|15 January 2022
|European Champions Cup
Leicester Tigers struck late on to break the hearts of the Connacht faithful as they picked up a 29-28 bonus point win over the Westerners, at The Sportsground.
Having won in their last meeting, they had to work hard late on to get the result, despite the game Connacht will feel hard done by.
Despite trailing 10-0 early in the opening half, Cian Prendergast, Kieran Marmion and a brace by Tiernan O’Halloran helped them to a bonus point, but they failed to hold onto their lead.
The visitors worked hard getting two quick tries in the opening quarter before clinching the win late on, Joe Heyes and Kini Murimurivalu crossing, with Murimurivalu adding another early in the second half.
Charlie Clare added a fourth to leave the hosts sweating late on, but it was Hosea Saumaki who got the controversial match winner.
Leicester started the stronger but began to wilt midway through the first half. An opening phase saw them kicking a penalty into touch, they worked the resulting lineout well and from the driving maul which followed, prop Joe Heyes crossed to give the visitors an early 5-0 lead, as the conversion attempt by Freddie Burns missed the target.
As quick as a flash Leicester doubled their lead with their second try of the afternoon, Kini Murimurivalu receiving a cross-field kick before powering for the line in the 11th minute, the conversion missing the mark again.
Jack Carty had the opportunity to put the first points on the board for Connacht in the 14th minute, but his first kick at goal of the afternoon went to the right of the posts.
After being up against it for the entire first quarter, Tiernan O’Halloran crossed for their opening try in the 16th minute, he gathered the offload and crossed just beside the posts. Carty added the conversion to make it 10-7.
The hosts grabbed their second try in the 27th minute, after working hard to reduce the deficit, the pressure was too much for Leicester, and great work by Bundee Aki allowed Cian Prendergast to barrel his way over the try line. Carty made it 14-10, a lead they took until half-time.
Just four minutes after the restart Connacht added a third try, Kieran Marmion getting over after working the phases of play, he evaded the tackles and managed to touch down.
Tigers Tommy Refell was sent to the sin-bin just beforehand for an illegal challenge, leaving it 21-10 in the hosts favour.
Connacht found their feet early in the half with plenty of attacking threat.
O’Halloran crossed for his second try of the afternoon just four minutes later, having evaded three men in the process, the full back gave his side the bonus point, making it 28-10 after Carty landed his fourth consecutive conversion attempt.
Leicester got a big third try in the 56th minute and from here they started their comeback, the attack starting from one end of the field to the other.
Murimurivalu managed to touch over in the corner again, a crucial score that kept them in the game, Burns landing the conversion, after missing the previous two attempts, leaving it 28-17.
The visitors piled the pressure on from the moment they added the third try, having knocked on the door eventually replacement hooker Charlie Clare, knocked the door down in the 73rd minute to leave four between them 28-24, as Burns found his form with the tee.
The clock started to tick down and it looked as if Connacht had done enough to claim the win, but just as he had done in the first encounter, Saumaki touched down for the decisive match winning try, the effort not without its controversy the final act of play, the TMO ruling he remained in touch for the grounding.
Leicester overcame an 18-point deficit to take the maximum points, in a dramatic and entertaining game at The Sportsgrounds, with Connacht licking their wounds ahead of a trip to Stade Français next Sunday.
|Juan Pablo Socino
|The Sportsgrounds, Galway City, County Galway, Ireland