The old failings which haunted Connacht before the win over Harlequins and the two week break returned to with a vengeance in the old Arms Park last night. With chances to win the game in the second half they simply were not clinical enough in possession. They notched up another worryingly high penalty count again, conceding seven penalties to Cardiff’s one though some of referee Andrew McMenemy’s calls were debatable to say the least. Connacht were punished for their indiscipline through the boot of Blues full back Ben Blair who kicked 17 of his side’s total. Replacement scrum half Dave Moore came off the bench for his third cap and rescued a bonus point for the Westerners at the death but it was cold comfort for Eric Elwood and his side as they fell to a tenth straight defeat in the league.
It had all been so different 80 minutes previously. A bright start by the visitors meant that they were 3 -0 up inside three minutes, through a Niall O’Connor penalty. Things got even better for the westerners when Tiernan O’Halloran put them in the lead after great build up play from a line out. A lovely looped pass from Duffy sent O’Halloran over in the corner for his fifth try of the season. However the unerring boot of Ben Blair meant they went in at the break 12 – 10 down.
It was an entertaining contest with both sides willing to spread the ball wide and run at the opposition defence. Blair put the home side further in front with another penalty. Then the try that the Blues had threatened to score all evening finally came. Martyn Williams, on his first start for five months, made the break but there was more than a hint of a knock on when he got the ball. The Blues went through the phases and eventually Sam Hobbs crashed over beneath the posts.
Connacht tried to force their way back into the game and had a couple of chances to score their second try. Duffy an O’Halloran combined well throughout the match and good interlinking between the pair sent scrumhalf Paul O’Donoghue costless but he was hauled down close to the line. Duffy again was involved in another Connacht attack that broke down when his pass to Mike McCarthy didn’t go to hand. However, his chipped kick to O’Halloran, inside his 22, was grabbed by the winger, who then ran almost the entire pitch, before offloading to Moore. His first try for Connacht secured the bonus point.
Elwood, and captain Gavin Duffy, had stated earlier this week that their ambition for the remainder of the season was to achieve Connacht’s highest ever finish in the league. However they will have to iron out those penalty problems and develop a ruthless streak if they are to have any chance of doing so. Spring is a time for hope and new beginnings and Connacht will certainly hope for a fresh start at home to Edinburgh next weekend if they are to achieve their goals.