Connacht had fought hard to put themselves in this European position, with qualification for a first-ever Heineken Cup quarter-final still a possibility before kick-off.
Those chances may have been slim, but Pat Lam’s men were expected to lay their bodies on the line in their efforts to cause another upset in Pool 3. However, Saracens knew that they can advance to the knock-out stages with a win, so nothing came easy for Connacht.
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Saracens 64 – 6 Connacht
13.05 – Hi and welcome along to our liveblog of Connacht’s clash with Saracens in Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup. There are plenty of permutations, but Pat Lam’s side can still qualify for the quarter-finals of this competition. The problem is that Saracens are also playing for a place in the knock-out stages, so Connacht can expect a powerful effort from the home team.
What are your thoughts on this one? Can Connacht pull off another big win on the road in Europe?
13.09 – Here are the teams for this afternoon’s clash. Interesting to see Sarries go for Hodgson at out-half.
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Duncan Taylor, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Charlie Hodgson, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens; Steve Borthwick (c), George Kruis; Billy Vunipola, Kelly Brown, Ernst Joubert.
Replacements: Jamie George, Richard Barrington, James Johnston, Alistair Hargreaves, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Owen Farrell, Chris Wyles.
Connacht: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Nathan White; Michael Swift, Craig Clarke (c); Andrew Browne, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Mick Kearney, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Darragh Leader, Tiernan O’Halloran.
13.12 – Hodgson features in the three key battles we have picked out for this clash. Also in there is a potentially explosive front row head-to-head and the clash between the two captains at lock. You can read all about those right here:
13.15 – Here’s a view of the Allianz Park’s synthetic surface, which may suit Connacht. They excel when they play with a high tempo and Saracens have struggled with that style of play at times this season.
13.19 – So, to the lie of the land in Pool 3 ahead of this clash and the one between Toulouse and Zebre, which also kicks off at 1.35pm. The Top 14 side are already through to the quarter-finals and a win in Italy would secure them a home fixture in April.
Saracens will join Toulouse in the knock-out stages if they beat Connacht this afternoon, but they would need Guy Novès’ team to slip up against Zebre if they are to get a home draw. If Connacht win with a bonus point and Exeter manage to beat Cardiff in Pool 2, then the dream is alive.
13.22 – Plenty of support around for Connacht ahead of this one. TheScore.ie reader Tomás O’Loughlin is hoping for a big result:
I’m a Munster fan but the highlight of my weekend would be a Connacht win – long shot but good luck!
13.27 – We’d love to see some of the aspects of Connacht’s win over Toulouse involved in their performance this afternoon. That win was a shock, but it was’t quite the typical underdog story; Pat Lam’s side outplayed the Top 14 powerhouses on that occasion.
Efficient use of possession, aggressive line speed and ruthless targeting of weaknesses in the opposition defence were crucial in France, and all three features would be welcome at Allianz Park.
13.29 – Good to see that Connacht’s supporters have traveled in force to England for this clash. Here’s a shot of David O’Riordan, Brian Eastwood, Iain Reilly and John Lyons. Do you know anyone over at the game?
13.32 – We’re just five minutes from kick-off and here’s how Pool 3 stands before the action kicks off in both games. How will this group finish up?
13.37 – 1 minute – Dan Parks gets us underway with a long drop-kick to the right and Connacht re-win it…
13.39 – 2 minutes – Solid start from Pat Lam’s men as Gavin Duffy tested the Sarries defence just left of midfield. Dan Parks then attempted to slide a kick in behind the home side, but he overcooked it and it rolled dead behind the try-line. Fionn Carr makes a handling error as Hodgson re-starts, but Connacht win the line-out three phases later.
13.41 – 3 minutes – Hodsgon goes to the boot with a hanging garryowen when Saracens win possession back. Chris Ashton knocks-on under pressure from Healy in the air though, and the away team will have the put-in to the scrum. Interesting tactics early from Sarries.
13.42 – 5 minutes – Alex Goode claims Parks’ clearing kick, before Mako Vunipola carries strongly. However, Wigglesworth’s box kick is then blocked down smartly by Clarke and Saracens are pinged for tackling off the ball in their panic. Penalty and an early attempt for Parks here…
13.43 – PENALTY! Saracens 0-3 Connacht (’6 Parks)
13.45 – 8 minutes – That’s an encouraging start for Parks from the tee out to the right of the sticks, but Saracens have just dominated a scrum to win a penalty of their own. Hodgson is going to have a go from around 42 metres out, wide on the right. Not an easy position…
13.47 – 9 minutes – He’s missed that one, with the ball sliding away to the right of the posts. Seemed to rush it. Connacht’s group of supporters with the ironic cheers. poor connection from Hodgson, whose head was up almost as he kicked the ball.
