GALWAY – The Cheetahs woke up too late in the second half as Connacht’s 10-point halftime lead was too much to overcome, as the hosts clinched a 23-15 PRO14 victory at the Sportsground in Galway, west Ireland on Saturday night.
Going into the break 13-3 up, Connacht were never likely to relinquish their lead as they recorded their fourth win in a row.
The Free Staters’ main problem in the first half was their inability to get out of their territory.
Instead of utilising their boots to get out of trouble, the Cheetahs tried to run their way out of their 22, and it just deepened their problems in defence.
Inside centre Craig Ronaldson slotted a sixth-minute penalty to open the scoring for Connacht, but they put some distance between themselves and the visitors in the 13th minute.
Nigerian-born left wing Niyi Adeolokun, who was 11 when he emigrated with his parents to Ireland, surprisingly had too much gas for Cheetahs No 14 Luther Obi.
Adelolokun did a classic inside-out move and left Obi for dead to dot down, which put Connacht 10-0 up.
Ronaldson missed a penalty at goal, but then knocked one over just before the half-hour mark, and it was a long road back for the Cheetahs.
But coach Rory Duncan would’ve been relieved to at least get on to the scoreboard before the break when flyhalf Ernst Stapelberg kicked a three-pointer.
Connacht, though, showed greater cohesion in their play and gradually wore the Cheetahs down with their effective pack of forwards.
The big men upfront were rewarded for their hard work nine minutes into the second half when hooker Tom McCartney forced his way over after a series of drives.
Connacht would’ve been disappointed not to kick on from there for a bonus-point victory, and there was a glimmer of hope for the Cheetahs when replacement back Shaun Venter handed-off a defender to race away for his team’s first try with 12 minutes left on the clock.
But at 20-8, Connacht opted to go for the posts with a penalty from long-range, and Steve Crosbie struck it sweetly to put the game beyond the reach of the visitors.
There was time, though, for the in-form Makazole Mapimpi to score his seventh try of the tournament, but it was too little too late.
Connacht 23 (13) – Tries: Niyi Adeolokun, Tom McCartney. Conversions: Craig Ronaldson (1), Jack Carty (1). Penalties: Ronaldson (2), Steve Crosbie (1).
Cheetahs 15 (3) – Tries: Shaun Venter, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga (1). Penalty: Ernst Stapelberg (1).
African News Agency (ANA)