Connacht chase URC top-dogs in final trio of games

Jarrad Butler of Connacht wins a line-out during the URC match between Dragons and Connacht at Rodney Parade in Newport, Wales.

Jarrad Butler of Connacht wins a line-out during the URC match between Dragons and Connacht at Rodney Parade in Newport, Wales.

Two wins from two for Connacht in late season run-in, and all systems are go for a URC top-eight finish.

Pete Wilkins' side has passed its last two hurdles - earning bonus-point wins against the bottom ranked teams in the competition. Yet for large periods of their 34-27 defeat of the Dragons, Connacht looked the inferior outfit.

The visitors to Rodney Parade took a 19-14 lead into the half-time break last Saturday evening. Tries from Hurley-Langton, Finlay Bealham and John Porch should have spring-boarded the westerners into a position of authority after the interval. The Welsh side showed their mettle however, staying in touch with Connacht until the 70th minute, highlighting their opposition's defensive frailties with aplomb.

Rhodri Williams was a constant thorn in Connacht's side, scoring a try of his own before a line-break which led to Rio Dyer's try - who in turn benefitted from some good work from Cai Evans and Jordan Williams.

Dyer's try was particularly concerning from a defensive point-of-view. Connacht had plenty of numbers around the ruck when scrum-half Williams made a darting run through an apparent melee of green jerseys. Poor line-speed then allowed for Evans' pass to reach the edge, while arctic ice-trucks have turned faster than some Connacht backs following Jordan Williams' grubber through for the onrushing Dyer.

The Dragons' scrum-half also scored a try of his own, equally perturbing in this regard. This time the number nine was allowed acres of space to run into, following a Dragons' scrum. He duly capitalised on another costly lapse in concentration by Connacht.

Wilkins' will be happy with second-row Joe Joyce's showing in a man-of-the-match display. His partner in the engine room also looked lively on his return from injury, as Gavin Thornbury's presence will prove vital for these final games. Matthew Devine further impressed on his second consecutive start, while two maul tries will be a pleasing statistic for coach John Muldoon as the front five laid down a physical gauntlet around the set-piece.

However, 22 missed tackles is one statistic that cannot be ignored.

Eyes will now turn to bigger fixtures, and on the basis of last Saturday's performance, Connacht is still way behind the league's top-dogs.

Munster, Connacht's next opponents, are fresh off the back of two wins away in South Africa; the Stormers have most recently enjoyed a thumping 42-12 victory over Leinster, while Leinster will look to purge that defeat by winning their remaining games and returning to the top of the table.

Thus far this season, Connacht have yet to put together a well-rounded, cohesive display capable of beating the best in the URC. The feeling is that Connacht will need to in order to pip at least one of the three teams above them in the table.


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