Saracens make an excellent choke tackle to turn possession back over though and they’ll have another attacking scrum here.
13.48 – 11 minutes – We’re off to the TMO! But it looks like Chris Ashton has scored for Sarries. Playmaking from Hodgson…
13.49 – TRY! Saracens 5-3 Connacht (’11 Ashton)
13.50 – 12 minutes – Hodgson misses the conversion, but that’s good rugby from Saracens. The out-half prompted his runners onto the ball, Barritt and Vunipola feature strongly before Ashton was on the receiving end to score in the right corner.
13.51 – 13 minutes – Oooh, Robbie Henshaw almost picks off a Hodgson pass inside Sarries’ half, but he just knocks-on. Very close, and so unlucky.
13.54 – 15 minutes – Hodgson is playing nice and flat to the gain-line, as he can when his forwards are getting on the front foot so often. It means quick rucks and quick service to the England international. Connacht retreating in defence, and all the momentum is with the home team right now.
Still, as Henshaw showed, the fact that Hodgson is so flat may make him susceptible to that intercept. Connacht need to get off the defensive line quicker.
13.56 – 17 minutes – Another penalty for Saracens as Clarke and Browne get caught offside by referee Leighton Hodges. Mark McCall’s side turn down the three-point option and knock the ball into the right-hand corner. Maul coming up surely…
13.57 – 17 minutes – Well defended Connacht! Saracens popped the ball off the top and went back into the narrow channel in front of the hooker through Billy Vunipola. Marmion and Wilkinson were there though to force a knock-on from the England international.
13.58 – 19 minutes – Great shot of Ashton and Henshaw competing in the air here.
13.59 – 20 minutes – Connacht put together some smart attacking phases, before Brits goes off his feet and fails to release the ball as he competes at the breakdown. Penalty to Connacht, wide on the right, and Parks is going to step up for another shot at goal to put Connacht back in front…
14.00 – PENALTY! Saracens 5-6 Connacht (’21 Parks)
14.02 – 23 minutes – Mako and Billy Vunipola rampaging right now, both bursting over the gain-line as Saracens look to respond. The passage ends with Nathan White failing to release after his tackle and Hodges pings him in front of the posts. Hodgson will surely not miss this time…
14.02 – PENALTY! Saracens 8-6 Connacht (’23 Hodgson)
14.04 – 25 minutes – Connacht looking a little frail in defence so far, not enough chopping of the big carriers ankles and too many high shots. Also, they’re a little open around the fringes of the rucks and Saracens have made big gains in that area once or twice. Getting off the line wider out, but they need to follow that inside too.
14.06 – 27 minutes – Hodgson slides a smart little grubber in behind Connacht to pin them into their 22 on the right. However, the line-out is functioning well against the professor Steve Borthwick. Parks clears, but here comes Alex Goode on the counter…
14.06 – TRY! Saracens 13-6 Connacht (’27 Strettle)
14.09 – 28 minutes – Once again, Hodgson pushes his kick to the right of the posts. The out-half was instrumental in the try though, making a half-break out on the left before offloading to Brits. The hooker found Duncan Taylor in turn, then the Scottish centre was selfless in passing to Strettle in space in the left-hand corner.
Fluid, direct, strong support play and ruthless from Sarries.
14.10 – 30 minutes – Connacht with a chance to respond, on the attack in Sarries’ 22… But there’s a turnover three phases after the attacking scrum and Ashton slams a kick deep downfield. Duffy replies in kind, but finds Brits in space. He counters willingly before being halted over the left-hand touchline.
14.12 – 32 minutes – Morale-boosting scrum penalty for Connacht there as Vunipola loses his bind and collapses under pressure from Nathan White. The Kiwi prop needs to keep at him in that regard. Parks kicks into the Sarries half and Connacht go on the attack…
14.13 – 33 minutes – Agh, frustrating stuff as Duffy knocks-on after an inside pass from Parks. The breakdown area is really scrappy for Marmion, who is not enjoying the front foot ride Wigglesworth is getting for Saracens. Wasteful use of possession and a real lack of gain-line impression for Pat Lam’s side so far.
14.16 – 36 minutes - Alex Goode has looked threatening in his limited glimpses on counter attack.
14.17 – 37 minutes – Another scrum penalty for Connacht! Excellent work as they held the ball in there and Brett Wilkinson managed to pop Matt Stevens up and out. Parks kicks them up to the 22, but then Sean Henry’s throw goes all the way over the top for Kelly Brown to claim.
