Connacht 38 - 19 Cardiff Rugby
HT 26-7
Sat 15 April 19:35 The Sportsground Ref: Sam Grove-White United Rugby Championship

Connacht 38 Cardiff 19

Sat 15 Apr 2023 21:30 Connacht 38 Cardiff 19

Cardiff left Connacht empty-handed following a dominant first-half performance from the hosts in Galway.

With the wind at their backs, Connacht powered into a 19-0 lead at the Sportsground, scoring three tries in front of their raucous home crowd. 

A try from Seb Davies gave Cardiff some hope and while Mack Hansen wrapped up the bonus-point before the break, the Blue and Blacks made a strong start to the second-half. 

Thomas Young burrowed over for his fifth try of the URC season but they were unable to convert other opportunities in a frustrating third quarter. 

Connacht claimed a fifth try mid-way through the half to extend their lead and Dai Young’s men were now playing for what could be a crucial bonus-point. 

Young secured his brace minutes from the final whistle, but missed opportunities meant it was ultimately a case of too little, too late for the Blue and Blacks.

Following the disappointment of last week’s European exit, Cardiff swiftly switched attention to the BKT United Rugby Championship. 

They went into the weekend with an outside chance of sneaking into the play-offs and with the Welsh Shield within touching distance.

With defeat, any hope of a place in the play-offs was extinguished but Cardiff remain the leading Welsh club going into Judgement Day, with the Ospreys suffering a heavy defeat in Edinburgh.

Cardiff won the toss and opted to play into the inevitably strong Galway wind in the first half. Playing the conditions on their home patch, Connacht pinned the Blue and Blacks into their 22 for much of the opening exchanges and they were rewarded with two penalties which were kicked to the corner. 

The Blue and Blacks defended manfully and the Irish outfit were unable to convert the early opportunities but the wind ensured the hosts remained on the front foot. 

With ten minutes approaching, Cardiff enjoyed a bright spell with Priestland making a pair of half breaks, which put his ball carriers on the front foot. Two phases later Taulupe Faletau was released down the left thanks to slick hands from Lane but Diarmuid Kilgallen covered across to beat Tomos Williams and then scampered out of danger. 

However, despite Cardiff’s endeavour Connacht struck for the opening try on 12 minutes thanks to that man Kilgallen. The Blue and Blacks could feel hard done by that they were not rewarded with a penalty when two Connacht defenders ended up stuck on the wrong side of the breakdown but play continued and at the next phases possession was lost. 

With an overlap to the right, Tom Farrell cut inside, drew Ben Thomas and put Kilgallen racing clear. Jack Carty converted to give his side a 7-0 advantage, 

Four minutes later Cardiff were dealt a further blow when James Botham was penalised for making contact with the head of a Connacht ball carrier. Sam Grove-White consulted with the TMO and there was enough mitigation to downgrade the offence to yellow with the Connacht attacker falling into contact and no significant force. 

It came at a cost however as Connacht kicked to the corner and rumbled over after initially appearing to run out of steam, with Dylan Tierney-Martin the scorer. 

Connacht claimed a third try just before Botham was brought back into action and it was fine margins again. 

Thomas Young had looked to snatch a turnover but the ball went forward and the hosts remained in the ascent. From the ensuing dominant scrum, Caolin Blade burst off the back and he offloaded to Conor Oliver who crashed over. 

Carty knocked over the simple conversion to make it 19-0 with little more than 10 minutes remaining. 

With Cardiff running out of time, they earned field position and Liam Belcher summoned a moment of individual brilliance. He sold a sumptuous dummy to the Connacht defence and raced towards the whitewash.

He was tackled short and Max Llewellyn went even closer, taking two Connacht men with him, before the ball came back left and Seb Davies powered over. Priestland slotted the conversion to bring the scores to 19-7. 

However, the hard work was undone as Connacht hit-back in emphatic fashion thanks to two of their Ireland Grand Slam heroes. Bundee Aki took the ball hard to the line and he offloaded to Mack Hansen, who sliced a razor harp line to beat the Blue and Black defence and race clear. 

Carty added the extras to restore his side’s 19-point lead with half-time approaching. 

Cardiff made a bright start to the second-half and went through more than 30 phases, hammering away at the hosts in their own 22. There appeared to be two high tackles in the period but both went unspotted and it was eventually a penalty at the breakdown that gave Connacht some reprieve. 

The Blue and Blacks kicked to the corner and overthrew but minutes later had another opportunity and required no second-invitation as the pack powered over with Young claiming the score.

Priestland was off target with the boot but an increasingly dominant scrum and with the wind at their backs, Cardiff enjoyed further opportunities. Another penalty kicked to the corner could have paid dividends but for a second occasion the line out was not secured. 

With 60 minutes on the clock there was an extensive break in play following a heavy collision involving Owen Lane. The wing went up to compete for a high ball but took the knee of Mack Hansen straight to the face. Lane was helped off the pitch by the medics and was replaced by Harri Millard. 

Cardiff had further opportunities to score with Max Llewellyn unable to hang onto Tomos Williams’ audacious long-pass with the try-line at his mercy.

Connacht added two further scores in the second half, with Kieran Marmion crossing the whitewash and Grove-White awarding the hosts a penalty try.

With two minutes remaining, flanker Young was denied his second of the evening after being held up over the line, but Cardiff launched another wave of attack from the drop-out and the academy graduate needed no second invitation to latch onto Rhys Carré's impressive offload to dot down for his sixth league try of the season.

With the restart proceeding as the clock turned red, Cardiff needed to progress the length of the field to salvage a bonus point. There were promising moments as they advanced towards halfway, but a Connacht turnover in midfield brought an end to their hopes as all eyes now turn to Judgement Day and a decisive Welsh Shield clash with Ospreys.