Connacht’s early season optimism suffered a setback at Stradey Park on Friday night as they were comprehensively beaten by a Llanelli side that broke the gain-line almost at will following a shaky start.
It is always dangerous to read too much into Magners League form in September but following a controlled and impressive display at home to Dragons last week, Connacht had plenty of reason to be optimistic ahead of Friday night’s meeting with Llanelli.
Yet by the conclusion of this contest, the magnitude of the task that lies ahead this season for Connacht was clear for all to see. The incisive and evasive Llanelli back-line picked holes in the Connacht defence for long periods of the second half, securing their fourth try deep into injury-time.
Llanelli deserved the five points. Leading 13-3 at half-time, they would have already being contemplating such a scenario having recovered from a spirited Connacht bombardment by hitting the visitors for 13 points in a ten-minute spell that could have and should have yielded more.
Connacht, to their credit, rallied after the break with out-half Tim Donnelly kicking an early penalty but the spell was short lived and the game’s pivotal moment came in the 56th-minute.
The excellent Morgan Stoddart took advantage of one of many forward-versus-back miss-matches in the back-line to burst clear and eventually set up Vernon Cooper in the corner. Rhys Priestland converted superbly and Connacht were on one knee.
It got worse five minutes later with full-back Stoddart cutting through the defence on the counter attack and scoring under the posts. Chances followed for Connacht including a promising succession of phases on the home line but an unforced error once again proved costly.
With one minute remaining on the clock, replacement John Fogarty scored a consolation try for Connacht after a five-metre lineout take from David Gannon and solid maul. However with just seconds to go replacement Jonathan Davies capitalised on a Connacht turnover in their own 22 to score the simplest of tries and seal the bonus point for the Scarlets.
Llanelli had set the scene for this victory in the closing minutes of the first half and the half-time whistle offered welcome rest bite for Connacht as Llanelli were threatening to run away with proceedings at that point.
Connacht had started well. Five consecutive lineouts were superbly executed, the backline play was threatening and the in-play kicking was effective – be it from Conor McPhillips’ box kicks or Donnelly’s chips over the fast advancing Scarlets defence.
However, the westerners’ only reward was a fifth-minute penalty from Donnelly. While they held that lead for the first quarter of the contest, too many visits to the Llanelli 22 were wasted.
A stolen lineout and a penalty for a ruck infringement when in possession metres from the line were two examples of below par execution when the heat was on.
A frustrating night on a whole for Michael Bradley’s men, but they have a good chance to make amends next Friday night when they visit a Glasgow side who are pointless after their first two games.