Wiese stars as Tigers edge Connacht
EUROPEAN CUP REPORT: Wing Hosea Saumaki handed Leicester Tigers a dramatic 29-28 win at Connacht on Saturday, as he scored in the final play of the game.
Leicester trailed 10-28 early in the second half, as Connacht produced some excellent attacking rugby, but the Gallagher Premiership leaders hit back with three tries to snatch an incredible victory in Pool B and book their place in the Round of 16.
The win was underscored by the performance of Leicester’s Springbok loose forward Jasper Wiese, who was named Man of the Match.
Leicester got off to the ideal start on their first competitive visit to The Sportsground, with prop Joe Heyes the beneficiary of a well-constructed maul as he dotted down for the game’s opening try.
And the visitors would command the opening stages, going over for their second try on nine minutes as a smart set-play saw flyhalf Freddie Burns float a kick into the hands of winger Kini Murimurivalu, who finished convincingly.
Connacht rallied, though, as a rumbling maul of their own set the foundations before the ball was shipped inside, with fullback Tiernan O’Halloran diving over under the posts for the Irish province’s opening score.
A second Connacht try would come on 28 minutes as a beautifully disguised offload by British and Irish Lions centre Bundee Aki unlocked the Leicester defence and sent flanker Cian Prendergast over.
The hosts started the second half in the ascendancy and immediately set up camp on the Leicester line, with the away side’s flanker Tommy Reffell sent to the sin bin for a denying a score with an infringement.
Unbelievable scenes as @LeicesterTigers fight back in the last minute and secure Round of 16 qualification 😲#HeinekenChampionsCup highlights 📹 pic.twitter.com/7Ya8DCUJNM
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 15, 2022
Moments later Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion spotted the gap in the Tigers rearguard and squirmed over for his side’s third try.
With Leicester down to 14 men, Connacht exerted further control over the contest and crossed for a bonus point score on 48 minutes through O’Halloran’s second try of the game – he finished excellently after a flowing backs move.
Once back to their full complement, momentum would swing back in Leicester’s favour, as Murimurivalu went over for his second try of the day after some terrific running rugby saw the visitors run from inside their own half.
Leicester upped the intensity further and notched their own bonus point score when replacement hooker Charlie Clare crossed at the back of a trundling maul, with Burns’ conversion leaving them four points adrift with just over five minutes to play.
And Steve Borthwick’s men would snatch victory in the final play of the game as Saumaki did superbly to finish in the corner under immense pressure and keep his side’s 100%-win record in Europe this season intact.
Leicester host Union Bordeaux-Bègles in Round 4 while Connacht travel to Stade Francais Paris.
Tries: O’Halloran 2, Prendergast, Marmion
Cons: Carty 4
For Leicester Tigers
Tries: Heyes, Murimurivalu 2, Clare, Saumaki
Cons: Burns 2
Yellow card: Tom Reffell (Leicester Tigers, 42)
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Sam Arnold, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Oisin Dowling, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Matthew Burke,
Replacements: 16 David Heffernan, 17 Tietie Tuimauga, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Tom Farrell.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Freddie Steward, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Kini Murimurivalu, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Ollie Chessum, 5 Calum Green, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Joe Heyes, 2 Nic Dolly, 1 Ellis Genge (captain),
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 James Whitcombe, 18 Nephi Leatigaga, 19 Tom Manz, 20 Francois van Wyk, 21 Jack van Poortvliet, 22 Dan Kelly, 23 Hosea Saumaki,
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas (France) & Maxime Chalon (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)