Connacht falter as Bristol gain Champions Cup bonus point

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Connacht's John Porch (left) and Bristol Bears' John Afoa compete for the ball in the air during the European Champions Cup match at Connacht Rugby Stadium, Galway.
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PA Sport Staff

Pat Lam had a happy return to the Sportsground as his Bristol side bagged a 27-18 Heineken Champions Cup bonus-point win over Connacht.

An error-strewn first half ended 5-3 in Bristol’s favour, their ex-Leinster hooker Bryan Byrne crossing for a 34th-minute try before Jack Carty kicked a penalty.

Bundee Aki’s yellow card early on the resumption was punished with first Champions Cup tries for Ed Holmes (47 minutes) and Piers O’Conor (50).

Connacht clawed their way back with a Tiernan O’Halloran try and Carty’s second penalty, either side of Siale Piutau’s 66th-minute sin-binning.

However, ex-Connacht boss Lam watched Bristol close it out as Ioan Lloyd and John Porch exchanged tries before Callum Sheedy’s clinching penalty in the 77th minute.

Lineout errors and a run of penalties made for a sloppy start from both sides. England tighthead Kyle Sinckler was central to a couple of scrum penalties, but a promising attack from Harry Randall’s quick tap petered out.

Connacht were sparked into life by a terrific break from Kieran Marmion. It was Sheedy who came to Bristol’s rescue with a try-saving tackle on Alex Wootton and then the Wales fly-half gleaned a turnover when Eoghan Masterson was held up.

The hosts lost a costly lineout back in their own 22 and Bristol were finally able to break the deadlock. They won a penalty, went for the corner and Byrne was driven over in businesslike fashion.

Sheedy missed the difficult conversion from wide out on the left, before a late Connacht attack saw Carty open their account.

The westerners were really under the pump during Aki’s sin-bin period, their star centre seeing yellow for pulling back O’Conor as he chased Siva Naulago’s kick through.

Bristol Bears' head coach Pat Lam (left) with Connacht's Bundee Aki (right) before the European Champions Cup match at Connacht Rugby Stadium, Galway.

Nathan Hughes soon broke a tackle and released second-rower Holmes, who bounced up from a Paul Boyle tackle to score in the left corner.

Sheedy converted and also added the extras to O’Conor’s slicky-finished try, the centre romping over from the left wing after a Max Malins assist.

Connacht hit back quickly when Caolin Blade’s well-flighted pass put fellow replacement O’Halloran over from close range.

Carty converted and then reduced the arrears to six points, nailing a 67th-minute place-kick after Piutau was binned for a late challenge on O’Halloran.

Two well-worked tries followed, Welsh teenager Lloyd diving over to add to last week’s effort against Clermont before Australian Porch answered back, getting on the end of a lovely handling move across the Connacht back-line.

Carty’s missed conversion left a six-point margin, and it was nine in the end thanks to Sheedy’s penalty. Connacht blew a shot at a losing bonus point, turning down a kickable penalty before Sam Arnold was tackled into touch by Ben Earl.

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