14.18 – 37 minutes – Brad Barritt looks very unhappy about a possible boot to the face, and Hodges is heading for the TMO…
14.20 – 37 minutes – It does look like there was contact with the face of Barritt by Nathan White. Card on the way it appears…
14.21 – YELLOW CARD! Nathan White (’37)
14.23 – 38 minutes – Have to say that could have been red, really reckless stuff from White. Strange communication between referee and TMO there. What it all means is that Saracens are back on the attack, but that ends as Sarries No. 8 Joubert goes straight off his feet at the ruck.
14.24 – 39 minutes – Sean Henry is being helped off with an injury to the left arm, so on comes Jason Harris-Wright. Meanwhile, over in Italy, Toulouse have scored their first try of the afternoon to go 10-3 up against Zebre.
14.26 – 40 minutes – Fionn Carr suddenly bursts into life and he cuts through the Sarries defence. That follows a break from Matt Healy immediately before. However, Mako Vunipola ends the momentum with a wonderful turnover penalty. Hodgson kicks to touch and Sarries have a final chance to score in this half…
14.27 – TRY! Saracens 18-6 Connacht (’40)
Plenty of handbags kicking off after that as the Connacht frustration shows. Plenty of niggle in this one, but what a blow for Connacht.
14.29 – 40 minutes – Unstoppable maul from Sarries there, with Brits the man to score. Hodges has gone upstairs to the TMO to check on the mini-brawl afterwards. Didn’t seem to be a lot in it.
14.30 – HALF TIME: Saracens 18-6 Connacht
14.34 – With Hodgson again missing the conversion it’s 18-6 to the home side at the break. Right now, it’s hard to see a way back for Connacht, but they are very spirited.
What are your thoughts on that first half?
14.37 – Eoin Sheedy has tweeted us with his opinion on the card for White:
A definite yellow, reckless but un-intentional.
14.41 – As it stands, Saracens join Toulouse in the quarter-finals but they will be away from home. Mark McCall’s men nicely on course and dominant in that first half. It will be interesting to see how Connacht react in the opening 10 minutes of this half, Pat Lam will be hoping for a show of fight.
14.42 – Here’s a prediction for how this game is going to finish up courtesy of TheScore.ie reader Oliver McMahon:
Saracens 39 Connacht 9 will be the final score….
14.43 – Fionn Carr making what was a rare attacking thrust for Connacht in that first half. Himself and the outside backs have been deprived of the ball due to the inability to get over the gain-line up front.
14.46 – 41 minutes – Hodgson sends a drop-kick towards Connacht’s 22 out on the left and we are back underway…
14.47 – TRY! Saracens 23-6 Connacht (’42 Strettle)
14.49 – 43 minutes – Another missed kick from Hodgson. For the try, Goode countered with pace, linked with Taylor with a wonderful offload to Taylor. The Scottish centre carried in tow hands, drew in the last defender and released Strettle to score in the left-hand corner again. Textbook counter-attacking first-phase try for Sarries.
14.51 – 45 minutes – With White still in the bin, on comes Rodney Ah You, the new member of Ireland’s squad. Heenan off for now. We will be watching the replacement prop with interest.
14.53 – 47 minutes - Another failed Connacht attack sees Sarries off on the counter, before Wigglesworth slams a kick deep into the visitors’ half. However, Hodges calls play back after a deliberate knock-on by a Connacht defender.
14.54 – 48 minutes – As Nathan White returns to the pitch, here’s video footage of the incident that saw him sin binned. What do you think?
14.56 – TRY! Saracens 28-6 Connacht (’50 Goode)
14.57 – 51 minutes – No surprise as Hodgson misses the conversion yet again. But that was a sensational try from Alex Goode, whose counter-attacking threat we highlighted in the first half. Balanced, ball in two hands and pure pace; the England international scythed through untouched to dot down. Magic.
14.58 – Yep, we agree with TheScore.ie reader Shane Jenkinson:
This is getting painful to watch.
15.00 – 53 minutes – Connacht are struggling to cope with the home team’s power and pace at the moment. While the latest Sarries attack ends with a knock-on from Vunipola there are more tries in this for Mark McCall’s side.
Jack Carty, Mick Kearney and Ah You are all on for Connacht permanently.
15.03 – 55 minutes – Joubert knocked into touch at the last second by Matt Healy following another break from Hodgson, who then released the No. 8. Connacht really sitting back in defence, in the face of really powerful attack.
