Pete Wilkins disappointed and frustrated as Connacht’s playoff hopes fade away

Caolin Blade’s try gave Connacht a first-half lead but penalties and errors after the break cost the province dear

URC: Connacht 12 Stormers 16

Connacht’s hopes of securing a URC quarter-final are no longer in their own hands. Although mathematically possible, it is now highly unlikely, having succumbed to the DHL Stormers at Dexcom Stadium on Saturday evening.

The South African side edged a contest of high stakes, thanks to the boot of outhalf Manie Libbok, who converted three penalties and a conversion. The home side, despite scoring two tries and dominating possession, lacked the clinical edge when it was needed most.

Connacht head coach Pete Wilkins admitted he was not only disappointed with the result, but also frustrated.

“Disappointed for the fans and leaving players that we couldn’t garnish the day with a win. Frustrated because the quality of our defence in our 22 was as good as it’s been this season in terms of the physicality and urgency in winning the ball back; the quality of attack in the 22 was effective, we got two tries there.


“We knew we could stop them, do damage, but ultimately too many times we cost ourselves possession opportunities in that attacking segment of the field. Those three or four occasions are really important access points when you are playing against a team as good as the Stormers, and that is where the lack of accuracy really frustrates me.”

It was an emotional occasion that deserved a better result. Not only was it the final outing for several Connacht players, notably the long-serving home-grown Tiernan O’Halloran, and former captain Jarrad Butler, but it was also the last time Connacht supporters would gather in the Clan Stand, soon to be knocked for the new stadium.

The home side had gained a valuable edge by half-time when the visitors were awarded a penalty which they sent to touch. But on this occasion the Connacht pack, led by Finlay Bealham, stopped the South Africans in their tracks, ensuring the home side went into the break leading 7-3.

It had taken a huge defensive effort from Connacht with the Stormers having enough attacking flair to make a number of telling breaks, having kicked a penalty to open the scoring after 22 minutes. But Connacht had stayed in the fight, edging possession stakes, and then made it count in the 31st minute, winning a penalty at scrum-time. Although Bealham was held up on the first foray, scrumhalf Caolin Blade was the player to eventually touch down over the line, helped in no small measure by his pack, and Jack Carty landed the conversion.

Connacht spurned a try-scoring chance soon after the break, giving the Stormers real hope. And they took their chance, set up by the impressive Libbok, who, after finding a gap, delivered to left wing Angelo Davids to score.

Indiscipline started to cost the visitors with Connacht taking advantage of penalties to secure territorial control, and when the opportunity came, Niall Murray led the drive, and replacement Jack Aungier, just on the field, was able to make it count. It put Connacht in front 12-10, Carty missing the touchline conversion.

Within minutes the home side was under the cosh again, and although Oisín Dowling did well to secure a penalty and ease the pressure, it was short-lived. The visitors took control and two Libbok penalties were just enough to see them rise to fifth in the table. When Stormers fullback Warrick Gelant secured a vital turnover and with it the victory, Connacht dropped to 10th position, making a URC quarter-final unlikely.

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; J Porch, D Hawkshaw, B Aki, B Ralston; J Carty, C Blade; P Dooley, D Heffernan (capt), F Bealham; J Joyce, D Murray; C Prendergast, S Hurley-Langton, S Jansen.

Replacements: J Butler for Jansen (26-37 mins) and for Hurley-Langton (63); J Aungier for Bealham (51); S Cordero for O’Halloran, O Dowling for Murray (both 61); J Duggan for Dooley (both 63); C Reilly for Blade, Murray for Joyce (both 68); D Tierney-Martin for Heffernan, C Forde for Carty (both 70).

STORMERS: W Gelant; S Hartzenberg, D du Plessis, D Willemse, A Davids; M Libbok, H Jantjies; B Harris, J Dweba, F Malherbe; S Moerat (capt), R van Heerden; E Roos, B Dixon, H Dayimani.

Replacements: A Venter for Dweba, N Fouche for Malherbe (both 51 mins); S Feinberg-Mngomezulu for Davids, M Theunissen for Dayimani (both 60); A Smith for van Heerden (65); S Ungerer for Jantjies (66); J du Plessis for D du Plessis, K Blose for Harris (both 76).

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy).