Connacht 13 vs Scarlets 11
Its two wins from two for Connacht as they edged out a resilient Scarlets side at the newly developed Sportsground on Saturday afternoon, despite being on the back foot for most of the game.
A Mark McCrea try on 53 minutes, duly converted by Matt Javis, was the difference in the end as Scarlets enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and territory in the opening half, but could not handle Connacht’s second-half display of power and steely resolve.
On a blustery and misty afternoon in Galway, a stop-start first half, no thanks to referee Mauris Mitera, opened with the away side dominating possession and stringing together a number of phases. Connacht struggled to get to grips with their increased pressure and an off-side decision, on eight minutes, saw Dan Newton convert the opening penalty. The French referee, on his RaboDirect Pro 12 debut, failed to let the game flow and was far too whistle-friendly all afternoon.
Connacht’s scrum had difficulty in the opening 20 minutes and debutant scrum-half Ruki Tipua was at the heart of everything the Welsh side created but any momentum built was halted due of a series of clumsy knock-ons.
Connacht’s excellent defence was once again on display and an early surge up filed was awarded with a penalty just inside the Scarlets half which Jarvis sent well to the left and wide on 13 minutes.
Despite the home side being on the back foot for most of the half they looked the more threating to score and slick hands from centre pairing Henry Fa’afili and Eoin Griffin almost saw McCrea get over in the corner but was tackled close to the line on 29 minutes. Good rucking, a few minutes later, saw a move from right to left involving Jarvis, pick out Gavin Duffy and his deft, one touch flick, on to Fa’failil, sent the big Samoan charge for the line but was ankle tapped by Josh Turnbull. His attempted off load, destined for on rushing Duffy, was intercepted and Scarlets cleared their lines.
Newtown responded with a penalty but Scarlets were penalised minutes later for players crossing and Jarvis made it 6-3. Moments from the interval a Connacht maul was illegally brought down but Jarvis missed a glorious opportunity to level matters and Scarlets went in at the break 6-3 ahead.
The second period started with the Welsh side taking the game to Connacht. Although awarded two kickable penalties, both times they opted for the line and on the second line-out, scored their opening try. Second row Aaron Shinger had an easy run in after a ruck was turned over and quick hands sent the big second-rower over in the corner. The TMO had the final say but Newtown could not add the extra two to leave it 11-3 with only 43 minutes on the clock gone.
This is where the game changed for Connacht and another massive maul almost made the line. A bit of afters from Mike Swift and Rob McCusker saw both receive yellow cards. It was a bit harsh on the Connacht man as he looked to be the initial victim. But more strangely was the ref’s decision to change his mind and award Scarlet’s the penalty after initially pointing in Connacht’s favour.
What followed was a scrappy five minutes of endless kicking. But then George Naoupu and Roan Loughney created space on the left and the ball swung out to Fa’afili who ran, in an arc like motion, past three players and superbly off-loaded to McCrea and the Ulsterman ran under the posts. Jarvis converted to leave Connacht one point behind.
The introduction of Brett Wilkinson on 61 minutes was greeted with cheers from the crowd and he and the rest of the team now began to put pressure on a visibly tiring Scarlets side. Niall O’ Connor, on as a replacement for Jarvis, kicked a penalty on 67 minutes to lead 13-11. Connacht’s incredibly tough pre-season regime paid dividends as they looked sharper and more focused than the mistake-ridden Scarlets side in the closing minutes and ran out 13-11 victors.