Connacht marked their return to the top table of European club rugby with a three point win over Montpellier in the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup. With Captain Jarrad Butler along with wingers Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy withdrawn late on due to injury, Connacht knew they had a huge challenge on their hands. But ultimately it was meant to be for Connacht as 22 year old replacement out half Conor Fitzgerald kicked the winning penalty with 14 minutes remaining in the contest.
The odds of a Connacht win had lengthened considerably in the second minute of this game when Montpellier raced into a seven point lead with a try from Aaron Cruden which was duly converted. Connacht’s response was a penalty from the boot of Jack Carty which was cancelled out by one from Benoit Paillaugue for Montpellier. Montepllier’s early positive start leaving them 10 points to 3 to the good with 22 minutes on the clock.
Connacht increased their foothold on the game over the next 15 minutes and their influence was rewarded 3 minutes before the break when Paul Boyle powered over. Then with the half time clock in the red, Connacht kicked to the corner with a shot at goal was on the cards. The home side were then rewarded on the double as Tom McCartney carried over from a maul and Montpellier were reduced to 14 men when Paul Willemse was yellow carded for a tackle on Colby Fainga’a.
Montpellier responded first on the second half when Paillaugue converted a straightforward penalty after they patiently went through the phases.
With the sides level, Man of the Match Caolin Blade stepped up to score a decisive try with 52 minutes on the clock which was converted by Carty.
Montpellier now put some real urgency into their attack and despite some solid Connacht defence to hold them out, Anthony Bouthier raced over, with the resulting conversion bringing the sides level yet again. Crucially though, this was to be Montpellier’s final score of the game.
Replacement out half Fitzgerald was on the field just two minutes when he put the ball on the tee and his kick from the left of the posts was to prove the winning score.
So another historic win for Connacht as they take a French scalp in the Sportsground. Not much time to rest on their laurels though as the squad travel to Toulouse next weekend, where the winners will find themselves on top of Pool 5 next Saturday evening.
Tries: Paul Boyle, Tom McCartney, Caolin Blade
Conversions: Jack Carty
Penalties: Jack Carty, Conor Fitzgerald
Connacht Team: Darragh Leader, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Kyle Godwin, Jack Carty (Conor Fitzgerald), Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney (Captain) (Dave Heffernan), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (Conor Kenny), Cillian Gallagher (Joe Maksymiw then replaced Eoghan Masterson), Ultan Dillane, Paul Boyle, Colby Faing’a, Robin Copeland.