Con­nacht show progress with bonus-point vic­tory

Re­lieved Keane points to the many pos­i­tives as team be­gins to gel

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Rugby - Lin­ley MacKen­zie at the Gal­way Sports­ground

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.”

Dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion

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

line.

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.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: INPHO

Southern Kings’ Vic­tor Sekekete is tack­led by Con­nacht’s John Mul­doon and De­nis Buck­ley.

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