Connacht’s woes worsened on Sunday. Not only did they lose an opportunity to capture valuable Magners League points, but they continue to suffer a series of injuries that are stretching their resources to the limit.
Mike McCarthy, who was injured in training last week ahead of Sunday’s Ospreys’ encounter, is looking at a 10 week recovery after breaking a bone in the base of his foot. But at Liberty Stadium another backrow player, No 8 Colm Rigney, tore his medial ligament and will be out of action for six weeks. Newest signing, centre Niva Ta’auso, tore his hamstring and was undergoing a medical yesterday to determine the extent of the damage, which could see him missing anything from one to five weeks.
Some good news, however, is that Johnny O’Connor, recovering from a calf injury, is likely to make his first appearance for Connacht since December in an A fixture against Ulster in Mullingar tomorrow evening. The only other backrow cover at present are two locks, Dave Gannon and Andrew Browne.
Hopes are high he will come through that and be ready to start for the province against Cardiff in the Galway Sportsground on March 6 which becomes a must-win for the home side who are becoming further adrift at the bottom of the league table.
Despite the Ospreys’ position in the league table - second behind Munster and level with Leinster - they were beatable on Sunday, missing most of their international players.
A poor start did not help Connacht’s cause, and although they played some enterprising rugby - possibly their best away from home this season - they could not replicate the clinical finishing of their opponents.
Connacht’s Michael Bradley was blunt in his side’s inability to make possession count.
“It was a great opportunity for us. I think we were in the opposition half six times in the first half and turned the ball over each time. You cannot expect to win matches if you do that.
“I looked at the clock after half time and it was 16 minutes and I was not sure if the Ospreys had touched the ball,” he said, “but they were much more clinical than us and that was the key difference.”
Within three minutes Connacht had conceded a try after Johnny Vaughton initially found the gap, and despite the covering tackle, he was able to offload to centre Jonathan Spratt who finished off, with outhalf Dan Biggar adding the extras.
Thereafter Connacht took over for most of the half, playing some enterprising rugby. Outhalf Ian Keatley missed an early penalty kick from the 10 metre line and they had to wait until the 30th minute before they were rewarded when Keatley struck a penalty after the Ospreys went off their feet.
Connacht’s backs, suspect in defence, certainly played some fine attacking rugby with Fionn Carr, Gavin Duffy, and Keith Matthews prominent. Carr did well to field Frank Murphy’s clearing garryowen before kicking ahead, but from the ensuing five-metre scrum Connacht were penalised, losing both field position and possession.
Matthews fielded another neat chip from Keatley, but again they lost out when Connacht were eventually penalised for not releasing.
While the forwards set pieces were solid, the Ospreys showed their superiority in defence, thwarting Connacht’s best attacking moves. They also possessed the necessary finishing power to finish the half 15 - 3 ahead when flanker Steve Tandy took outhalf Dan Biggar’s skip pass to waltz in on the exposed left wing.
After Keatley was well wide with a 45th-minute penalty, the Ospreys made the necessary bench changes to regain the initiative and within minutes they had crossed for a third try. Although Carr was fingertip close with an intercept just yards from the Connacht line, Vaughton regained possession and sprinted clear to the line. Connacht did get in for a try from replacement Troy Nathan which Andy Dunne converted in the 78th minute but it was a poor return for their efforts, keeping them rooted to the bottom of the league table.
Ospreys: G Owen: K Phillips, S Parker, J Spratt, J Vaughton; D Biggar, J Nutbrown; P James, R Hibbard, C Griffiths; P Levi, A Lloyd, J Thomas; S Tandy, T Smith. Replacements : E Shervington for Hibbard (24 mins ), F Tiatia for Lloyd, M Holah for Tandy, D Bishop for Spratt, R Bevington for Griffiths (66 m )ins, R Webb for Nutbrown (74 mins ), A Beck for Parker (77 mins ).
Connacht: G Duffy, F Carr, N Taauso, K Matthews, L Bibo, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris, A Browne, A Farley, J Muldoon (cpt ), R Ofisa, C Rigney. Replacements : D Gannon for Rigney (ht ), A Dunne for Keatley, T Nathan for Ta’auso (65 mins ), K Campbell for Murphy (70 mins ), A Flavin for Cronin (72 mins ), R Loughney for Wilkinson (78 mins ).
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland ).