Emirates Lions boost top-eight prospects with win at Connacht

Emirates Lions boost top-eight prospects with win at Connacht

Emirates Lions overcame the early dismissal of Asenathi Ntlabakanye to give their BKT United Rugby Championship play-off hopes a boost with a 38-14 win over Connacht at Dexcom Stadium.

Having put 40 points on the Hollywoodbets Sharks last time out, Ivan van Rooyen's side stunned the Irish province to move into the top eight with a first win in Ireland.

Francke Horn and JC Pretorius both crossed to give the Lions a 12-7 half-time as they reacted impressively to Ntlabakanye's sending-off for a 16th-minute high tackle.

Despite Cian Prendergast's try, Connacht were struggling and Edwill van der Merwe's 48th-minute intercept score raised real hopes of the Lions' first away win since beating the Scarlets in November.

JJ Hanrahan doubled Connacht's try tally, pulling it back to 19-14 with his second conversion, but Erich Cronje, Horn and replacement Morne van den Berg turned it into a runaway six-try victory, with Jordan Hendrikse finishing with four conversions.

The Lions went ahead in the seventh minute when JP Smith's well-timed pass sent number eight Horn in under the posts, with Hendrikse adding the extras.

Connacht were inches away from responding but a crucial Quan Horn tackle just dislodged the ball to deny the jinking Andrew Smith.

The complexion of the game initially changed through two TMO reviews as Wayne Davies confirmed Prendergast's score from a ruck before Ntlabakanye saw red for making direct contact with Conor Oliver's head.

Hanrahan landed the levelling conversion but the 14-man Lions were back ahead by the half-hour mark. From a well-worked maul, flanker Pretorius powered over from Darrien Landsberg's aerial take.

Scrum-half Sanele Nohamba almost added a third try just before the interval but captain Marius Louw was guilty of taking out Joe Joyce.

Just as Connacht were building momentum on the resumption, Lions full-back Horn expertly dealt with a Caolin Blade kick through and set up a lineout downfield.

The Westerners were stung further when van der Merwe swooped on a Byron Ralston pass for a 50-metre run-in and Hendrikse's conversion made it 19-7.

Hanrahan replied within seven minutes, using Cathal Forde's pullback pass to go in behind the posts and convert, leaving five points in it again.

Nonetheless, Connacht's nine-match winning run at home to South African opposition was ended in some style by the Lions as Cronje dummied and darted his way to a 62nd-minute bonus-point score.

Terrific hands from Pretorius and van der Merwe set up Horn to complete his brace before van der Berg finished off a speedy breakaway effort in the 78th minute.

BKT United Rugby Championship Player of the Match

It was a match to forget for Connacht, who had come into round 12 on the back of three straight wins. The Lions never allowed the hosts' numerical advantage to have an impact. Louw and Cronje stood out in the Lions' midfield but Pretorius was a deserved winner of the award for his well-taken try from a maul, his work-rate in defence, and that peach of an offload in the lead-up to the penultimate try.

Play of the match

Registering a third win of the day for the South African teams, the Lions played some excellent attacking rugby to regularly get in behind Connacht's defence. Their best try came when Pretorius' excellent offload, away from two tackles, found van der Merwe on the left wing and he passed back inside for the supporting Horn to double his haul.

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