Halaholo's heroics get Cardiff up and running
PRO14 MATCH REPORT: Willis Halaholo was a two-try hero as Cardiff Blues produced a gutsy performance to secure their first victory of the season with a 17-15 triumph over Connacht at the Sportsground.
Connacht started the game with more urgency and were rewarded from the off through a Craig Ronaldson penalty.
But a Willis Halaholo score before the break meant the visitors lead by four points at half-time, as Connacht were forced to see out the half with 14 men after John Muldoon's sin-binning.
Connacht stepped up their performance after the break and attacked more expansively as Darragh Leader touched down.
But a Steve Shingler penalty meant that the momentum stayed with the visitors.
It looked as if Connacht were heading for victory when Shane Delahunt charged over with five minutes left, but Cardiff came roaring back through Halaholo's late effort.
Jarrod Evans kept his cool to slot home and hand the Welsh outfit their maiden win of the new Pro14 season.
Danny Wilson's side frustrated Connacht throughout, who were forced to attack around the fringes in a blustery first period.
The hosts had begun brightly, with the fiery Andrew Deegan and Kieron Marmion testing Cardiff's defence in the first five minutes with dangerous grubber kicks.
But when John Muldoon was shown his second yellow card of the season after tackling oncoming Brad Tyler without the ball, Halaholo side footed his way through Connacht's defence to sprint under the posts.
The first-half was a stop-start affair, which saw Connacht struggling to hamper the ferocious work rate of Cardiff's new front row, spearheaded by Welsh hooker Kieran Dacey, who earned his first Pro14 start.
Meanwhile, Bundee Aki further staked a claim to appear in an Irish shirt this season, magnificently pouncing on the ball at the breakdown.
The Welsh outfit started the second-half in a similar demeanour to how they had finished the first, using the advantageous strong wind that Connacht had struggled to use in the first.
And after racking up an impressive 30 phases – a testament to Cardiff's resolute defence – Connacht worked the ball wide for Leader to cross in the corner to edge the hosts in front.
But the hosts' one-point lead lasted no more than two minutes, as the Blues responded through a Steve Shingler penalty on the hour mark.
In a game characterised by narrow play and tight offloads, a TMO decision ruled Eoin McKeon to have impeded his outside man to deny what would have been a Stacey Ili match-winning try.
With two points adrift with six minutes to go, Connacht kicked for the corner after Cardiff threw their man into the line-out.
And their ensuing maul was too much for a fatigued Cardiff, as Delahunt charged over. And Leader slotted perfectly through the posts to give Connacht a five point lead.
But Cardiff came back again as Halaholo carved open Connacht's defence to cross at the other end, as Evans held his nerve to get Cardiff up and running in the Guinness Pro14.
Tries: Leader, Delahunt
For Cardiff Blues:
Cons: Shingler, Evans
Yellow card: John Muldoon (Connacht, 10)
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Andrew Deegan, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Stacey Ili.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 George Earle, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)