A late Hosea Saumaki try broke Connacht hearts as Leicester Tigers fought back to win 29-28 at the Sportsground on Saturday.
Andy Friend’s side had recovered from a shaky start to lead 28-10 early in the second half.
But tries from Charlie Clare, Kini Murimurivalu and Saumaki saw the Tigers claw back the game and take all five points in their first trip to Galway.
Despite some glittering moments from the Westerners, a litany of mistakes and unforced errors proved costly.
While some excellent defensive displays repelled the visitors for large parts of the game, the Premiership leaders could only be kept out for so long.
Here are the Connacht player ratings following the cruellest of endings at the Sportsground.
1. Matthew Burke - 5
A tough day against that Leicester scrum, was unable to get the upper hand against Joe Heyes.
2. Shane Delahunt - 7
Superb lineout throwing by Delahunt gave Connacht a great platform for attack throughout the game. Held his nerve as the tight battle played out at scrum time. The lineout suffered badly once he was replaced early in the second half by Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham - 7
It was always going to be a fascinating duel with Genge in the scrum, and Bealham more than turned up for his side today. Another great performance suggests that the Ireland #18 jersey is as good as his
4. Oisín Dowling - 5
Didn’t make much of an impression on the game. Called ashore early in the second half, to be replaced by Dillane.
5. Niall Murray - 6
Quietly went about his business today, but was effective in defence all day, especially as the game hung in the balance.
6. Cian Prendergast - 8
Probably could’ve done more to get under the ball when Heyes crashed over for the opening try. However, he grew into the game and was excellent in the lineout. He was Johnny-on-the-spot for Aki’s pass to crash over for Connacht’s second try. He backed up his try with a brilliant defensive display. Cleaned up the mess left by Arnold and did enough to stop a certain try for Leicester.
7. Conor Oliver - 7
Great turnover from him as Leicester looked set to score. His carries kept those Tigers forwards busy.
8. Jarrad Butler - 6
Made some great carries and was an important second option at the lineout. May not be enough to keep his spot though, with Paul Boyle back from his injury layoff.
9. Kieran Marmion - 7
His passing fuelled the high-octane attacking rugby which defines this Connacht team. His sniping run through a forest of Leicester forwards for the try was exactly what he can bring when he’s in the mood.
10. Jack Carty - 7
Great defence from Carty. Kicked and kicked and kicked to the corner, and it paid off the third time of asking. Variation in play kept a fast Leicester defensive line guessing. A monstrous 50:22 indicative of his usual excellence. Marked down for a blocked-down kick which nearly gave Leicester, had the player not knocked it on.
11. Matt Healy - 5
The winger made his first appearance this season for Connacht, and it showed. He was very quiet out on that left wing.
12. Bundee Aki - 6
We saw the good and the bad from Aki today. His beautiful sleight of hand was on display as he made the deftest of passes to get Prendergast over the line. His needless penalty at the ruck gave Leicester the platform to get the try that cut Connacht’s lead to four points. Gave referee Mathieu Raynal an earful at full-time after the TMO ruled that Saumaki’s foot had not gone into touch
13. Sammy Arnold - 4
Left something to be desired with his defence. A dreadful missed tackle left the door wide open for Leicester to score.
14. John Porch - 5
A shaky display from him in the first half. Two needless knock-ons. Acquitted himself with a great pass to release O’Halloran for the BP try. However, he struggled to contain Murimurivalu throughout the game, and was absent as the Fijian stormed over the line in the second half.
15. Tiernan O’Halloran - 7
Easily the best of the back three. He took both his tries very well, and made a vital interception to stop a certain Leicester try in the first half.
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