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Double Disappointment For Connacht

Double Disappointment For Connacht

Harlequins completed the double over Connacht at a bitterly cold Sportsground on Friday night to keep pace in Pool 1 and confirm Connacht’s exit from this season’s Amlin Challenge Cup.

Eric Elwood’s men battled away amid the light snow showers but they just could not find a way through Harlequins’ resolute defence in the second half of a game that will not live long in the memory for anyone present.

In director of rugby Conor O’Shea and head coach John Kingston, Harlequins had two key men in their management team fully aware of the dangers poised by the westerners.

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And just like at the Stoop six days previously, ‘Quins weathered Connacht’s attacking efforts well and kept their patience in attack against a strong defence.

All the scores came in a penalty-riddled first half. The typically brilliant Nick Evans almost effortlessly kicked five from six for the visitors although Connacht had some answers to his efforts.

Miah Nikora kicked two penalties, while Ian Keatley, who was moved to full-back in Gavin Duffy’s injury-enforced absence, slotted a fine long range three-pointer as well.

The winning of the game probably came either side of half-time when the contest was very much in the balance.

The sides were level at 6-6 on the half hour mark when All Blacks Evans edged his side further in front and three minutes later, a brilliant kick doubled their lead at 12-6.

Connacht battled back however and an off-the-ball infringement saw Jordan Turner-Hall sin-binned and paved the way for Keatley to strike a terrific kick from 40 metres to bring his side within three with half-time approaching.

The home side failed to grasp their one-man advantage and ‘Quins scored next with Evans’ fifth successful kick of the half after yet another penalty was given against Connacht for being off their feet at ruck time.

It was a crucial turning point that was added to after the break when replacement Bernie Upton, who came on for Michael Swift, saw yellow for persistent Connacht infringements.

That negated the numerical advantage and played right into the hands of a ‘Quins side that were now in control of proceedings.

Connacht had one standout chance to overturn the scoreline in the second half with 13 minutes remaining. It came after replacement scrum half Cillian Willis had added a bit of extra bite to their offensive moves.

Captain John Muldoon made the initial surge and set them up close to the visitors’ line, but the attack broke down after multiple phases. The fit-again Niva Ta’auso and Ronan Loughney failed to make a glaring overlap count when the ball was knocked on with a try seemingly certain.

It was their one opportunity to turn a tight and dour affair in their favour and ‘Quins were relieved.

Any lingering hopes of a Connacht comeback were dashed when prop Jamie Hagan was sin-binned for not rolling away after a tackle, with less than ten minutes to go.

‘Quins saw out the remainder comfortably to record back-to-back wins over last season’s semi-finalists and make it a two-horse race with Bayonne for top spot in the pool.