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Connacht makes play-off statement

MATCH REPORT: Connacht moved into the United Rugby Championship play-off positions following a 26-10 victory over Scarlets at The Sportsground.

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Pete Wilkins men would have wanted to be further in front after having a first half wind advantage, but scores from captain Caolin Blade, Eoin de Buitlear and Jansen left them leading 19-7.

Despite Scarlets scrumhalf Efan Jones marking his first URC start with a try, they were unable to build on that score during what was a stop-start second period.

Connacht’s Irish-qualified number eight Jansen effectively settled the issue ahead of the final quarter, as the westerners climbed four places in the table up to sixth.

The front rows were front and centre early on at The Sportsground.

Sam Wainwright did just enough to deny de Buitlear an initial try, before Jack Aungier broke a tackle and passed for Blade to finish off in speedy fashion in the fifth minute.

Following JJ Hanrahans conversion, Connacht used an eighth-minute turnover to attack from their own half, with good hands releasing 22-year-old hooker De Buitlear to make it 12-0.

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The Scarlets successfully disrupted two maul attempts from the hosts, but when De Buitlear tapped a penalty, Aungiers swift pass allowed Jansen to drive in low and make it over the line.

A Tomi Lewis interception had Dwayne Peels charges building some phases, and a sudden burst by Vaea Fifita saw him feed summer signing Efan Jones on his inside for a 15-metre run-in. Dan Jones converted.

Connacht had the best chance to score before the interval, but Andrew Smith just lost the ball from his grasp as he acrobatically dived towards the left corner, under pressure from Lewis.

Improved defence from the Scarlets, which saw Wyn Jones win a key breakdown decision and skipper Sam Lousi foil a Connacht maul, was duly rewarded with an early second-half penalty from fly-half Dan Jones.

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Experienced loosehead Wyn Jones won penalties at the breakdown and scrum, but the Welsh outfit blew two lineout opportunities. Jansen then stung them with his second try, which was awarded after a potential knock-on from Denis Buckley was ruled out by TMO Stefano Roscini.

Knock-ons in advanced positions added to the Scarlets’ growing frustration, and Connacht were able to see out the game on their terms, albeit that a promising lineout platform was lost due to a Fifita steal.

Player of the Match

Cathal Forde was quietly efficient for Connacht, with his first-half carries particularly influential. His centre combination with David Hawkshaw worked well at key stages.

Play of the Match

There was some excellent interplay in the build-up to Connacht’s second try, which all came from a Gavin Thornbury lineout steal inside his own half. David Hawkshaw made the first incision, spearheading a break that had Cian Prendergast bursting into the Scarlets 22. Hawkshaw did likewise before quick ruck ball saw Peter Dooley and Prendergast combine, with the latter’s offload putting De Buitlear over from close range.

The scorers

For Connacht
Tries: Blade, De Buitlear, Jansen 2
Cons: Hanrahan 3

For Scarlets
Try: Jones
Con: Jones
Pen: Jones

Teams

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 David Hawkshaw, 12 Cathal Forde 11 Andrew Smith, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Caolin Blade (captain), 8 Sean Jansen, 7 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Niall Murray, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Eoin de Buitléar, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Michael McDonald, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Conor Oliver.

Scarlets: 15 Ioan Nicholas, 14 Tomi Lewis, 13 Johnny Williams, 12 Eddie James, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Efan Jones, 8 Vaea Fifita, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Sam Lousi (captain), 5 Jac Price, 4 Alex Craig, 3 Sam Wainwright, 2 Shaun Evans, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Eduan Swart, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Ben Williams, 21 Archie Hughes, 22 Charlie Titcombe, 23 Ryan Conbeer.

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrew Cole (Ireland) and Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)

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