Jamie George, Neil de Kock, James Johnston and Chris Wyles all on the pitch now for Sarries, with Richard Barrington replacing Mako Vunipola too. Taylor, Wigglesworth, Brits and Stevens off also.
15.04 – 56 minutes – Sarries destroying the Connacht scrum there, possibility of a penalty try, but Hodges gives a straight penalty instead. Saracens go back to the scrum…
15.05 – TRY! Saracens 33-6 Connacht (’58 Kruis)
15.06 – CONVERSION! AT LAST! Saracens 35-6 Connacht (’59 Hodgson)
15.08 – 60 minutes – That last try was a demonstration of pure brawn from Sarries. A good scrum platform saw Vunipola burst forward from the No. 8 position, but he was held up short. The momentum was unstoppable though and Kruis bounced over to score. Hodgson’s first conversion rubs salt in the wounds.
15.09 – 60 minutes – Owen Farrell is on for Charlie Hodgson at out-half. The veteran has been great in open play, although his place kicking was shocking. Hodges is having a look at two late tackles with the TMO…
15.11 – 61 minutes – A trip from Alistair Hargreaves, just on the pitch, leads to a Connacht penalty. Carty pings it into touch and Connacht look to build something. However, they fail to get beyond one phase as the line-out move malfunctions. Sarries clear and Fionn Carr knocks-on his attempted catch.
15.12 – 62 minutes - Connacht just haven’t coped with Sarries’ attack today.
15.14 – 64 minutes – Saracens building again here, barreling over the advantage line through the likes of Vunipola. Farrell attacking flat too, but the passage ends in relief for Connacht as Strettle knocks-on in traffic just five metres out.
15.16 – 65 minutes – Fionn Carr off for Paul O’Donohoe now. Darragh Leader replaces Gavin Duffy at fullback too. There’s a positive for Connacht in that, with Jack Carty also getting more valuable game time against a high-quality team. Sarries come forward again though…
15.17 – TRY! Saracens 40-6 Connacht (’66 Wyles)
15.19 – 68 minutes – Alex Goode misses the conversion, but that try was all about the footwork and offload of the gigantic James Johnston. The sub prop stepped his way through Connacht’s defensive line, drew in the final defender and popped the ball off to Wyles for the straightforward finish.
15.20 – TRY! Saracens 45-6 Connacht (’69 Wray)
15.21 – CONVERSION! Saracens 47-6 Connacht (’70)
15.22 – 70 minutes – Hodgson, back on the pitch, slots the conversion to extend the Sarries lead. Another try in that left-hand corner and Connacht just need the final whistle here.
15.23 – TRY! Saracens 52-6 Connacht (’72 Johnston)
15.25 – 74 minutes – Hodgson misses the extras. Another maul try on that occasion as Connacht utterly disintegrated in front of them. Pat Lam will be gutted with the manner in which his side has crumbled in the second half. Sarries have been excellently physical and completely ruthless, but this is really, really poor from Connacht.
15.27 – TRY! Saracens 57-6 Connacht (’77 Strettle)
15.29 – 77 minutes – Another superb counter-attacking try for Sarries as Strettle completes his hattrick. Hodgson chipped in behind the Connacht defence and the England international win sped onto it to score. An absolute hammering… Hodgson misses yet again on the conversion.
15.31 – 79 minutes – Connacht have simply been obliterated in this second half by a team of a different class. The galling this has been the lack of any response from Connacht; no big hit, no strong carries, no contest at the ruck, little communication and poor body language. Very poor from Lam’s men.
15.32 – 79 minutes – Billy Vunipola, wearing number six, is named man of the match. He has carried superbly and smashed ball carriers backwards.
15.33 – TRY! Saracens 62-6 Connacht (’80 Ashton)
15.34 – CONVERSION AND FULL TIME! Saracens 64-6 Connacht
15.37 – Ashton finished off the try-scoring for Saracens and rubs it in with a trademark swan dive. Hodgson kicks the extra two points to round off the 64-6 win. Utter domination and we have to say that’s as bad as we’ve seen Connacht this year. Yes, Sarries are vastly superior in budget, physical size and talent, but Pat Lam’s men simply lacked any fight.
15.38 – Good point from Brian Moynihan, who has been in touch with us. It could have been a lot worse for Connacht:
Nathan White should have been sent off,would’ve made it a lot worse for Connacht.
15.39 – So here’s how things stand after that result, in terms of qualifiers.
15.40 – That’s all we have time for here on the liveblog. Thanks for joining us, even if it was a difficult one to follow as Connacht were utterly demolished and ended their Heineken Cup campaign on a hugely disappointing note. Comments and opinions are appreciated as always. Cheers!