A young Connacht Eagles side suffered a heavy 42-16 defeat to Welsh club Pontypridd in round 2 of the British & Irish Cup this afternoon.
It was a tough day for Nigel Carolan's developing troops who faced a hugely physical Pontypridd outfit that dominated around the fringes and profited from plenty of turnovers.
The visitors registered seven tries in total at the Sportsground – three of them starting in their own half on the back of turnovers.
Their in-form hooker Liam Belcher scored a hat-trick and there was one each for full-back Aled Summerhill, lock Craig Locke and winger Lewis Williams.
Eagles replacement scrum half Caolin Blade crossed in the second half for the hosts' only try, while out-half Shane O'Leary had a 100% record from the kicking tee with three penalties and a conversion.
Pontypridd's early raids came to nothing and Connacht Eagles built through the phases to set up O'Leary's opening penalty in the eighth minute.
But Ponty hit back within two minutes, winger Matthew Nuthall leading an attack and feeding Belcher for his first score of the day. Simon Humberstone's conversion rebounded back off a post.
The Pontypridd out-half made amends with a successful 14th minute penalty. The Eagles got back on the attack, gaining decent field position for O'Leary to hoist over a wind-assisted penalty from wide out.
However, the visitors were the more potent side and following another Humberstone penalty, they countered for Sumerhill to snipe over for an opportunist try converted by Humberstone.
The Eagles, though, enjoyed the better of things approaching half-time and they closed the gap to 18-9 for the interval following a third O'Leary penalty. The Ponty defence managed to snuff out the try-scoring threat despite losing Belcher to the sin-bin for infringing.
New scrum half John Cooney, Peter Robb and Conor Finn were the pick of the Eagles backs in the opening half, with Daniel Qualter, hooker Pat O'Toole and captain Eoghan Masterson impressing up front.
Disappointingly for the westerners, they leaked another try on the resumption as Ponty countered from turnover ball and a Humberstone cross-field kick saw Locke touch down.
The Eagles' error count rose and Ponty took advantage with Belcher going over from close range and Humberstone converting.
In the 57th minute, the home side showed what can do in attack as Blade picked up and scored from a couple of metres out. O'Leary converted from just in front of the posts.
The high tempo was maintained in the final quarter, Ponty breaking forward through captain Dafydd Lockyer and Belcher was on hand to complete his hat-trick with 64 minutes on the clock.
The Eagles looked poised to cancel that try out, probing close to the Ponty line, only for the visitors to poach possession and wide man Williams set off on a 70-metre run to the whitewash for try number six with seven minutes remaining.
Credit to the Eagles, they kept playing and pressing for scores and young second row Ultan Dillane was tackled just short after a fine solo run. Ponty had prop Bradley Thyer yellow carded as the visitors desperately defended their line, but Carolan's charges were unable to muster a late try.
Speaking afterwards, Eagles head coach Carolan said: “We gifted them a lot of ball and allowed them to play a lot more than we would have liked. Three of their scores came from their own half with breakouts from our turnovers.
“So, the scoreline probably wasn't a fair reflection of the amount of possession we did have. Our use of possession is one particular area that we're going to focus in on and where we have to improve.
“There were glitches in our defensive systems, of course, and we need to look at ourselves individually and as a team.
“But that's what these games are for. The only way you learn is being exposed at this sort of level. That's why we're in this competition.”
He added: “We're looking forward to playing London Scottish next Saturday. We're growing as a team and I certainly couldn't fault the effort of the players today. If we can tidy up on some of the mistakes I think we’ll get a much better return on the scoreboard.”