Connacht hopes dashed by Stormers on emotional day

Tiernan O’Halloran of Connacht after the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and DHL Stormers at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

Tiernan O’Halloran of Connacht after the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and DHL Stormers at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

Connacht 12

DHL Stormers 16

Connacht’s hopes of securing a URC quarter-final, while mathematically possible, is now highly unlikely after succumbing to the DHL Stormers at the Sportsground.

The visitors edged a contest of high stakes in a somewhat scrappy affair, thanks to the boot of outhalf Mani Libbok, who converted three penalties and a conversion.

The home side, despite scoring two tries and dominating possession, just lacked the clinical edge when it was needed most.

It was an emotional occasion that deserved a better result. Not only was it the final outing for several Connacht players, notably Tiernan O’Halloran and former captain Jarrad Butler, but it was also the last time the Connacht supporters will gather in the Clan Stand, soon to be knocked for the new stadium. However, the Stormers were deserving of their victory, thanks to a superior clinical efficiency in taking their chances, while Connacht were dogged, but ultimately lacking that killer instinct that was needed to convert the opportunities they created into scores.

The home side had gained a valuable physiological edge by half-time when the visitors were awarded a penalty which they sent to touch. But on this occasion the Connacht pack, led by Finlay Bealham, stopped the South Africans in their tracks as they attempted to push forward, ensuring the home side went into the break leading by 7-3.

It had taken a huge defensive effort from Connacht in that opening half with the Stormers possessing enough attacking flair to make a number of telling breaks before opening the scoring with a penalty after 22 minutes. But Connacht had stayed well in the fight. Edging possession stakes, they made it count in the 31st minute when they gained momentum and delighted the home crowd with a penalty at scrum-time. Although Bealham was held up on the first foray, scrumhalf Caolin Blade was the player who eventually touched down over the line, helped in no small measure by his pack, Carty landed the conversion.

While Connacht spurned a chance following a knock-on from Byron Ralston, who had a clear field in front of him, the Stormers grew into the contest and took their chance. Set up by the impressive Mani Libbok, who, after finding a gap, had the speed before delivering to left wing Angelo Davids who scored.

Indiscipline started to cost the visitors with Connacht taking advantage of penalties to secure territorial control. When the opportunity came, Niall Murray led the drive to the line and replacement Jack Aungier, just on the field, was able to make it count. It was put Connacht in front 12-10, Carty missing the touchline conversion.

But within minutes the home side was under the cosh again, but Oisin Dowling did well to secure a penalty and easy the pressure. It was short-lived. The visitors took greater control and made it count through two successful penalties before Stormers’ fullback Warrick Gelant secured a valuable turnover and with it the victory. Connacht dropped to 10th position with hopes fading of a URC quarter-final; the Stormers did just enough to see them sitting pretty in fifth.

Connacht: T O’Halloran, J Porch, D Hawkshaw, B Aki, B Ralston, J Carty, C Blade, P Dooley, D Heffernan (C ), F Bealham, J Joyce, D Murray, C Prendergast, S Hurley-Langton, S Jansen. Replacements: J Butler for Jansen (26-37 ), J Aungier for Bealham (51 ), S Cordero for O’Halloran and O Dowling for Murray (both 61 ), J Butler for Hurley-Langton and J Duggan for Dooley (both 63 ), C Reilly for Blade and D Murray for Joyce (both 68 ),

D Tierney-Martin for Heffernan and C Forde for Carty (both 70 ).

DHL Stormers: W Gelant, S Hartzenberg, D du Plessis, D Willemse, A Davids, M Libbok, H Jantjies, B Harris, J Dweba, F Malherbe, S Moerat (C ), R van Heerden, E Roos, B Dixon, H Dayimani. Replacements: A Venter for Dweba and N Fouche for Malherbe (both 51 ), S Feinberg-Mngomezulu for Davids and M Theunissen for Dayimani (both 60 ), A Smith for van Heerden (65 ), S Ungerer for Jantjies (66 ), J du Plessis for D Du Plessis and K Blose for Harris (both 76 ).

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy ).


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