Bundee Aki celebrated his three-year IRFU contract extension with the opening try in Connacht’s 24-12 Guinness PRO14 win over the Isuzu Southern Kings at the Sportsground.
It was three tries-to-two at the end of a fast-paced first half, with Connacht leading 19-12 thanks to efforts from Aki, Finlay Bealham and Australian sevens international John Porch. Erich Cronje and Scott Van Breda struck back for the visitors.
Replacement Ruaan Lerm produced an all-action display as the Kings looked to add to their recent historic victory away to the Ospreys. But Connacht sewed up the result when winger Porch dived over to complete his brace in the 42nd minute.
In their final match of the calendar year, the Kings were unable to turn their early pressure into points and Aki, whose new deal was announced on Friday, swooped for the opening 12th-minute score. He joined a lineout maul near the left corner and found a gap to crash over, with man-of-the-match Conor Fitzgerald converting.
Stefan Ungerer’s flat pass sent centre Cronje crashing over for a 17th-minute leveller, which needed confirmation from TMO Wayne Davies. The Kings almost handed those points back from a kick blocked by Porch, but Kyle Godwin’s pass to Matt Healy did not go to hand.
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But Connacht took charge with two tries in three minutes near the half-hour mark. Prop Bealham plunged over from another well-executed maul before Fitzgerald converted Porch’s first try for the Irish province, which was set up by a brilliant break from halfway involving Fitzgerald, Colby Fainga’a and Aki.
Trailing 19-7, the South Africans snapped back with a try just before the break. Invited forward courtesy of a clutch of penalties, excellent hands from Ungerer and Aston Fortuin allowed full-back Van Breda to canter over from close range but he missed the conversion this time.
The Bundee Aki party continues in Galway https://t.co/DxH6gpnJ0G
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 29, 2019
The Connacht backs clicked for an almost immediate try on the resumption. Quick ball from a lineout on the right was transferred across to the opposite wing and Porch did really well to hold onto Healy’s high pass and dart over from the edge of the visitors’ 22, opening up a double-scores lead.
The final half an hour was scrappy with a lot of back-and-forth exchanges. The Kings were unable to capitalise on a Theo Maree break from deep, while Connacht, who have jumped back to second place in Conference B, will be keen to cut down on the errors heading into their Champions Cup doubleheader with Gloucester.
– Press Association
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