Connacht are the champions

Niyi Adeolokun outruns Eoin Reddatn to score.

Niyi Adeolokun outruns Eoin Reddatn to score.

Connacht 20

Leinster 10

Mission complete.

Connacht as perpetual underdogs are no more. Crowning an incredible odyssey with a first Guinness Pro 12 was the deserved reward for an unswerving belief in themselves, their skill, and their structures - masterminded over the last three years by New Zealander Pat Lam.

Adopting a game plan based on Southern Hemisphere rugby may have taken some time to perfect, but on Saturday there was no doubt which team was superior. Size does not matter as much as skill; international caps do not matter when you have a team culture; and Pat Lam, the teacher by trade, has learned every lesson in his playing and coaching career to mould this disparate group of players into a team of champions.

Finishing second in the league to Leinster by virtue of one fewer victory, Connacht's hunger to win, skill to execute, and confidence to be brave ensured Connacht were the deserved winners. Their refreshing brand of rugby has been the highlight of the Guinness Pro 12 all season, and with more tries and try bonus points throughout the regular season, Connacht maintained that superiority with three tries to one at Murrayfield.

"We wanted to go out playing as we have been playing," said captain John Muldoon, "and that was the big thing we have been hammering, Pat's been hammering it, I have been hammering it, 'don't fall back into habits of old'."

Fears that Connacht's inexperience on the big stage might mitigate against their game plan vanished within 15 minutes. Having absorbed early Leinster pressure, whether at the breakdown or from a few testing up and unders, Connacht adjusted and dipped their toe in the water with their first real attack when Bundee Aki, Tiernan O'Halloran and Matt Healy broke down the left.

The vastly improved Connacht's counter-attacking game bore fruit soon when Healy, from an Eoin Reddan kick, raced up field, before a supporting Aki drew the cover and supplied fullback O'Halloran. The Galway native was able to step past Leinster's Rob Kearney to grab the opening try, with outhalf Aj MacGinty converting.

With Mick Kearny coming of second best for an attempted tackle on Jake Heenan; Dillane, superb at the restart and playing his part; and Aly Muldowney pivotal as always as the link man, whether offloading quickly or carrying up through the middle, it ensured Connacht were on the front foot. Although a Henshaw grubber had a little too much weight for Healy, the momentum was clearly with the newcomers.

Henshaw, with superb offloading in the tackle, was instrumental in the second try, with O'Halloran and Aki also involved. Scrumhalf Kieran Marmion did well to tidy up and quickly found the superb Niyi Adeolokun out wide. The former Trinity player, revelling in the occasion, had the presence to kick ahead and beat Reddan for try number two after 21 minutes.

Although MacGinty missed the conversion, he was spot on with the first penalty of the game four minutes later to give Connacht a 15-0 lead. Queue the Connacht supporters with The Fields of Athenry again.

A thumping tackle from Aki on Leinster's Johnny Sexton, the player many commentators expected to be Leinster's match winner, epitomised the Connacht mindset, while Leinster finished the half with a knock-on by Strauss in a rare but pedestrian attack out wide.

Tom McCartney

Leo Cullen's side finally got on the scoresheet within minutes of the restart, when Leinster got the upper hand in the scrum, and Sexton opted to kick the resulting penalty, while MacGinty's 47th minute effort from just inside half way was short.

Connacht's miss seemed to give the four-times champions a glimmer of hope as they gained some momentum, but they lacked penetration against the well-oiled Connacht defence. Instead it was Connacht hooker Tom McCartney who enlivened the tempo with a fleet-footed sidestep and dash to the line, only for Sexton to haul him in just inches short.

However by the 56th minute Connacht had their name written on the trophy. From a patient build-up, MacGinty produced the perfect chip at the perfect time, and Matt Healy pounced to grab the third try for a 20-3 lead.

With 20 minutes remaining Leinster desperately needed to score, and they took advantage after Connacht were forced to rejig their back line. Replacement scrumhalf John Cooney, just five minutes on the pitch, was forced off having popped his shoulder, and with O'Halloran out of action with a suspected head knock, Sean Cronin broke through the stretched cover to grab Leinster's solitary try, which Sexton converted on 66 minutes.

After Leinster made a mess of a penalty, MacGinty produced the perfect relieving kick to gain vital territorial advantage. With the clock ticking down and history beckoning for Connacht, the Connacht squad and management advanced closer to the pitch. Incredible scenes soon followed on Nigel Owen's full time whistle. Connacht, clearly superior on the day, produced a championship winning performance. A day like no other in the 131 year history of Connacht Rugby.


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