With Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt watching on from the stand, Connacht’s encouraging pre-season campaign continued at a warm Dubarry Park as the westerners romped to a seven-try 43-10 victory over Wasps.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY MATCH: Saturday, August 18
CONNACHT 43 WASPS 10, Dubarry Park, Buccaneers RFC
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Cian Kelleher, Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Scholes, James Mitchell, Conor Carey; Cons: Jack Carty 2, Craig Ronaldson 2
Wasps: Try: Callum Sirker; Con: Billy Searle; Pen: Billy Searle
HT: Connacht 14 Wasps 3
Andy Friend’s Connacht squad, now captained by Wellington-born flanker Jarrad Butler, were looking to build on their 33-24 win over Brive in France last weekend, and they did just that with a display that will no doubt please the new head coach.
With the squad continue an attacking, free-flowing running game of the last 12 months, both the scoreline and manner in which the tries were scored will surely give the team plenty of cause for optimism ahead of their opening Guinness PRO14 game against Glasgow in two weeks time.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Australian Friend said: “We are fully aware it’s a pre-season (game), but winning becomes a habit, and the boys played some good football. What was most pleasing was the way we scored some of the tries. It was a combination of some good forward play, some good open play, some good strike play, and to leak only one try was pleasing.
“I’m comfy where we are right now. We worked harder than the opposition, and (it) comes down to attitude. If you are prepared to work harder and put yourself in the tough positions some of the other teams don’t want to go, you will end up getting more luck, and today we worked harder.”
The first of the province’s tries arrived on the 12-minute mark when a clever move initiated by scrum half Caolin Blade released Matt Healy down the left wing, and with the Wasps defence stretched, Jack Carty found centre Tom Farrell who slipped through to the right of the posts.
Wasps got off the mark with a penalty moments later, but that turned out to be their only score until the last few minutes of the game as Connacht, whose incisive attack kept coming up trumps, began to dominate at the home of Buccaneers Rugby Club.
Friend’s men, who lost Buttler to an early knock to the ribs, held a deserved 14-3 lead at the break when the Farrell and Healy combination struck again. This time Farrell turned creator as he scythed through the middle and found Connacht’s record try scorer waiting on the left wing to finish off, with Healy carrying two defenders with him over the whitewash.
The impressive Carty, who led a back-line which included busy debutant centre Kyle Godwin, almost made it try number three with the last play of the opening half. The Athlone man just stepped into touch in the corner as he attempted to gather his own grubber kick.
However, that third try arrived shortly after the restart when Blade’s quick tap penalty brought Connacht back into the Wasps 22, and Niyi Adeolokun acted as scrum half to find Cian Kelleher who duly notched his fourth try in two pre-season games.
The win was all but secured with the fourth touchdown which was arguably the best of the bunch. Replacement out-half Craig Ronaldson released Adeolokun with a brilliant no-look pass, allowing the Ireland-capped winger to use his pace to evade the covering Ambrose Curtis and score.
Two more tries followed from Connacht’s eager bench in the next 10 minutes, the first one claimed by Rory Scholes out wide and then James Mitchell through the middle again after good work from the Connacht maul. The home pack certainly laid the groundwork for a number of the province’s scores, with Academy flanker Paul Boyle particularly prominent.
Wasps bagged a consolation try through Callum Sirker in the closing minutes, but it was Connacht who fittingly had the final say when replacement prop Conor Carey powered over, putting the seal on a memorable performance in front of an appreciative Athlone crowd.
With two wins from two and 76 points scored, it has been a strong start to the Friend era out west, while it was also encouraging to see how quickly new signings Godwin and Joe Maksymiw are marking their mark. Connacht will be hoping that their winning form can continue when they play Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears in their final pre-season outing at Ashton Gate next Friday (kick-off 7.45pm).
CONNACHT: Cian Kelleher; Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (capt), Eoin McKeon.
Replacements used: James Connolly for Butler (15 mins), Shane Delahunt for Heffernan (half-time), Cillian Gallagher for Cannon (46), Rory Scholes for Healy, Darragh Leader for Kelleher (both 50), Eoin Griffin for Farrell, James Mitchell for Blade, Craig Ronaldson for Carty (both 52), Conor Carey for Bealham, Conan O’Donnell for Buckley (both 58), Sean O’Brien for McKeon (61), Colm de Buitlear for Adeolokun (65).
WASPS: Rob Miller; Ambrose Curtis, Juan de Jongh, Michael le Bourgeois, Marcus Watson; Billy Searle, Joe Simpson; Tom West, Tommy Taylor, Will Stuart, Will Rowlands, Charlie Matthews, Ashley Johnson (capt), Joe Atkinson, Ben Morris.
Replacements used: Ross Neal for de Jongh, Josh Bassett for Watson, Ben Harris for West, Tom Cruse for Taylor, Kieran Brookes for Stuart (all half-time), Gaby Lovobalavu for le Bourgeois, Jimmy Gopperth for Searle, Will Porter for Simpson, Tom Willis for Johnson (all 52), Kearnan Myall for Rowlands (61), Searle for Gopperth, Callum Sirker for Curtis (both 65), David Langley for Brookes (73).
Referee: Jonny Erskine (IRFU)