ANALYSIS: Matt Healy outstanding but game decided by the outhalves
Johathan Wisniewski tallied 23 points for Grenoble15:39 Sunday 10 April 2016, 15:39 10 Apr 2016
A brave performance during yet another heartbreaking, narrow defeat, which was widely lauded by the adoring public, Saturday night's game was reminiscent of an archetypal Connacht performance.
However, there is a different feel to this defeat, and to this Connacht side as they embark on a journey into the unknown, seeking a first ever Pro12 semi-final spot in May.
Currently sitting joint top of the league and with Champions Cup rugby all but secured for next season, an injury ravaged Connacht shouldn't be too down on themselves after Saturday night's loss.
Injuries have been a prominent feature of the Westerners' season, something they have coped with remarkably well considering their small squad size, with a number of academy prospects dutifully stepping up to the mark and deputising with aplomb.
Last night proved a stretch too far however, with seven frontliners ruled out, including budding openside Jake Heenan prior to kick-off, while Connacht's outhalf crisis continued with Shane O'Leary making just his second start this season.
The battle of the 10s proved the winning and losing of the game last night, as Grenoble's stand-off Johathan Wisniewski scored 23 of his side's total, including the match winning drop goal.
On the other side, O'Leary had a mixed bag from boot and hand with his lack of playing time exposed a number of times during the game.
He assisted beautifully for Robbie Henshaw's try with a pin-point crossfield kick, displaying fantastic vision to recognise the Irish international out wide on the left.
Despite his brilliance on that occasion, the 23 year old was guilty of gifting territory and possession back to the home side a number of times.
Twice he kicked the ball out on the full from the restart, while his attempt to replicate his earlier kick within his own 22 went haywire in an ill-judged attempt.
Shane O'Leary kicks the restart dead, second one tonight and exactly what Connacht didn't need— Rúaidhrí O'Connor (@RuaidhriOC) April 9, 2016
It proved a costly mistake from the stand-off as in the following passage of play his opposite number, Wisniewski, would wriggle his way over to score Grenoble's first try and swing the momentum in the home side's favour entering closing stages of the opening half.
On such small margins games like these are decided and so it proved. After holding a 16 point lead in the 32nd minute, Wisniewski tacked on two further penalties before the break to cut the deficit to three.
The French 10's influence over the game grew further in the second half, as he nailed a touchline conversion to give Grenoble the lead before striking the all important drop goal with just minutes left on the clock.
Connacht's injury crisis began to take its toll on the game, with the exhausted O'Leary long gone after being replaced by academy centre Peter Robb, and Henshaw being pushed into the first receiver spot.
The absence of Craig Ronaldson, Jack Carty, Aj MacGinty and even O'Leary from the field was felt after Connacht managed to work their way back into drop goal territory, but with no-one on hand to take the opportunity.
On a brighter note, Matt Healy surely cemented his place in the Irish squad for their Summer tour of South Africa following an incredible display of attacking rugby from full-back.
The former Lansdowne wing was the architect of three first half tries before scorching over for a score of his own early in the second half.
Perhaps what was most impressive about his dazzling display was that his performance came from the 15 jersey, away from his natural home on the wing.
✅ 1 try— Oval Digest (@OvalDigest) April 10, 2016
✅ 2 assists
✅ 123 metres
✅ 4 clean breaks
✅ 4 defenders beaten
Matt Healy stats from last night = 😳🙊👌@ConnachtClan
It proved a masterstroke from Pat Lam, as the added positional flexibility allowed Healy to have more freedom in attack, something which Connacht exploited with maximum effect, as we saw in the build up to the opening try.
Following a beautifully weighted pass from Bundee Aki, Healy exposed poor defending from Maritino Nemani who rushed up and showed the Connacht 15 the outside channel.
From here, Healy turned on the afterburners to race into the 22 to send Adeolokun over for his first.
What shouldn't be disregarded is the line that Healy runs while assisting his wing, as he straightens immediately after making the break rather than drifting, keeping the width on his right hand side before fixing the final defender and popping to Adeolokun on his right shoulder.
Minutes later, Healy was prominent again, this time on the kick return, as his dancing feet found space down the right wing which gave Connacht the territory they built upon for Henshaw's try.
His double act with Adeolokun continued later in the half, as he demonstrated his attacking capabilities once again.
Receiving the pass from the ever impressive Kieran Marmion, Healy once again punished slack defending after identifying a midfield mismatch with a lovely cut back inside before accelerating into the 22, straightening his running line and feeding Adeolokun for his second of the day.
Doubts that he may not be able to cut it against test level players would have been dispelled following his try in the second half, as he skinned Springbok Gio Aplon on the outside with his searing pace to touch down in the corner.
While his speed will earn the plaudits, its his clever thinking and off the ball movement that got him into the scoring position.
As you can see below, Healy joins the attacking line late and at a perfect angle after recognising a large gap between Aplon and Nemani to race through for a well deserved score of his own.
Despite the loss and heroics of Wisniewski, Healy was the outstanding performer of an outstanding European Challenge Cup game.
A loss in Europe is always a bitter pill to swallow, but this Connacht side have grander ambitions than those that have gone before.
"We have to remember this sick feeling and use it to drive us on for next week against Munster." - John Muldoon pic.twitter.com/A6VmSITCsH— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) April 9, 2016
A potentially historic Pro12 semi-final is on the horizon, so there will be little to no time to lament this loss as Munster come rolling into Galway next weekend.
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