Connacht and Ulster seal impressive PRO14 wins

Date published: October 25 2020

Edinburgh’s post-lockdown lethargy continued as they suffered their sixth straight defeat after a 37-26 loss to Connacht at Murrayfield.

Richard Cockerill’s team suffered a deflating end to last season’s delayed finale as they missed out on a place in the PRO14 final and the last four of the European Challenge Cup as they fell to Glasgow, Ulster and Bordeaux-Begles.

And this season has got off to just as dispiriting a start after defeats to Munster and Ospreys were followed by their latest setback.

Mike Willemse grabbed a double in between scores from Nic Groom and Andrew Davidson as Edinburgh at least claimed a bonus point.

But Alex Wootten’s brace and tries from Caolin Blade, Sammy Arnold and Tiernan O’Halloran gave Connacht their first away win since March.

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It looked to be going so well for Edinburgh as they responded to Connor Fitzgerald’s penalty by grabbing the opening try on 10 minutes when Groom found the smallest of gaps to squeeze over the line.

But the hosts have had trouble keeping their discipline in check lately and it hurt them again five minutes later as Pierre Schoeman was pinged for a breakdown infringement.

Connacht’s lineout ploy did not go exactly to plan as the ball squirmed out of the maul, but Blade improvised brilliantly as he kicked down the empty short-side before diving over for the touchdown.

Fitzgerald’s goal kicking was off target as he missed two conversion attempts in the opening half but he was on the money with a perfect little dink through for Connacht’s second as Arnold dotted down on 20 minutes.

Edinburgh were on the back foot but Jack Blain tried to inject some impetus as he drove into the Irish half. But when his side made a mess of a lineout soon after they were punished again as John Porch dropped a gear and took off down the left wing before allowing Wootten to score.

Edinburgh wing Eroni Sau thought he had reduced the deficit but saw a try ruled out after Chris Dean’s illegal block in the build-up.

Connacht hoped to take a 16-point lead in at the break after Tom Daly’s penalty but Edinburgh’s late pressure told as Willemse crashed over three minutes into first-half stoppage time from a lineout drive to give Cockerill’s team belief.

A carbon copy play saw the South African hooker score again 11 minutes into the second period as Edinburgh climbed to within four points of their guests and with plenty time to work with.

But Connacht immediately surged up field and grabbed their bonus point thanks to another moment of inspiration from Blade, with the scrum-half clipping a sublime grubber through for Wooten to score his second.

Connacht then moved out of sight when O’Halloran powered over after another Blade short ball.

Davidson’s close-range finish late on was not enough to arrest Edinburgh’s miserable run of form.

Elsewhere, Ulster made it three wins from three in the PRO14 after running in six tries to claim a bonus-point win as they beat the Dragons 40-17 at Kingspan Stadium.

The foundations of the victory, played behind closed doors, were laid in a dominant opening half when the Irish province had already bagged their try bonus and led 35-3.

Louis Ludik crossed twice in that opening 40 minutes with John Cooney kicking conversions for all five of Ulster’s tries, with the other scores in the opening half coming from Marcell Coetzee, Eric O’Sullivan and Sean Reidy.

But Ulster’s dominance did not continue after the break when tries from Ashton Hewitt and a last-minute Jamie Roberts score saw the Dragons at least win the second half 14-5 on the scoreboard, Ulster’s only points after the break coming from an Alan O’Connor try.

Only four minutes in and Coetzee surged over for Ulster after the home side had stolen a Dragons throw and Cooney converted.

Sam Davies then cut Ulster’s lead five minutes later with a penalty shortly after Rhodri Williams had made a dangerous break.

Ulster’s second try came from O’Sullivan after the Irish province surged off a lineout, with Cooney converting the prop’s 15th-minute effort.

Reidy was involved in the build-up for Ulster’s third score, which came in the 26th minute, before the flanker drove over the Dragons’ line with Cooney again converting to put the home side 21-3 ahead.

The bonus-point score now looked inevitable and two minutes later Ulster had it when Ludik dived over in the left corner, Cooney adding a superb conversion from the touchline.

He did the same two minutes from the break when Ludik scored his second after a great Ulster attack which allowed the Irish province to end the half leading by 35-3.

The second half was by no means the same one-way traffic and there were no scores until the hour when Ulster – with Matt Faddes in the bin and multiple substitutions breaking the Irish side’s rhythm – were unable to prevent Ashton Hewitt from scoring, the try being converted by Davies.

O’Connor got Ulster moving again following some good approach work by the home team’s pack as he dotted down for the Irish province’s sixth try, although Bill Johnston missed the conversion.

The game ended with Roberts smashing through from close ranger and Davies converting.