Connacht getting there!October 23, 2012 - 7:00am
A half-hour into Saturday’s pulsating pool three Heineken Cup clash at the Sportsground, and it was Connacht that looked and played like the team that had winners’ medals in their back pockets.
Reigning English Premiership champions Harlequins were spooked when the home side, thanks to an early master class in outside-half play from the experienced Dan Parks, led by ten points, and it appeared that lightening was about to strike twice, with Connacht on course for their second victory over Conor O’Shea’s outfit in as many seasons.
The upset was on. The baying crowd of almost 8,200 at College Road could sense it. The atmosphere was electric.
Parks converted four penalties in that opening 30 minutes – including one monster effort from over 50 metres – and provided the spark that put centre Dave McSharry through for a spectacular try seven minutes in.
George Naoupu made the hard yards, bursting up field, scrum-half Kieran Marmion recycled quickly from the breakdown, feeding Parks, who unleashed a sublime, crisp, skip pass to McSharry that unlocked the Harlequins’ defence.
Harlequins were out of sorts, relying on the generosity of French referee Jerome Garces for two of their first three penalties – there was more than a suspicion of a knock-on in the lead-up to both of them – that were converted by Ben Botica.
Leading 19-9, Connacht were poised for victory when disaster struck, not once, but twice, as the visitors were ruthless in punishing lapses in concentration and mistakes by the Westerners.
Harlequins accumulated 15 points without reply in the ten minutes to the break, to take a five points 24-19 half-time lead; and from the 30th minute of the first-half to the finish, they out-scored Connacht by 21 points to three to deny Eric Elwood’s outfit a bonus point that their efforts truly deserved.
Scrum-half Danny Care struck the first blow, taking advantage of a lapse in defence that bordered on criminal, breaking from the base of a scrum in Connacht’s 22, with a classic number nine try, sniping down the blindside and running in unopposed. Marmion and John Muldoon, who were both at fault through a lack of communication and vigilance, won’t relish the replays.
For more, read this week's Connacht Sentinel.