After four wins to start their season, Edinburgh have now tasted defeat on consecutive weekends away from home as a Tiernan O’Halloran-inspired Connacht edged a tight contest at the Sportsground.
O’Halloran’s early try turned out to be the only one of the game as Edinburgh – who lost last week to Zebre in Italy – relied on the boots of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Blair Kinghorn to stay in touch.
However they could never take the lead in this game as Jack Carty’s kicking and O’Halloran’s brilliance from full-back led Connacht to the win, but a losing bonus point is well deserved for Alan Solomons’ side.
Despite defeat to Glasgow Warriors in week two, Connacht coach Pat Lam would have been thrilled with his side’s start to the season. Four victories from their five games before last night have helped their cause, but three try bonus points and a losing bonus picked up at Scotstoun saw them start this weekend as the top Irish team in the league.
This was a shift from the typical Connacht performances that the Galway faithful become used to, though. Gone was the set-piece domination as Edinburgh ruled at scrum time and disrupted Connacht’s lineout, but the fact that they still managed to take the win without that guaranteed platform bodes well for the weeks to come as other squads are bolstered by returning stars.
A real highlight of their play this season has been the form of O’Halloran at full-back and he was once more the stand-out performer for the home side before his departure nine minutes from time. In this form international eyes will surely be cast his direction.
Connacht came into last night’s game with ten tries more to their name than their visitors, and after Jack Carty got them up and running with a ninth-minute penalty, O’Halloran ran in Connacht’s 20th try of the season – and his second – two minutes later.
Once again it was a quality move through the backs – including blindside winger Matt Healy – that sent O’Halloran over, but the slickness of the play off a first phase move from a lineout on halfway was breathtaking.
Carty was unlucky to see his touchline conversion hit the post as the Connacht lead stayed at 8-0, but the visitors soon got off the mark when Connacht skipper John Muldoon was penalised for entering the side of a maul and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne slotted the kick from the left.
Edinburgh’s reputation for physical rugby goes before them and although the home side matched them in the early stages, it appeared as if there was no stopping their rolling maul from distance after 24 minutes. But ball carrier Fraser McKenzie splintered off and after he was isolated on the ground, Denis Buckley halted the move with a brilliant poach.
As well as their impressive try-scoring form this season, Connacht have gained a reputation as one of the Pro12’s top scrummaging sides. However after they won an early penalty, Connacht began to lose control of the scrum as referee Leighton Hodges penalised them for not scrummaging straight on a couple of occasions, the second of which 18-year-old full-back Blair Kinghorm kicked from 45 metres to trim the half-time lead to 8-6.
Kinghorn’s first start for the side ended at half-time and four minutes after the restart Connacht extended their lead once more. John Muldoon got his side on the front foot when he forced Edinburgh into the concession of a penalty deep in Connacht territory, and from the resulting lineout, Bundee Aki ran hard up the middle, Roddy Grant infringed and Carty kicked the simple three points.
The lineout is also regarded as a real strength at the Sportsground, but Connacht were punished the third time they lost out at the lineout on the night in the 53rd minute, which directly led to Andrew Browne conceding a penalty. Hidalgo-Clyne easily converted to make it 11-9.
But immediately after the restart Edinburgh handed the three points straight back to Connacht when they failed to release in the tackle and Carty converted well from the right side.
Carty missed twice in the last three minutes which would have pushed Edinburgh outside bonus point territory but, after McKenzie was sin binned for a late tackle with a minute to go, Connacht held on for the deserved win.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; D Leader, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You; A Muldowney, A Browne; J Muldoon, N Fox-Matamua, E Masterson. Subs: N White (for Ah You 48), Q Roux (for Muldowney 48), E McKeon (for Masterson 63), I Porter (for Marmion 70), D Heffernan (for McCartney 72), N Adeolokun (for O’Halloran 72), F Bealham (for Buckley 74), A Muldowney (for Roux 75, blood).
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, S Beard, W Helu; P Burleigh, S Hidalgo-Clyne; R Sutherland, N Cochrane, J Andress; A Bresler, F McKenzie; M Coman, R Grant, N Manu. Subs: N McLennan (for Kinghorn h-t), C Du Preez (for Manu 48), A Toolis (for A Bresler 63), G Turner (for Cochrane 67), A Dell (for Sutherland 67), S Berghan (for Andress 67), D Fife (for Burleigh 67).
Referee: L Hodges (WRU). Attendance: 3,834.