Connacht have booked their place in their first ever Pro12 final after a historic 16-11 over Glasgow Warriors in a sold-out Sportsgrounds in Galway.
Pat Lam’s side were never behind in the game, and were fully deserving of a win in what was undoubtedly the biggest game in the team’s history.
Glasgow suffered a blow in the opening moments of the game after they lost two players inside the first 60 seconds. Connacht’s Bundee Aki took the ball into collision with the Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson and fly-half Finn Russell leaving the field. Russell was taken away on a stretcher after clashing heads with his team mate.
Connacht started the game much brighter than their opposition but lost the ball in the Glasgow 22 on numerous occasions in the opening 15 minutes. Scrum-half Kieran Marmion broke through the Warriors defence twice, but Connacht’s handling meant they failed to come away with points.
Both teams turned down kickable penalties in the opening quarter preferring to kick for the corners, but it was an intercept from Aki that almost gave Connacht the lead. The New Zealand-born centre broke free from midfield in a break. In the next phase, the ball ended up in the hands of Eoin McKeon to cross the tryline unopposed.
Referee Marius Mitrea went upstairs to the TMO Carlo Damasco to check on Aki’s handling of the ball. It was correctly adjudged to been knocked on, which silenced the partisan Galway crowd.
AJ MacGinty scored 11 of Connacht's points. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie
Both teams opened their scoring within three first half minutes of each other. After earlier turning down penalties, Connacht opened the scoring through AJ MacGinty, before Glasgow’s substitute fly-half Duncan Weir leveled the scoring.
Four minutes before the break, Connacht scored the game’s first try on 36 minutes when Niyi Adeolukun was on the end of a Aki chip. The Nigerian winger jogged in under the posts to touch down. MacGinty slotted the conversion the home side led 10-3 at the break.
Glasgow started the second half far stronger than they did the first, and only took eight minutes to cross the line through Fijian superstar Leone Nakrawa. The second-row was at the end of an endless pressure from the Pro12 champions when Connacht’s defence finally buckled.
The teams exchanged penalties in the following ten minutes through MacGinty and Weir, before Connacht’s MacGinty extended the home team’s lead to 16-11 with 15 minutes to go.
Adeolukun crossed the tryline with less than ten minutes on the clock, but in similar circumstances to the first half, the try was disallowed from the TMO Damasco. In a previous play man-of-the-match Aki was seen have knocked-on the ball in a previous phase. That was to be the centre’s last action in the match.
Connacht played the last eight minutes with 14 men when substitute Rodney Ah You was sin-binned after a high tackle in the Glasgow 22. Despite enormous pressure from the Glasgow attack, the home team held firm in the final stages to record a historic win.
Pat Lam’s side head to Edinburgh next week, for the first all-Irish Pro12 final since 2013. Leinster await the Westerners, but the West will be awake for weeks to come.