Late Connacht penalty break Lions' hearts
MATCH REPORTS: Connacht became only the second Northern Hemisphere side to record a United Rugby Championship win on South African soil.
Flyhalf Jack Carty slotted a penalty in the 75th minute top secure a 33-30 win for the Irish province over the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday – the first win by a European team since Edinburgh beat the Sharks back in March.
Connacht was quickly out the box – flank Cian Prendergast scoring in the second minute and a penalty try in the ninth, which also saw Lions prop Ruan Dreyer yellow-carded for a cynical foul.
However, the Lions worked themselves back into the game, with a Jordan Hendrikse penalty and wing Sibahle Maxwane scoring on the stroke of half-time – to make it 14-8 to the visitors at the break.
Jack Carty (two) and Jordan Hendrikse (one) exchanged penalties, before Morne van den Berg scored a try from a quick tap – as the penalty count started mounting against the visitors.
Carty added another penalty and Tom Daly went over for a try, as the visitors held a 12-point (30-18) lead just past the hour mark.
The Lions replied with an Edwill van der Merwe try, after the referee played several penalty advantages – following at least two warnings about repeated infringements.
That was followed by a sniping break from captain Burger Odendaal, tying the game up at 30-all.
Carty reclaimed the lead with five minutes remaining, holding on in the face of a late rally to break the Lions’ harts.
* To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!
Connacht moved one win away from completing a clean sweep of South African sides.
The Westerners saw off the Bulls and the Stormers at home earlier in the season.
Connacht started brightly and had the lead after only two minutes as Prendergast was released into space by Caolin Blade, with Carty adding the extras.
A penalty try quickly followed following a collapsed maul and a yellow card shown to Ruan Dreyer had Connacht 14-0 and a man up after 11 minutes.
Jordan Hendrikse got the Lions off the mark from the tee at the end of the first quarter before a fantastic line break from Wandisile Simelane created the chance for Maxwane to race over in the closing stages of the half.
Hendrikse missed the conversion to leave Connacht 14-8 in front at the interval and Carty stretched the margin to nine with a penalty early in the second half.
Home kicker Hendrikse and Carty exchanged penalties before Van den Berg took a chunk out of the deficit by bursting through the Connacht defence to touch down and Hendrikse’s conversion made it 20-18.
The flyhalf was wide of the mark with a subsequent penalty and that missed opportunity to take the lead was compounded in a game of fine margins when Carty sent one over at the other end.
Bundee Aki offloaded to Daly to barge over for a try converted by Carty as Connacht moved 12 in front with 17 minutes to play.
Van der Merwe and Odendaal then crossed in quick succession for the hosts, but Hendrikse was only able to convert one of the tries to level the scores at 30-all.
Although Carty missed a chance to kick Connacht back in front soon after, he was on target with his next to clinch the win.
Man of the Match
Already quite used to seeing brother Vincent take the Man of the Match medal this season, this week it was Emmanuel Tshituka’s turn to claim the individual honour.
The number eight was unfortunate to end up on the losing side and his four offloads were a match-leading figure.
Play of the match
Simelane danced around Aki to set up the Lions’ opener in a strong contender for this prize, but Odendaal’s sublime effort in the second half perhaps just edged it.
He exploited a gap in the Connacht defence before stepping inside the last man to score a try that gave the hosts real hope of claiming victory.
For the Lions
Tries: Maxwane, Van den Berg, Van der Merwe, Odendaal
Cons: Hendriks 2
Pens: Hendrikse 2
Tries: Prendergast, Penalty try, Daly
Cons: Carty 2, penalty try does not require a conversion
Pens: Carty 4
Yellow card: Ruan Dreyer (Lions, 9 – cynical foul – illegally collapsing the mail near his tryline)
Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Sibahle Maxwane, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Emmanuel Tshituka, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Francke Horn, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Jean-Pierre Smith, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Tiaan Swanepoel.
Connacht: 15 Mack Hansen, 14 John Porch, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Oisín Dowling, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Greg McGrath, 19 Leva Fifita, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Shayne Bolton.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa), Morne Ferreira (South Africa)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial