Connacht look to bounce back from Cardiff defeat with rare win at Ravenhill

Connacht v Cardiff Blues RaboDirect Pro12  game at the Sportsground.
Connacht's Henry Fa'afili and Casey Laulala, Cardiff Blues.  Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy.

Connacht v Cardiff Blues RaboDirect Pro12 game at the Sportsground. Connacht's Henry Fa'afili and Casey Laulala, Cardiff Blues. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy.

After a testing time last week against Cardiff at home, Connacht's focus now turns to their improving away form and the tough examination they can expect against Ulster on Saturday evening 5.30pm.

Connacht's poor record at Ravenhill has been well documented - not since 1960 has a Connacht team succeeded at the Belfast stronghold - and on this occasion Eric Elwood's men are heading north after three successive defeats. However Ulster too have taken a dip, losing their last four RaboDirect Pro 12 fixtures, thus ensuring this second interprovincial will have real bite.

Last weekend, for the second game in succession, Connacht put themselves into a winnable position, but then surrendered the lead and the game. Although disappointing, it is a real plus Connacht are competitive, playing decent rugby, scoring tries, conceding few (Ulster and Connacht have conceded just nine tries - the second lowest behind Munster ), and putting themselves in positions to win. Last season's 27 - 16 defeat at Ravenhill suggests the gap is closing between these two sides, but the odds are still stacked against the visitors.

Ulster boast a host of Irish and foreign internationals, who are all named in this weekend's squad, including World Cup winning prop John Afoa, Ireland's Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Tom Court, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace and Chris Henry, South Africans Johann Muller, Pedrie Wannenburg, Ruan Pienaar, and Scotland's Simon Danielli. Connacht, however, have suffered another setback with injuries to both openside flankers Ray Ofisa (neck ) and Johnny O'Connor (calf ). As a result Elwood could move John Muldoon to the openside to accommodate TJ Anderson, who returns to home soil, while Eoghan Grace is likely to be named on the bench.

In the backs Miah Nikora is likely to start his first match of the season after playing 20 minutes against Cardiff, but he could well have a new halfback partner in scrumhalf Paul O'Donohoe due to an injury to Frank Murphy that could see him on the bench.

Connacht are expecting another interprovincial clash played at full throttle.

"Battles between Connacht and Ulster are always very physical," says assistant Connacht coach Dan McFarland. "Ulster have a strong set piece, play a structured game, but they play with a huge tempo which we will have to match.

"These matches have a real edge to them and we will have to go hammer and tongs. We had a good game up there last year, and last weekend we did enough to win against a quality side like Cardiff, but for four minutes of poor play. Historically the odds are not good, but we know we have the ability to win if we can match them, cut out the errors, and kick our points." he says.

That four minutes of "madness" cost Connacht last weekend when, having led by 17 - 6, they lost 26 - 20. It was particularly galling after such a creditable start to the season when pushing for a top-four spot six weeks ago. Now Connacht have dropped to eighth place, and with 12 games on the bounce to come in both Pro 12 and Heineken Cup fixtures, Saturday's loss marked another failure to meet targets.

" Five minutes of madness cost us and it is hard to take," said Elwood. " No more than the Leinster match, you think you can push on, but you don't, " said coach Eric Elwood. "It's frustrating to lose a game when you are 11 points clear. It has now cost us dearly in two games.”

Connacht, with the strong wind behind them, held a deserved lead, but a lack of composure in the face of some aggressive Cardiff defence resulted in the concession of two tries in the space of four minutes after the restart.

Left wing Tiernan O'Halloran's opening try fueled expectations for the 4,000 fans, and although Dan Parks struck an 11th minute penalty to open the Blues' account, the young O'Halloran was once again influential with a superb take from a restart, providing the field position for Connacht from which O'Connor added a penalty. Although Parks kicked one of two penalty attempts, Connacht, with a strong set piece, closed out the half with a try from lock Mike McCarthy following an unstoppable forward drive from a line-out.

However a poor start saw Connacht concede two tries in quick succession to right wing Alex Cuthbert and Casey Laulala. Although Connacht's pack were rewarded with a Miah Nikora penalty to level matters, Parks added a penalty and drop goal to seal the Blues' fourth victory, while Connacht had to be content with a losing bonus point.

Connacht v Cardiff: G Duffy (capt ); F Vainikolo, E Griffin, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Ah You; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu. Replacements: B Tuohy for Vainikolo 53, M Nikora for N O'Connor 53, E Reynecke for Flavin 60, TJ Anderson for Ofisa 60, P O'Donohoe for Murphy 68, D Rogers for Ah You 73.


Page generated in 0.2604 seconds.