Caolin Blade treble helps Connacht cut down Ospreys
Caolin Blade’s 22-minute first-half hat-trick catapulted Connacht to an opening 34-26 bonus-point win over the Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship at the Sportsground.
The diminutive scrum-half started the new season in brilliant form, earning his reward for his support running. His half-back partner JJ Hanrahan kicked 12 points as Connacht built a 27-5 half-time lead.
Following up on a late Keelan Giles try, Ospreys cut the gap to eight points after Reuben Morgan-Williams and new signing James Ratti had crossed.
However, they were unable to mark Justin Tipuric’s 200th appearance with a comeback win.
A closing effort from influential lock Rhys Davies did earn the Welsh side a try-scoring bonus point but Cathal Forde’s 56th-minute score, converted by Hanrahan, had Connacht too far in front.
Back in Ireland after a spell with the Dragons, fly-half Hanrahan turned a scrum penalty into the opening three points and then made it 6-0 after just five minutes.
A big tackle from another of Connacht’s debutants, Joe Joyce, broke up Ospreys’ momentum and Blade trailed Tom Farrell’s smart outside break to open his account in the 11th minute.
Hanrahan converted and after Owen Williams had pushed a penalty wide and kicked out on the full, Forde found another gap and sent Blade in under the posts to put 20 points between the sides.
With 33 minutes on the clock, it was second row Joyce’s turn to expose Ospreys’ defence around the side of a ruck and he fed Blade to finish off from 10 metres, with Hanrahan adding the extras.
Max Nagy released Giles to get outside Andrew Smith for a timely response and despite the injury-enforced departure of Will Griffiths, the visitors kicked on with replacement Jack Walsh setting up and converting Morgan-Williams’ try.
Connacht conceded again when Morgan-Williams stabbed a kick through, Diarmuid Kilgallen coughed up a five-metre scrum and Ratti barged over with Keiran Williams on the latch. Walsh’s conversion cut the deficit to 27-19.
Nonetheless, barely three minutes later and from a maul on the edge of Ospreys’ 22, Forde took a great line onto a Jarrad Butler pass and broke two tackles to bag the bonus point, topped off by Hanrahan’s latest conversion.
The scoring chances dried up until Davies burrowed over in the 74th minute, following up on good work by replacements Dom Morris and Ben Warren. Walsh’s conversion was the final scoring act.
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