Connacht Eagles fell agonisingly short of a first win in this season’s British & Irish Cup as Jay Baker’s last-minute try saw the Ospreys Premiership Select triumph 20-17 at the Sportsground.
Two excellent tries from Jordan Conroy – continuing his scoring form from recent outings with Buccaners and the Ireland Sevens team – were not enough to deny the Welshmen in Galway.
In a heartbreaking finish for the westerners, Ospreys winger Jay Baker outdid Conroy with his hat-trick score in the dying seconds of this end-to-end round 3 tussle.
Connacht Eagles head coach Mossy Lawler said: “In the last play of the game, we lacked a bit of experience to lose the ball. But ultimately we just had far too many turnovers. We weren't good enough all day, our catch, pass and tackle was just not up to standard.”
Some strong tackling and good discipline from the Connacht side staved off the Ospreys' early advances, and it was Conroy who broke the deadlock in the 17th minute. After an Ospreys attack broke down, he hacked downfield from the Eagles' 10-metre line and gave the visitors a glimpse of his searing pace as he retrieved possession in the 22 and touched down, with Conor McKeon converting.
The Ospreys PS were quick to respond, though, as Baker showed good footwork and strength to force his way over in the right corner just two minutes later. Luke Price's conversion levelled matters at seven points apiece.
Scrum half McKeon right-footed the Eagles back in front for half-time – 10-7 – with a well-struck penalty and then Conroy conjured up a brilliant breakaway try at the start of the second period. Lovely hands from centres Cormac Brennan and Ed O'Keeffe and full-back Ciaran Gaffney freed up the Tullamore youngster who, with a terrific burst up the left wing, was not be to denied on a 70-metre run to the line.
McKeon's excellent conversion from the left widened the margin to 10 points, but again the visitors scored in timely fashion to cut the deficit to two by the hour mark. Baker had another poacher's finish from close range and scrum half Aubrey notched a penalty for 17-15.
Much to Connacht's frustration, their sterling efforts in holding the Ospreys at bay late on counted for little when a costly turnover saw Price float a long pass out to the right for Baker to run in the game's decisive try from the edge of the westerners' 22.
Ospreys PS coach Tom Smith commented: “It's great to get a result out here in Galway. In many ways it was a frustrating performance where our errors stopped us gaining any momentum. There's plenty to work on in training next week in preparation for the return leg, where we have to back up this result with a better performance.
“At the end of the day, though, it's really pleasing to get the win and it'll hopefully give the team confidence ahead of next week.”
Referee: Jack Makepeace (England)