Connacht’s Heineken Cup campaign ends on a low

Connacht fullback Gavin Duffy says the province will bounce back from its poorest result in the Heineken Cup.

Having entered the final pool match with a quarter-final at stake, no one expected Saracens to give Connacht a 64-6 hammering at Allianz Park on Saturday.

"Someone said 'we thought these days were behind us.' I thought so as well, but we have been here before and we will come back - it is just the Connacht way," Duffy says.

"We are a better team than that, and we have proven it. We went to Toulouse and beat them with the perfect game plan and didn't make any mistakes, then on the flip side we went to Allianz Park thinking we had the perfect game plan, but we didn't execute it.

“That is the biggest disappointment, that we didn't even give ourselves a chance. They had us under a lot pressure and we lost our shape. Then we didn't offer anything in attack when we had the ball.”

The former Amlin Cup winner with Harlequins says consistency is Connacht’s problem and the province must now concentrate on the Pro 12 to get off the bottom of the table.

“We look to our nearest and dearest, Munster, Ulster and Leinster, and the consistency they have and that's what we aspire to. Until we get that, we have a long way to go.

“We have a tight unit here, and that is required, otherwise it will be a long season. We are bottom of the Pro 12 and the main focus is to get off the bottom of that and get as high as we can."

It was a Heineken Cup of extremes for the province, and apart from Saturday’s final fixture, it was a successful one. Three wins, including the season's biggest upset with a victory over Toulouse in France, put Connacht in contention for a quarter-final for the first time. And, despite Saturday’s unexpected result, Connacht still finished with the highest points of those in third place in their pools.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s defeat to Saracens was an 11-try rout against a side motivated by a third successive quarter-final.

"We don't have the €30 million-odd budgets of everyone else, but everything we are trying to do is about teamwork,” says Lam. “The highlight was Toulouse when we showed that as a group we can achieve. The lowlight was Saracens. We were just destroyed as a team and as individuals, and that was the extreme. In between we have had some good bits.”

Connacht was not the only team Saracens have demolished this season, but having escaped with a narrow 23-17 victory at the Galway Sportsground in round one, Mark McCall had adopted the perfect game plan, which the players produced and outhalf Charlie Hodgson directed. Although the visitors had lived with the English premiership leaders for most of the first half, there were warning signs. Hodgson utilised big men like the Vunipolo brothers to continually punch holes close to the gain line and open up space out wide for David Strettle, Chris Ashton & co. They restarted deep, disrupted the Connacht line-out, bullied the breakdown, and were fast on their feet. While Connacht held their shape, they had some chance of keeping the score low and capitalising on chances, but after the break, and with Nathan White in the bin, they fell apart.

Connacht outhalf Dan Parks had kicked Connacht into a 6-5 lead within the opening 20 minutes, during which time England winger Chris Ashton had opened their try account. Hodgson provided the flat inside pass to Mako Vunipola who made the hard yards, before Hodgson supplied the England winner in the corner. David Strettle capitalised from a quick throw-in and to attack up the blind to grab the first of his hat-trick, and the turning point came a minute before the break when hooker Schalk Brits touched down from a rolling maul for an 18-6 half time lead.

Connacht had their chances, but were forced into making too many errors, and within eight minutes of the restart Saracens put the game beyond doubt when porous defence allowed Strettle and fullback Alex Goode to run from deep and score. As Connacht collapsed, the English premiership leaders ran in another six tries.

Scorers: Connacht, Dan Parks (2 penalties ); Saracens, Chris Ashton (2 tries ), David Strettle (3 tries ), A Goode (1try ), Schalk Brits (1 try ), George Kruis (1 try ), Chris Wyles (1 try ), James Johnston (1 try ), Jackson Wray (1 try ), C Hogdson (1 penalty, 3 conversions ).

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor,, B Barritt, D Strettle, C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick, G Kruis, B Vunipola, K Brown, E Joubert.Replacements, R Wigglesworth for de Kock, J George for Brits, C Wyles for Taylor and J Johnston for Stevens (all 50m ), R Barrington for M Vunipola (55m ), A Hargreaves for Kruis (58m ), O Farrell for Hodgson (59m ), J Wray for Brown (63m ).

Connacht: G Duffy; F Carr, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy, D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, S Henry, N White; M Swift, C Clarke, A Browne, J Heenan, J Muldoon. Replacements, J Harris-Wright for Henry (38m ), D Buckley for Wilkinson (HT ), J Carty for Parks, M Swift for Kearney and R Ah You for White (all 50m ), G Naoupu for Heenan and D Leader for Henshaw (59m ), P O'Donohoe for Carr (63m ).

Referee: Leighton Hodges.


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