Loughlin, who made a welcome return from long-term injury.
Connacht: J O’Brien; T Nathan, J Hearty, A Wynne, D Riordan; A Dunne, K Campbell; J Lyne, A Flavin, R Morris; D Nolan, D Gannon; M McCarthy, R Ofisa, C Rigney.Replacements: R Loughney for Morris 22m; M Deane for Wynne h/t. T Donnelly for Hearty 53m; J Merrigan for Flavin 56m; B Wilkinson for Lyne 56m; D Riordan for Nathan 68m, C Muldoon for Nolan 76m; C O’Loughlin for Campbell 56m.
Portugal: V Gaspar, A Esteves, D Gama, M Leal, G Foro; P Carbral, J Pinto; J Junior, J Correia, J Severino; G Silva, V Jorge; J Bardi, S Palha, E Acosta. Replacement: A Sousa for Palha 21 mins; Mira for Leal 60m, Oliviera for Gama 62m, L Balague for Sousa 65m, N Taful for Correia 68m, Y Ricard for Gaspar 68m, L Kadosh for Pinto 70.
Referee: S McDowell (IRFU )