On Friday the 11th of November crowds gathered ahead of Connacht's historic entry into the Heineken cup.
The talk before hand, from the most hopeful of supporters was of damage-control. Connacht's recent form lacked concentration and our opponents were flying high in the English Premiership with 11 wins out of 11. Captain Gavin Duffy led his team out onto the pitch of his old team, and waited for the minute silence to pass, and then we were off.
The start was not perfect with Connacht under early pressure and it resulted in a penalty to Harlequins which their former New Zealand international and marksman supreme Nick Evans duly converted. However Connacht were not bowed by that and took the game to the Quins after the restart. The pressure told after some quick ruck ball and the Quins were forced to hang on to the ball on the ground and Connacht's Miah Nikora put us on an even pegging.
Evans slotted another penalty on the 9th minute to give Quins a three point lead, before Griffen and O'Halloran combined along the left wing to score Connacht's first ever Heineken Cup try. After a quick ball from the back of an excellent scrum, Griffen received the pass which skipped McSharry on a dummy run. Griffen stepped into the space caused when the Quins defender slipped and drew Quins fullback Mike Brown, before feeding the ball into the path of a perfectly timed run from O'Halloran. Tiernan crossed, Nikora converted and Connacht led 6-10.
A penalty for offside at the ruck allowed Evans to close the gap to 1 point as Quins pressed Connacht before half time. The pressure told after scrummy Dickson touched down after recognising the lack of a Connacht pillar to the right of a ruck on the Connacht line. Evans converted this and another penatly to Quins before half time meant that they led by 9 points at the whistle.
Connacht fans were worried at this stage. The last couple of games had seen a big lapse in concentration from Connacht and if that happened in this game we would be looking at a mauling. We need not have worried... Connacht came out with a vengence, and wave upon wave of Connacht attacks saw them rewarded with a shot at goal. Unfotunately, though well struck, the ball went wide just to the right of the posts.
The sharp attacking play of Connacht was not blunted by that set back however, and a kick from Gavin, with pressure applied by Brian Tuohy saw Connacht with an attacking lineout on the 5 meter line. This resulted in a period of sustained pressure that Quins did very well defending before a brilliant pass from Niall O'Connor sent El Capitan in for a very deserved try. NOC converted it as well, and Connacht fans forgave him for the missed peno.
19-17 to Quins and the game was in the balance.
Good play from both sides followed, but the calls of the officials benefitted one side over the other. Two penalties for Evans stretched the lead to 25-17, and put Connacht out of the range for a bonus point, which they justly deserved. Still, Connacht played very well, and had two great tries. They opened their HEC account in a powerful way, and made all of us fans very proud.