Half-backs Andrew Deegan and Conor McKeon both impressed as Connacht Eagles claimed their first win in this season’s British & Irish Cup – a thoroughly deserved 38-17 bonus point success against Richmond at the Athletic Ground.
Mossy Lawler's men have climbed into second place in Pool 4, which is dominated by runaway leaders Ealing Trailfinders (15 points), however a second successive victory over Richmond in Galway next Sunday would at least keep the westerners in contention for a best runners-up spot.
Key to Connacht Eagles' success in London was a stunning four-try blitz inside the opening 24 minutes, as they surged into a 31-0 lead. Captain Paul Boyle, Matthew Byrne, Kieran Joyce and Andrew Deegan all touched down, with Conor McKeon landing four conversions to add to his 19th minute penalty.
Jono Woodward's intercept try for Richmond, early in the second period, closed the gap to 31-10, but a Stacey Ili effort just a couple of minutes later, which effectively wrapped up the points for the Eagles, was unanswered until a late consolation score from Richmond replacement Callum Grant.
Academy back rower Boyle, who captained the Ireland Under-20s last summer, broke the deadlock in the tenth minute. The Eagles won a scrum penalty and set up a lineout in an advanced position, and with Naulia Dawai and Pat O'Toole ensuring the maul gained sufficient ground, Boyle was able to stretch over and McKeon converted.
Fijian flanker Dawai was central to the next try which arrived just four minutes later. He broke at speed and bounced off a couple of tackles, helping to tee up supporting full-back Byrne who brushed off a final defender to score by the posts, with the extras added by McKeon.
Out-half Freddie Gabbitass' subsequent yellow card for a deliberate knock-on as he attempted an intercept left Richmond in further trouble. McKeon, who provided superb service from scrum half, fired home a long range penalty, and then centre Kieran Joyce, who is in year one of the Academy programme like Boyle, cut past three static defenders to run in try number three.
The bonus point score in the 24th minute was probably the best of the lot from the Eagles. The ball was moved at pace and at length and there were some excellent running lines in a fine team move. It ended with flanker Sean Masterson charging into the 22 and passing out of a tackle for the supporting Deegan to dive over from close range.
It was not all plain sailing for the visitors who had Dawai sin-binned for too many infringements at the breakdown. Ali Chisholm got Richmond off the mark with a straightforward penalty, and Connacht's resolute defence came under increasing pressure via a series of five-metre lineouts and also a kick through by winger Woodward who just failed to gathered the low bouncing ball.
However, on the resumption, the Eagles leaked their first try of the afternoon when Woodward burst clear to run in a 70-metre intercept score, which Chisholm converted. The home side fumbled the restart, though, and Lawler's charges used scrum possession to attack the blindside and winger Ili was able to finish off. McKeon converted to complete his own 13-point tally.
Both coaches used their benches with regularity over the remainder of the game – Peter Robb and replacement Craig Ronaldson both had 40-minute run-outs on their return from injury, with try scorer Ili also back from a spell on the sidelines – and there was little on-field action of note until the closing stages.
Richmond came in search of a second try and their lion's share of possession and pressure eventually paid off in the 78th minute when Grant threw a dummy and went through a gap for Chisholm to convert.
Referee: Sara Cox (England)