Connacht show progress with bonus-point victory
Relieved Keane points to the many positives as team begins to gel
The feel-good factor continued in the west on Saturday when Connacht grabbed a deserving bonus-point victory over Southern Kings at the Galway Sportsground.
When the All Ireland-winning Galway hurlers and Liam MacCarthy Cup were introduced to the 5,174 crowd at half-time, Connacht were already in the driving seat in this first Guinness Pro 14 contest against the South African visitors.
Although it took Connacht until the 70th minute to nail down the bonus point, having led 24-5 at the break, coach Kieran Keane was both positive and relieved.
“I was a bit nervous before today. To get a win and a bonus point win is a massive fillip for us. I think it brings more belief within the side and for the coaching staff, and for the whole place really.
“We are still making small steps. I don’t think we need to get ahead of ourselves. We are making gains and moving forward, so that is a real big plus for me. There was more polish in handling, better decisions, the work rate was good, the energy was good, set-piece was good, particularly the scrum, so it was just a better step up and we needed to do that, so that is really positive.”
The home side dominated possession and territory in the opening half, winning a succession of penalties, a third which saw Kings’ left wing Sibusiso Sithole yellow carded for a spear tackle on Jack Carty. From Darragh Leader’s perfect touch-finder, the pack drove the hard yards before centre Tom Farrell broke through three tacklers to touch down, with Carty adding the extras.
Connacht’s dominance of the set-piece provided their outhalf with a chance to extend the lead after 25 minutes with a penalty before the Kings opened their tally. Centre Luzuko Vulindlu had earlier provided a glimpse of his speed, but, keeping ball in hand, the Kings produced a well-worked try which centre Berton Klaasen finished to open their account after 32 minutes.
The home side’s riposte was swift. Forcing their way upfield, with Jarrad Butler and Farrell making incisive runs, scrumhalf Kieran Marmion made a sniping break from a ruck, and with quick hands, supplied replacement Eoghan Masterson who touched down, with Carty again converting.
With Bundee Aki’s influence growing, and the scrum dominant, Connacht maintained controlled. Although Marmion was stopped just short, lock Ultan Dillane crashed over, helped by captain John Muldoon and Masterson. Carty’s conversion and a penalty six minutes after the restart stretched the home side’s lead to 27-5.
The Kings, however, kept Connacht on their toes thereafter, helped by a yellow card to Finlay Bealham for a high tackle. As the game became loose, the visitors looked to have reaped a reward when replacement prop Luvuyo Pupuma touched down before TMO revealed a knock-on.
Although there was some consolation for the Kings when Pupuma finished with a try in the 77th minute, Connacht had already done enough to grab the bonus point try. From a rare second-half incursion, replacement outhalf Steve Crosbie opted for a long pass and Leader did well to stretch over the
We are still making small steps. I don’t think we need to get ahead of ourselves
Next up for Keane’s side is a visit to the Dragons where Bernard Jackman will be looking to get one over his former club.
Connacht could be without Seán O’Brien who suffered a shoulder injury, while Keane says he will be making some changes. “There will be a lot of learnings and we will just get better. I think the gelling of the team is going to be important. Over these two games we have not made too many changes. We might tweak it, some players will have to be rested because they have put in some big work loads, a lot of minutes.”
Southern Kings’ Victor Sekekete is tackled by Connacht’s John Muldoon and Denis Buckley.