Connacht run out of steam after a barnstorming startOctober 23, 2012 - 7:00am
Rob Murphy at the Sportsground
CONNACHT’S hopes of finishing second in their Heineken Cup pool are not gone just yet, but the failure to garner a losing bonus point from this home game against the pool favourites, having led by 10 points on the half hour mark, might well prove crucial.
This, of course, was a performance littered with positives for Eric Elwood’s men. Against the Premiership champions who came forewarned and forearmed and who are rated by most judges as serious title contenders, Connacht stood tall, took the game to their opponents and had them very much rattled by the time Dan Parks kicked his fourth penalty for a 19-9 lead.
Yet even at that point, Harlequins were still solidly in the contest. When they had the ball they were patient and hugely effective, blowing Connacht away at each breakdown and rarely if ever losing yards from phase to phase. Each possession in the first quarter lasted multiple phases and ended with three points from the boot of the peerless Ben Botica.
Yet Connacht had answers too. Botica had scored on four minutes but two minutes later the home support in the 8,191 were in raptures after Parks released McSharry with a bullet-like flat pass that flat-footed the visiting defence and created the gap for the former UCD centre to canter home.
The sides exchanged kicks before Parks tapped over three on the bounce. At this point the contest was breathless and the atmosphere was electric. The home side wearing their new grey kit which underlines how marketing trumps tradition in the game these days (will we see the green jersey of Connacht in the Heineken Cup this year?) were playing like a side targeting first place in the pool.
Conor O’Shea’s outfit didn’t wilt or panic with such a daunting scenario on the scoreboard. They never once deviated from a game plan that saw them keep ball in hand religiously no matter where in the field and trusted their power at the breakdown to eventually yield results. Two tries in the ten minutes before half time underlined why that was a good call.
The first came from a scrum in the 22 where a huge blindside gap was exploited by the alert Danny Care who caught John Muldoon for pace and alertness and cantered home. The conversion was missed but the signs were ominous. That the score came from a harsh knock-on call only made it more frustrating for the home support.
For more, read this week's Connacht Sentinel.