Needing the win to put the team in contention with a chance of a play-off, the Irish province failed to deliver.
“We can’t play as badly as that again,” said coach Michael Bradley. “We didn’t have any sort of rhythm so we couldn’t control possession or position. Cardiff played well in the first half and we were lucky to go in ahead, it was an injustice really.”
The fact that Cardiff didn’t take the lead until the final 10 minutes was down to some impressive scrambling defense by Connacht, for whom John Muldoon and Matt Lacey tackled superbly. They had gone in front early on when Conor McPhillips connected with Paul Warwick’s deft chip ahead for the game’s first try, but were unable to build on that score.
With a malfunctioning line-out down primarily to Bernard Jackman’s wayward throwing, Connacht were soon in trouble, and it was no surprise when Tom Shanklin, the quality back on view, outflanked the cover to send Dean Dewdney in for a try. Dewdney’s second try signaled the end for Connacht, as the score looked to be as a result of a deliberate knock-on.
Asked what he thought about several curious decisions by Scottish referee Malcolm Changleng, Bradley was forced to contain his anger. “Curious decisions? Don’t even go there.”
BORDERS 29, LEINSTER 16
Short many of their European Cup regulars, a weakened Leinster slumped to a disappointing 29-16 defeat to bottom club Borders from Scotland, a result which leaves them in the third place in the Celtic League table, behind the Ospreys and Munster.
“It’s difficult for players who are not playing regularly in the team,” said coach Declan Kidney, “because they need experience to be able to perform in what is a very good league. Defensively we were a bit soft and let them through at times.”
Trailing by 13-6 at the changeover, Leinster were soon down 26-9 and although substitute scrum half Brian O’Riordan crossed for a try that David Holwell converted to add to his three penalties, there was little hope of a comeback.
“All the players in the side have trained together,” said captain Victor Costello, “but the real problem was that we didn’t perform as a team.”
OSPREYS 22, ULSTER 21
Ulster’s 22-21 defeat by leaders The Ospreys at St Helen’s made it a gloomy weekend for Irish teams. It seemed as if Ulster would pull off a valuable away victory, but a penalty in injury time by Wales star Gavin Henson deprived them of the points.
Following three penalties and a conversion by out-half David Humphreys to add to tries by Tommy Bowe and Andrew Maxwell, Ulster were in a good position to upset the odds, when second row Rowan Frost was judged to have drifted offside in front of the posts, giving Henson his match-winning opportunity.
Maxwell scored Ulster’s first try following a clever break by Paul Steinmetz and subsequent support by Roger Wilson. Ulster then went in front after a superb piece of individual play by scrum-half Kieran Campbell, who broke through the Ospreys defense to send a perfectly-angled kick towards Bowe for the second try.