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Report: Connacht Rugby 18-27 Bristol Bears

Bristol Bears opened their Heineken Champions Cup account with a commanding bonus-point victory over Connacht at the Galway Sports Ground on Sunday evening.

Bryan Byrne’s try late in the first period had given Pat Lam’s side a narrow half time lead, but the Bears cut loose after the break, with tries from Ed Holmes, Piers O’Conor and Ioan Lloyd earning maximum points on the road.

Connacht crossed through Tiernan O’Hollaran and John Porch, while Jack Carty added five points, but it was the Bears who took the spoils to keep themselves well and truly alive in the competition.


What happened?

In a cagey opening period, the Bears threatened early on courtesy of their driving lineout, only to be denied by a scrambling Connacht defence metres from the whitewash.

At the other end, only a desperate covering tackle from Sheedy denied Alex Wootton after Kieran Marmion had broken clear down the blindside.

It took until the 35th minute for the game’s first points – the Bears turning down a kickable penalty in front of the sticks and instead, opting for the corner. From there, a trademark driving lineout saw Byrne touch down to open the scoring.

Jack Carty’s penalty reduced the deficit to two points to bring a low-scoring half to a conclusion.

After a slow start to the first half, Bristol were quickly out of the blocks after half time, with two tries in three minutes opening up a commanding lead.

With Bundee Aki in the sin bin for a pulling back O’Conor off the ball, Lam's men took full advantage.

First, Hughes and Holmes combined down the short side to send the second row over, despite a tap tackle almost halting his progress – and straight from the kick-off, the Bears moved the ball wide through the hands, and when it reached O’Conor, the centre’s dummy and sprint for the line gave the visitors a third try.

Connacht hit back through replacement O’Halloran and Siale Piutau replaced Aki in the bin for an identical offence.

But the Bears weren’t to be denied, and after another surging lineout drive was halted short, Randall’s floated pass picked out Lloyd for the bonus-point try.

Porch pulled a score back for Connacht as they exploited the extra man to touch down out wide, but Sheedy’s penalty gave the Bears some room to breathe after more scrum dominance – and the game was brought to an end by an emphatic try-saving hit from Earl, denying Connacht a consolation bonus point.

Connacht: Porch; Wootton, Aki, Arnold, Healy; Carty, Marmion; Buckley, Heffernan, Bealham, E Masterson, Dillane; S Masterson, Oliver, Boyle.

Replacements: Delahunt, Duggan, Aungier, Prendergast, Butler, Blade, Daly, O'Halloran.

Bristol: Malins; Naulago (Adeolokun 67), O'Conor, S Piutau (Leiua 75), Lloyd; Sheedy, Randall (Kessell 79); Woolmore (Lahiff 60), Byrne (Capon 60), Sinckler (Afoa 55), Attwood, Holmes; Luatua (c) (Joyce 64), Earl, Hughes (D Thomas 60).

Replacements: Capon, Lahiff, Afoa, Joyce, Thomas, Kessell, Leiua, Adeolokun.

Bristol Bears: Tries: Byrne 35, Holmes 49, O’Conor 51, Lloyd 72 Cons: Sheedy 49, 51 Pens: Sheedy 78 Yellow: S Piutau 67

Connacht: Tries: O'Halloran 57, Porch 75. Cons: Carty 57. Pens: Carty 40. Yellow: Aki 42


Key moment

A cagey first half quickly transformed into a lively second - and after Bundee Aki had been sin-binned for a professional foul, the Bears took full advantage, as Hughes and Holmes combined to send the second row over in the corner.


Pat Lam reaction


Heineken Star of the match: Piers O'Conor

Another stunning long-range try to add to Piers O'Conor's collection, and a very accomplished display from the centre.

O'Conor raced away for the third try early in the second half and impressed defensively as well, as the Bears earned a first Champions Cup win for 12 years.


Social media reaction


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