CONNACHT GAINED A losing, tet rousing, pair of bonus points in injury time as Eoin McKeon sprinted over and scored under the Scarlets posts. Connacht trailed 23-6 after 53 minutes but staged a stirring fightback and scored four tries in the process.
Scarlets looked to have denied them a bonus point at the death but there was still time for a final score in a breath-taking RaboDirect Pro12 encounter. While Scarlets took five points from the tie, Connacht head home with two and sixth place is not yet out of reach despite their winning streak ending at four.
Simon Easterby’s men hit the front after only three minutes as a cut-out Priestland pass created an overlap on the left wing. Davies, the Scarlets captain, ran a good supporting line and was rewarded with the simple task of cantering in from 20 metres out to dot down.
Connacht responded with a Dan Parks penalty and, after a Priestland penalty miss, almost had a try. Fionn Carr — suspect in defence, excellent in attack — broke up his left wing and offloaded to Eoin Griffib. Parks, spotting room on the right, dinked a beautiful crossfield kick that was inches away from setting up Tiernan O’Halloran before bouncing out 5m from the Scarlets whitewash.
Parks made it 7-6 before Priestland, with 28 minutes on the clock, struck the post with another penalty. The Connacht scrum, which started well, was beginning to creak and the rolling mauls that worked so well against Dragons last week gained no first half traction. Priestland bisected the posts on 33 minutes and Connacht’s response came in the form of a Carr line break before Denis Buckley looped a lazy pass forward.
Scarlets began the second period in similar fashion to the first but Priestland, once again, struck the post with his penalty attempt. Richard Kelly was held up on the Connacht line after great build-up work from Barkley and Josh Turnbull. The pressure told on 48 minutes as scrum-half Gareth Davies cut inside Eoin McKeon to dive over from close range.
Pat Lam’s men attacked up the right flank on 51 minutes but it soon turned to disaster. Henshaw’s chip on was plucked by Liam Williams on his tryline. He opted to run the ball back, side-stepped the Connacht fullback and set-off. Passing was sublime and the ball found its way to flanker Josh Turnbull on halfway and he sprinted in for one of the tries of the season. Priestland missed his conversion.
With Davies, who twisted his ankle, lying prone on the pitch and the referee waving play on, Connacht got their first try on the board. 54 minutes were on the clock Kieran Marmion sniped over off the back of an attacking ruck.
Connacht had their tails up and continued to press in the closing stages. Lam freshened his troops and Miah Nokra, on for Parks, was instrumental in the comeback. His crossfield kick teed up Fionn Carr for a fine try in the left-hand corner and his touchline conversion was flawless.
Robbie Henshaw showed enough strength to get over in the corner after a Michael Swift offload but Nikora’s conversion struck the post. The visitors then conceded a penalty at a breakdown from the restart and Scarlets looked to have denied them a losing bonus point as Gareth Maul squeezed over under the posts.
There were 30 seconds of play left but Connacht claimed the restart and piled forward. They committed numbers out wide, right and Henshaw teed up McKeon to canter in under the posts.
Connacht: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran (Darragh Leader), Eoin Griffin, Dave McSharry, Fionn Carr; Dan Parks (Miah Nikora), Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley (Ronan Loughney), Jason Harris-Wright (Dave Heffernan); Rodney Ah You (Nathan White); Aly Muldowney, Mick Kearney (Michael Swift); John Muldoon (capt.), Eoghan Masterson (Andrew Browne), Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Frank Murphy.
Referee: Neil Patterson (Scotland)
– First posted 14:53