Connacht completed their miraculous season by getting their hands on the PRO12 silverware after beating Leinster 20-10 on Saturday.
The Murrayfield victory saw Pat Lam’s men show no fear as they scored two first-half tries and one in the second period to see off Leinster.
Tiernan O’Halloran and Niyi Adeolokun were those to cross in the opening half before Matt Healy scored after the break, with Sean Cronin responding for Leinster with ten minutes remaining to set up a nervy finish for Connacht.
But 2015/16 was to have a fairytale ending for Connacht as they sealed a deserved triumph, lifting the PRO12 title to the delight of their fans.
Connacht dominated the first 40 and rightly went into the break 15-0 to the good, tries from O’Halloran and Adeolokun steering the game away from Leinster.
In a season where Connacht recorded their highest league finish, they had the chance to make more history in their first major final. And though they went into the game against much fancied Leinster, they couldn’t have put in a more professional first 40 minutes.
The game started off as predicted, with an all-action opening which failed to produce early points.
But once Connacht got going, it wasn’t long before they grabbed the opening try. Healy started the move after scaling his way through Leinster challenges, before possession was fed to Bundee Aki. His pass allowed O’Halloran to power his way through, with the extras added by AJ MacGinty.
That try was not a part of the Leinster script, and they failed to regroup in the minutes after going behind. That said however, the try gave Connacht a lift that they barely needed, having burst out of the blocks.
And as Leinster tried to compose themselves and get back on level terms, Adeolokun struck. Stretching Leinster in the midfield areas, a loose ball up was played into the path of Adeolokun. And given half a chance to show his pace, he latched onto his own kick over the top before a second boot forward had him touching over the line.
MacGinty missed the kick, but made no mistake from the first penalty of the game to put Connacht 15 points ahead.
Leinster were a shadow of the side who forced themselves past Ulster last weekend, squandering possession against an opposition who went into this one as underdogs. Continued fumbles when attacks were forming stopped any real threat to the scoreboard, and Connacht left the first half with a deserved 15-0 scoreline in their favour.
Having finished top of the PRO12, Leinster finally got themselves onto the board with a kick five minutes into the second-half. Johnny Sexton struck through the posts, the first time he even had a chance to check his radar.
MacGinty at the other end missed an opportunity to restore the 15 point lead, his penalty falling short.
Despite conceding three points, Connacht continued to dictate the play and almost got what would have been a match winning third try. Tom McCartney strolled through the Leinster backline and was held up right at the last by Sexton. But Sexton’s challenge proved to be only a momentarily break before the third try arrived from the subsequent attack.
A five metre scrum kept the pressure up after Connacht won possession back, and they calmly played the ball about before space opened up. But when it eventually did, MacGinty’s ball through bounced perfectly into the hands of Healy, who claimed the third try, with MacGinty’s conversion striking the sticks.
Leinster looked like they had finally grabbed their first try five minutes later, with replacement Zane Kirchner, just a couple of moments after his introduction. But that slight belief was soon quashed by Nigel Owens and the TMO, who pulled play back for a dubious looking forward pass.
They did have something to show though with 10 minutes left on the clock. Former Connacht man Cronin took Leinster up to double figures, darting inside the corner and letting Sexton add two more.
With the lead now reduced to 10, Leinster finally had something to cling onto and their game improved immediately.
All of a sudden, the tables had turned – Connacht now defending for their lives.
A kick towards the corner could have spelt danger, but a knock-on stopped Leinster in their tracks. And the mistakes started to edge back in towards the end, ensuring Connacht would make history by being crowned PRO12 champions for the first time in their history.
Tries: O’Halloran, Adeolokun, Healy
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Ronan Loughney
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 John Cooney, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Peter Robb
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richard Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Zane Kirchner
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies, Ben Whitehouse
TMO: Jon Mason