Connacht were made to fight tooth and nail for their first Magners League win since October as a late Matt Lacey try teed up their 20-17 success over the Borders at the Sportsground on Friday.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, March 2
CONNACHT 20 BORDER REIVERS 17, The Sportsground
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Adrian Flavin, Matt Lacey; Cons: Mark McHugh, Paul Warwick; Pens: McHugh 2
Borders: Tries: Dougie Flockhart, Gregor Townsend; Cons: Garry Law 2; Pen: Law
In the battle of the league’s basement sides, it was injury-hit Connacht who emerged victorious as a a late period of pressure paid off when flanker Lacey took a great line off a David Gannon pass to beat the cover and bag the match-winning score.
It was tough luck on the Borders who had twice gone in front – they were 10-6 to the good at half-time.
Winger Dougie Flockhart raced over in first half injury-time and captain for the night Gregor Townsend touched down with just twelve minutes remaining, but within sight of their first league win outside of Scotland since September 2005, Steve Bates’ men frustratingly faltered at the finish.
Connacht dominated the opening half territorially, but could not make it pay on the scoreboard. Goal-kicking centre Mark McHugh capitalised on two early penalty opportunities, thumping his side into a 6-3 lead.
Garry Law replied for the visitors, whose defence was resolute during the first half-hour. Connacht’s big pack began to find holes in it, but having kicked two penalties to touch, the hosts failed to grind down their opponents for a breakthrough try.
The Reivers’ persistence paid off in injury-time. After a lengthy injury stoppage for their prop Ed Kalman, who was knocked unconscious in a collision with Stephen Knoop, and a sin-binning for Connacht lock Gannon, Flockhart collected a fly-hack forward and raced over from the Connacht ten-metre line for the opening try.
Law converted for 10-6 but Connacht bit back on the hour mark when busy hooker Adrian Flavin was mauled over with McHugh converting.
Connacht’s lead lasted all of nine minutes. Despite losing replacement prop Bruce McNeil to a yellow card, the Scots struck for their second try when Nick De Luca made all the running before popping off for Townsend to dot down.
Law’s conversion handed the visitors a four-point buffer, yet a Connacht comeback always looked on the cards.
Gavin Williams, played in by Chris Keane, was held up just short before another wave of attacks led to Lacey’s clinching seven-pointer, which incredibly chalked up Connacht’s seventh win in nine league meetings with the Borders.
TIME LINE: 4 minutes – Connacht penalty: Mark McHugh – 3-0; 9 mins – Connacht penalty: Mark McHugh – 6-0; 11 mins – Borders penalty: Garry Law – 6-3; 40+6 mins – Connacht sin-binning: David Gannon; 40+9 mins – Borders try: Dougie Flockhart – 6-8; conversion: Garry Law – 6-10; Half-time – Connacht 6 Borders 10; 59 mins – Connacht try: Adrian Flavin – 11-10; conversion: Mark McHugh – 13-10; 64 mins – Borders sin binning: Bruce McNeil; 68 mins – Borders try: Gregor Townsend – 13-15; conversion: Garry Law – 13-17; 79 mins – Connacht try: Matt Lacey – 18-17; conversion: Paul Warwick – 20-17; Full-time – Connacht 20 Borders 17
CONNACHT: David Slemen; Darren Yapp, John Hearty, Mark McHugh (capt), Conor McPhillips; Paul Warwick, Chris Keane; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Stephen Knoop, David Gannon, Michael Swift, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: Gavin Williams for Hearty (half-time), Matt Lacey for Ofisa, Ted Robinson for Yapp (both 64 mins), Peter Durcan for McHugh (69). Not used: Conor Muldoon, Ray Hogan, Ryan Strudwick.
BORDERS: Stuart Moffat; Dougie Flockhart, Ben MacDougall, Nick De Luca, Garry Law; Gregor Townsend (capt), Rob Chrystie; Ed Kalman, Ross Ford, Bruce Douglas, Opeta Palepoi, John Dalziel, Scott Newlands, Andy Miller, Scott Forrest.
Replacements used: Bruce McNeil for Kalman (40 mins), Mark Lee for Miller, Bryan Rennie for MacDougall, Calum Cusiter for Chrystie (all 72). Not used: Steve Scott, Steve Jones, Richie Vernon.
Sin Bin: David Gannon (Connacht) (40 mins), Bruce McNeil (Borders) (64); IrishRugby.ie man of the match: Chris Keane (Connacht)
Referee: Phil Fear (Wales)