Caolin Blade hat-trick helps Connacht keep play-off bid on track
PA Sport Staff
Caolin Blade scored his second hat-trick of the season as Connacht maintained their push for a top-eight finish in the BKT United Rugby Championship with a 41-26 bonus-point win over Edinburgh at the Sportsground.
Captain Blade’s intercept try on the stroke of half-time gave Connacht a 20-7 advantage, cancelling out a Lee-Roy Atalifo seven-pointer after earlier efforts from Cathal Forde and Conor Oliver.
Having watched Jarrad Butler go over, Edinburgh hit back through Viliame Mata and replacement Glen Young. The hosts lost Oliver and Oisin Dowling to the sin bin and Edinburgh full-back Emiliano Boffelli also saw yellow.
Eight points is as close as the Scots came, as a Blade double early in the final quarter settled the issue. An opportunist late try from Blair Kinghorn gave Edinburgh a bonus point of their own.
It was a fantastic solo try that launched Connacht into a seventh-minute lead, young centre Forde bursting through midfield before grounding the ball out wide despite the best efforts of Kinghorn and Damien Hoyland.
A David Hawkshaw penalty – following Oran McNulty’s charge-down on Boffelli – made it 8-0, and Connacht built from a scrum for flanker Oliver to crash over in the 20th minute.
Edinburgh had a couple of maul attempts thwarted but penalties led to them closing the gap to 15-7, prop Atalifo burrowing over for Boffelli to convert.
However, Blade plucked down a Kinghorn pass and scooted clear from his 22 to give the Irish province a decent interval cushion.
Jack Aungier’s well-timed pass sent Butler over in the 44th minute, with Hawkshaw converting, but Edinburgh, who visit Leicester Tigers next week in the Heineken Champions Cup, got back into contention.
Mata thundered over on the back of a Mark Bennett break, and Young took advantage of Oliver’s yellow to reduce the arrears to 27-19, just four minutes later.
A subsequent high tackle saw Connacht lock Dowling binned and then Boffelli was guilty of taking out John Porch in the air.
Tom Farrell led Connacht’s charge back downfield and Blade sniped over from a ruck. Replacement Tom Daly converted and also added the extras to the scrum half’s 64th-minute clincher.
Connacht’s fifth straight victory was confirmed, but Edinburgh completed the scoring when Kinghorn dotted down before Kieran Marmion could kick the ball clear.