Connacht 32 - 17 Cardiff Blues
HT 20-10
Sat 20 February 19:35 The Sportsground Ref: Andrew Brace Guinness PRO14

Connacht 32 Cardiff Blues 17

Sat 20 Feb 2021 21:02 Connacht 32 Cardiff Blues 17

Cardiff Blues left Connacht empty-handed as quick-fire Alex Wootton tries put a dent in their Guinness PRO14 hopes.

Back-to-back derby victories over the Scarlets had given Dai Young’s side hope in Conference B but the defeat in Galway saw the hosts ease clear in second, with Cardiff Blues dropping to fifth.

An impressive half hour saw Cardiff take control over the counter thanks to a Rhys Carré try and the boot of Jason Tovey but the hard work was undone as Wootton struck for two tries from nothing in the space of five minutes.

The Blues battled and a Corey Domachowski try gave then hope but the comeback was extinguished by a Jarrad Butler response and they secured the bonus-point at the death.

However, a major positive from the Sportsground will be the performance of club captain Ellis Jenkins, who continued his impressive comeback from his two-year lay-off following a 40 minute friendly appearance against the Ospreys.

It was almost as if the open side had barely been away as he threw himself into everything with a typically relentless work-rate, big impacts either side of the ball and the odd trademark turnover in almost 70 minutes of action.

Young was dealt a blow in the build up to encounter as Mason Grady and Ben Thomas were unable to travel. It forced a reshuffle with Harri Millard starting in the centre and Max Llewellyn and Dan Fish coming onto the bench.

Cardiff Blues made an assured start to the encounter, displaying plenty of control and an effective blend of hard carries from the likes of Lee-Lo and intelligent kicking from the half-backs.

They controlled the opening five minutes but their pressure came to an end when they were pinged at the breakdown and Connacht cleared. 

Some excellent defensive work from Lloyd Williams, around the half way line, ensured Cardiff Blues remained in the ascent. 

They should have taken the lead when a quick recycle from a Lee-Lo charge saw Aled Summerhill hit a short ball at pace. With Williams desperately racing to offer support, Summerhill opted to go himself and turned Alex Wootton inside out with a devastating step but it allowed the cover defence a stay of execution.

Summerhill looked to offload to the supporting Jenkins and while it did not go to hand, Connacht were penalised and the Blues went to the corner.

They rumbled towards the line and, while Jenkins came close once again, the visitors continued to go through a succession of phases before Rhys Carré bulldozed over from close range for his first senior try for the club.

Tovey converted but Connacht quickly hit back with a penalty after Carré was penalised for failing to roll away, while pinned by a Connacht forward.

Connacht cut Cardiff’s advantage on 20 minutes with the referee failing to reward Shane Lewis-Hughes for a fine jackal due to teammates slow to roll away.

Dai Young’s men were rewarded with a penalty of their own five minutes later following a sustained period of pressure with the pack carrying ferociously. 

Tovey knocked over the simple three to make it 10-6 but the capital city charges were dealt a blow as Connacht struck in the closing minutes of the half.

They did not appear to be making any great strides but stacked the left and took full advantage of the numbers. Wootton sliced through and rode the tackle of Morgan to score.

Carty added the extras to give his side a 13-10 lead. Playing into the strong wind, it would have been a decent return for the Blues but that man Wootton delivered again.

He nonchalantly stepped inside the Cardiff Blues defence to glide through for a second try out of nothing to give Connacht a commanding lead and go to the top of the PRO14 try-scoring chart.

Carty was again on target, brining the scores to 20-10 with the final kick of the half.

Following some fine work from Lewis-Hughes and then a 20 metre carry from Jenkins, Tovey had the opportunity to chip away at the hosts’ lead but with a swirling wind he struck the right upright.

Cardiff lost Tovey to a HIA shortly before the hour mark, seeing Dan Fish, who had been a late addition to the 23, come on at 10.

Wales’ Capital Region enjoyed some further good spells and Jenkins swooped for a vital turnover penalty to give his side a promising attacking position. Twice they went to the corner and following a sustained period of pressure, replacement loose-head Corey Domachowski burrowed over.

Morgan knocked over the conversion to bring Cardiff Blues within three but their hopes of a comeback were dented by a third Connacht try courtesy of their captain Jarred Butler despite what appeared a crooked throw at the lineout.

The hosts secured all five points in the final moments of the match. A hacked kick through saw Max Llewellyn touching the ball down behind his own try line, with TMO Frank Murphy judging the centre had carried the ball over the whitewash.

From the resulting scrum, replacement back row Abraham Papali'i powered over from close range. After getting caught in the middle of the action, referee Andrew Brace once again went upstairs to TMO Murphy, who decided Brace hadn't interfered on Llewellyn's attempted tackle.