There were losing starts to the season for both Connacht and Munster this evening, to Newcastle and London Irish respectively.
Connacht went down 32-9 to Newcastle at the Sportsgrounds in their first match of the season while Munster fell 12-5 to London Irish at Thomond Park.
Jonny Wilkinson played for forty minutes only, scoring Newcastle’s penalty in a first half that went well for Connacht as they turned around 9-3 up. Eric Elwood, making history as he became the first Irish player to represent his province on 150 occasions, converted three penalties.
Both players were given a tremendous welcome by the 4-5,000 strong crowd. Elwood was given a guard of honour by both teams running onto the pitch, while Wilkinson’s penalty was actually cheered by the home support!
Newcastle played a wider game than Connacht, who generally launched runners off Elwood’s shoulders, and while the defence coped reasonably well early on, they were unable to survive a sin-binning for Michael Swift nearing half-time. Stuart Grimes scored on 41 minutes when the ball broke kindly for him.
The remainder of the match was very much Newcastle’s. They scored three further tries to wrap up the win courtesy of hooker Andy Long (2) and wing Matthew Tait.
Meanwhile, an understrength Munster also lost on a scoreline of 12-5 to London Irish at Thomond Park. Kieron Dawson scored Irish’s first try, converted by Mark Mapletoft, following a defensive error by Anthony Horgan.
In the second half, after a raft of changes at the interval, a try for Brian Tuohy reduced the deficit to two. But a try ten minutes from time for Pierre Durant, a London Irish substitute, sent Munster down to a 12-5 defeat.
There was a ten-minute delay late in the game when Irish’s Nils Mordt sustained what appeared to be a serious neck injury.