Connacht made some significant improvements in the second of their two game pre-season schedule, but still came up three tries short of a powerful Saracens side at the Sportsground.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY MATCH: Saturday, August 21
CONNACHT 5 SARACENS 22, the Sportsground
Scorers: Connacht: Try: Adrian Flavin
Saracens: Tries: Richard Skuse, Penalty try, Kameli Ratuvou, Kelly Brown; Con: Derick Hougaard
A low scoring, error-strewn first half saw Saracens go in at half-time 5-0 in front thanks to a first half try inspired by some grinding forward play. Tighthead prop Richard Skuse broke from the back of a powerful maul to score midway through the first half.
Connacht had defended with far more vigour and determination than last week’s defeat to Harlequins, but the penalty count was high and at the point of the opening try, it read six to one in favour of the visitors.
Saracens started the second half in good stead and quickly had a second try on the board. From their third successive five-metre scrum, they were awarded a penalty try by referee Peter Fitzgibbon. Derick Hougaard’s straightforward conversion made it 12-0 to Sarries.
Connacht’s response was uplifting for the home support as they began a ten minute assault on the visitors’ line.
Ireland Under-20 duo Eoin Griffin and Tiernan O’Halloran almost combined to get over initially, before a series of penalties and lineouts broke down a resolute Saracens defence.
A lineout, 10 metres out, yielded the score with a powerful drive paving the way for hooker Adrian Flavin to get the touchdown – the conversion was missed but Connacht were back in it.
Alas, the revival lasted less than a minute, Saracens won the restart, recycled and replacement scrum half Richard Wigglesworth made made a break to set up Kameli Ratuvou for a fine try.
Saracens added a fourth late on, with Scottish international Kelly Brown crashing over after the ball was nabbed from a Connacht lineout. A positive finish for Brendan Venter’s men, although a serious looking first half injury to Alex Goode will be a worry.
For Connacht, the improvements will be encouraging and the injury count is a mitigating factor with the likes of Ian Keatley, Keith Matthews, Mike McCarthy and Johnny O’Connor all unavailable this week.
Eric Elwood’s men kick off their Magners League campaign in two weeks’ time at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Eoin Griffin, Fionn Carr; Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy (capt); Ronan Loughney, Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, Andrew Browne, Ray Ofisa, Ezra Taylor.
Replacements used: Brett Wilkinson for Loughney (half-time), Mike McComish for Ofisa (43 mins), Shane Conneely for Browne (67), Darragh Fanning for Nikora (68), Rob Sweeney for Hagan (74), Dave Nolan for Swift (78).
SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Wyles, Adam Powell, Brad Barritt, Noah Cato; Derick Hougaard, Neil De Kock; Deon Carstens, Schalk Brits, Richard Skuse, Hugh Vyvyn, Mouritz Botha, Kelly Brown, Jacques Burger, Ernst Joubert (capt).
Replacements used: Rodd Penney for Goode (36 mins), Rhys Gill for Carstens, Petrus Du Plessis for Skuse, Richard Wigglesworth for De Kock, Kameli Ratuvou for Powell (all half-time), Justin Melck for Joubert (47), Don Barrell for Burger, Nils Mordt for Barritt, George Kruis for Vyvyn (all 51), Hayden Smith for Botha, Ethienne Reynecke for Brits (both 62), Matt Parr for Gill (73).
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)