A stunning last-play move completed by Ciarán Frawley’s fantastic finish turned the tide for Leinster Rugby in the BKT United Rugby Championship at The Sportsground on Saturday evening.
Tries from Charlie Ngatai, Jason Jenkins and Rónan Kelleher put Leo Cullen’s men in position for an away win before Caolan Blade and Diarmuid Kilgallen wrestled back control.
It looked for all the world like Leinster were in line for one point when Frawley provided five with the fourth try.
Earlier, there was a cautious, feeling-out period in which Scott Penny’s athleticism was put to the test by Kilgallen’s burst up the left, either side of Jamie Osborne’s fetch and left-footed clearance.
Then, Ben Murphy’s sharp service was the starting point for a Leinster surge that ended with Osborne’s tricky kick and Blade’s good work under pressure.
Leinster’s trouble at the lineout handed the ball to Connacht’s counter-attack, Byron Ralston streaking up the right.
Mack Hansen provided the link for David Hawkshaw’s – he was just on for Tiernan O’Halloran – brilliant burst for a try in the 10th minute.
Harry Byrne’s tantalising grubber forced Blade to concede a 5-metre scrum. Scrum-half Murphy’s quick flick of the wrists triggered an attack which came to nothing in the face of ferocious defence.
A serious carry from Charlie Ngatai drew contact from Cathal Forde that resulted in a yellow card to the Connacht man.
A ball to the front of the lineout to Ryan Baird was used to release Robbie Henshaw and James Culhane in quick succession before miscommunication cost the Eastern Province territory.
Leinster old boys Jack Aungier and Peter Dooley powered up a scrum penalty for out-half JJ Hanrahan to strike a penalty from 38 minutes in the 22nd minute.
The inability of the visitors to hold onto the ball hampered the game plan to pull Connacht out of position, Harry Byrne losing the ball forward and Ngatai unable to clutch Osborne’s inside ball.
It looked like Leinster were getting around the outside from James Culhane’s carry when Harry Byrne’s wide ball went astray.
A penalty reversal for Shamus Hurley-Langton’s shenanigans offered Leinster another prime opportunity.
They turned into Ngatai’s first try for the province from a slick move from a 5-metre penalty, out-half Byrne’s conversion reducing the gap to the minimum in the 36th minute.
Back-to-back penalties allowed Connacht to apply pressure without the penetration to match, holding an 8-7 lead at the interval.
Leinster were falling into the trap of being caught on the wrong side of the ruck for penalties. Hansen slipped through a gap. Rob Russell dealt very well with Blade’s dangerous kick.
Ngatai looked like Leinster’s most likely threat through the middle. A maul sucked Dooley into the bin.
This time Leinster made the advantage count. Another tap penalty generated the momentum for Jenkins to land the try, Byrne converting for 14-8 in the 52nd minute.
Perfectly weighted kicks by Byrne and Russell were given further impetus by Penny’s straight running, Culhane going close to grounding the ball over the line.
Patience was the key to working the next opening, Ngatai and Russell both using their boots to confuse Connacht and hooker Kelleher following up for their third try for 19-8 in the 56th minute.
A clever turnover by Hansen moved the Westerners into position only for Baird to pick off their lineout.
However, Connacht were sparked into life by Forde’s line and superb ball to the supporting Blade for a much-needed try, Hanrahan converting in the 66th minute.
An incision by Hansen created the space on the left for Kilgallen to gallop away for their third try, Hanrahan slotting the extras for a 22-19 lead in the 71st minute.
A series of unfinished scrums ate into the clock. Leinster could not secure two lineouts and gave up a scrum penalty.
Still, they had one last chance. The ball was moved wide-to-wide and back again for Frawley to duck inside the cover for a most unlikely victory.
SCORERS: Connacht – D Hawkshaw, C Blade, D Kilgallen try each; JJ Hanrahan pen, 2 cons. Leinster- C Ngatai, J Jenkins, R Kelleher, C Frawley try each; H Byrne 2 cons.