Saturday 16 December 2017

Elwood has it all to play for

Connacht coach gets European campaign back on track

Connacht coach Eric Elwood looked for a big performance after their shocking defeat in Italy on the Amlin Challenge Cup opener and he got it from his men against Bayonne at the Sportsground last night.

It may have been a far from polished display but victory was everything as the Westerners attempted to get their European campaign back on track. And Connacht rolled up their sleeves and ground out the win in a tough and uncompromising clash against Bayonne, who had opened their campaign with an impressive win over Harlequins.

Connacht will now head into the back-to-back games with Harlequins in December with everything to play for.

The shock defeat last week to part-timers Cavalieri Prato ensured this was a must-win match and while Connacht lacked cohesion at times, they were well up for the fight and did more than enough to win.

Bayonne came with a strong side but they will be happy to leave Galway with a losing bonus point after producing little by way of attacking rugby.

Connacht needed leaders and it was recalled hooker Sean Cronin who put his hand up, with the Limerick man producing the sort of all-round busy performance that it likely to see him get plenty of action in the Autumn Internationals.

And the return of the likes of Ray Ofisa, Gavin Duffy and Keith Matthews provided Connacht with the steel to overcome a Bayonne side who started their domestic championship in whirlwind fashion before slipping up in their last three matches.

Connacht were on the front foot from the outset and an Ian Keatley third-minute penalty from 25 metres was the perfect start.

But they failed to keep that tempo and Bayonne fought their way back, with the massive boot of out-half Sebastien Fauque landing penalties from 52 and 49 metres to push them in front after 22 minutes.

However, Fauque missed an easy kick just before the break after Connacht winger Darragh Fanning was yellow-carded for not releasing just when it seemed Bayonne were about to score.

But Connacht not only survived minus a man, Keatley edged them further in front on 49 minutes with another penalty to make it 11-6.

But Connacht had to endure a nervous finish as Bayonne, on a rare attack, scored off a lineout when replacement hooker David Roumieu got over for a converted try to leave just three between them, but that was as near as the French got.


Meanwhile, Shane Williams weaved his magic with a spectacular try that grounded London Irish, giving the Ospreys' Heineken Cup bid lift-off.

Brilliant Williams' scintillating solo score helped inflict only a second defeat (27-16) of the season on Aviva Premiership leaders Irish.

And the visitors could have few complaints as Williams' fellow Lions wing Tommy Bowe claimed an early touchdown before fly-half Dan Biggar kicked four penalties.

Castres stormed into a 27-6 half-time lead against Cardiff after tries from wings Vincent Inigo and Marc Andreu.

However Ma'ama Molitika sparked a second-half recovery that was capped by a late score.

Cardiff coach Dai Young would have left France satisfied with the bonus point considering his team were steamrollered in the opening half.

Cardiff Blues eventually succumbed 27-20.

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