Connacht upset Harlequins in Heineken Cup

Connacht brought an end to Harlequins automatic  Heineken Cup qualification hopes with a 9-8 Pool 6 victory at Galway Sportsground on Friday evening.


Harlequins scored the only try of the match but Connacht kicked three penalties in the first half to secure the victory and end a four month losing streak.


Harlequins must now hope to qualify as one of the two best placed runners up and Ulster have qualified as a result of today’s results.


Connacht broke their Heineken Cup duck, and broke a few Harlequins hearts along the way, as they hung on to notch a famous one point victory at a wind and rain swept Sportsground.


All last season’s Amlin Challenge Cup winners needed to do was find a way to score in the closing five minutes and it would have been the Harlequins who would have been celebrating victory and a place in the last eight of the Heineken Cup.


With news of Gloucester’s 10 point triumph at Kingsholm over Toulouse filtering around the ground it only needed a single score to allow Quins to win Pool 6.


But they couldn’t find a way through the incredible home defence and their chance to shoot for the main prize went begging.


They picked up a losing bonus point, but Toulouse still won the Pool and Quins must now wait and see if 17 points is enough to get them one of the two best runners-up spots. If not they could find themselves back in the Amlin Challenge Cup defending their title.


Eric Elwood’s men hadn’t won a game since 23 September last year and came into the game looking to notch their first Heineken Cup victory in their debut season in the competition.


But what a sweet way to end their 14 match unbeaten run. Chris Robshaw’s side had slipped up only once in their five previous Pool 6 games, at home to four times champions, and knew they had to win in Galway to stand any chance of progressing to the last eight.


Connacht made the most of the elements in the first half and Niall O’Connor kicked two monster penalties either side of a corner try for Quins wing Sam Smith and then added a third to make it 9-5.


Had he hit the mark with a fourth on the stroke of half-time from close range then Quins’ second half task would have been even harder.


But even though the gap was only four points, Robshaw’s men had to scrap for every inch of ground and could only manage a single penalty in the next 20 minutes to cut the deficit to a single point.


That penalty from Nick Evans came from in front of the posts, but the former All Black then pulled an easy shot just to the left of the posts to lose the chance of putting his side ahead.


That was the second miss from Evans, who had seen his first-half conversion attempt blown over as he ran up to kick.


The penalty miss gave Connacht, languishing near the bottom of the PRO12 renewed vigour and Michael Swift and John Muldoon put in staggering performances up front.


There were three times as many tackles from the home side as Quins, but each one knocked an opponent over or back. It meant that as the clock ran down they kept their noses in front and got ever closer to wrecking Quins dreams of making the last eight.


Man of the match Muldoon’s tackling did the trick in the end and the 5000 crowd went mad and mobbed their heroes.


Final Score Connacht 9 (9) Harlequins 8 (5)


Scorers


Connacht
Penalties: O’Connor 3


Harlequins
Tries: Smith
Penalties: Evans


Man of the match: John Muldoon


Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)


Teams


Connacht Rugby: G Duffy [capt]; F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O’Halloran; N O’Connor, P O’Donohoe; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu


Replacements: E Reynecke, D Bu

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