Luck was on Connacht’s side for a change on Saturday evening as Ben Blair struck the post in injury-time with a straight forward penalty, meaning the sides shared the spoils – 16-16 – at a sun-drenched Sportsground.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, April 7
CONNACHT 16 CARDIFF BLUES 16, The Sportsground
Scorers: Connacht: Try: Ray Ofisa; Con: Paul Warwick; Pens: Paul Warwick 3
Cardiff: Try: Tom Shanklin; Con: Ben Blair; Pens: Ben Blair 3
Slowly but surely Connacht are turning things around for themselves after a season of near misses and heartbreaking late defeats. Their efforts throughout this contest, especially in the second half, had warranted a victory but a couple of uncharacteristic late errors opened the door for Cardiff and relief was the dominant feeling fro the home support on the final whistle.
The Blues had come to the Sportsground in confident mood searching for a win and possibly a bonus point to close the gap on the league leaders. Their opening try came after just two minutes from captain Tom Shanklin and Blair’s superb touchline conversion had them in the driving seat early on.
Connacht’s reaction to this early set back was impressive and through the industrious work of impressive half-backs Chris Keane and Paul Warwick, they settled into the contest and began to force Cardiff onto the back foot. Warwick’s penalty on eight minutes was just reward for their response.
The game really came to life on 20 minutes when Connacht took the lead with a try that came from a series of superb attacks. The spark came from Gavin Duffy whose quick hands threw two defenders and he released Darren Yapp who was hauled down just short. Three phases later Warwick’s flat pass found Ray Ofisa on the charge and Connacht had the try.
The Australian out-half kicked the conversion and after Cardiff levelled on the half-hour mark, Warwick again scored late to leave Connacht 13-10 in front at the break. It was a position that Connacht have become accustomed to but the question was whether this time they could make it count by full-time.
After the break, Cardiff predictably upped the tempo and were level with a long-range Blair penalty early on. This did not phase the home side who responded with a Warwick kick to go back in front on 59 minutes, but within ten minutes Blair was again accurate with the boot leveling matters at 16-16.
Incredibly it was Connacht and not warm favourites Cardiff who finished the brighter and more brilliance from full-back Duffy, combined with a stunning half break from Keane, had put Connacht in possession to win on the visitors’ line. Yet sturdy defence kept them at bay and kept the Welsh in the contest.
Blair will not want to look at the video of the second of his two missed injury-time kicks this week as he knows it was a banker, however for Connacht it was a small bit of justice for a change.
The late introduction of Galwegians and Ireland Under-20 lock Andrew Browne, for his provincial debut, was yet another positive on the night for the westerners.
TIME LINE: 2 minutes – Cardiff try: Tom Shanklin – 0-5; conversion: Ben Blair – 0-7; 8 mins – Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick – 3-7; 18 mins – Connacht try: Ray Ofisa – 8-7; conversion: Paul Warwick – 10-7; 35 mins – Cardiff yellow card: Scott Morgan; 35 mins – Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair – 10-10; 38 mins – Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick – 13-10; Half-time – Connacht 13 Cardiff 10; 43 mins – Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair – 13-13; 59 mins – Connacht penalty: Paul Warwick – 16-13; 68 mins – Cardiff penalty: Ben Blair – 16-16; Full-time – Connacht 16 Cardiff 16
Connacht: Gavin Duffy; Darren Yapp, John Hearty, Mark McHugh (capt), Conor McPhillips; Paul Warwick, Chris Keane; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Stephen Knoop, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.
Replacements used: David Slemen for McHugh (18 mins), John Fogarty for Flavin (53), Ray Hogan for Knoop (54), Andrew Browne for Swift (63). Not used: Ryan Strudwick, Peter Durcan, Daniel Riordan.
Cardiff: Ben Blair; Tom James, Tom Shanklin (capt), Marc Stcherbina, Chris Czekaj; Nicky Robinson, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Williams, Taufa’ao Filise, Bradley Davies, Rob Sidoli, Scott Morgan, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Mark Lewis.
Replacements used: Rhys Thomas for Williams, Andy Powell for Morgan, Tom Riley for James (all 63), Scott Roberts for Filise (73). Not used: Deiniol Jones, Ed Fairhurst, Nick Macleod.
Sin Bin: Scott Morgan (Cardiff) (35 mins)
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Touch Judges: Trevor Collins, Paul Haycock (both Ireland)