In difficult, almost hurricane like conditions at times, Connacht claimed a 12 point victory over Top14 side Perpignan, in the first instalment of back to back clashes in the European Challenge Cup. With two wins from three in the competition, another win away to Perpignan in six days’ time will set up a top of the table clash at home to Sale in January.
With conditions extremely difficult for both teams, forwards were also going to be the stars of the show, and so it was that international lock Quinn Roux was deservedly named Man of the Match after a powerful display.
With the wind at their backs, Connacht made the best possible start when Darragh Leader ran a brilliant line to pick up a pass 10 metres out and touch down under the posts with nine minutes on the clock. Connacht were patient in attack and after going through the phases they were rewarded eleven minutes later when Bundee Aki drove for the line and got Connacht’s second try despite the best efforts of three Perpignan defenders. When David Horwitz added his second conversion and Connacht looked in control with a quarter of the game played.
Perpignan came to life after that second try but a combination of handling errors and difficult conditions meant that they never challenged the Connacht line. Going in at the break Connacht would have felt they were deserving of their 14 – 0 lead and with an excellent opportunity for a third try on the stroke of half time, it could have been an even more significant lead.
The second half was all about possession for Connacht and they bravely went through phase after phase but found it difficult to gain ground now playing into the stormy conditions. With a penalty on 44 minutes, Connacht opted to kick for the posts and the successful kick by Horwitz proved to be the right the decision, giving increased daylight between the sides.
Perpignan kicked their first points of the game six minutes into the second half to give them some hope of a comeback.
On the sixty sixth minute the French side got a try against the run of play and when they converted, all off a sudden the scoreboard read only 17 – 10 in Connacht’s favour. The French men went on the attack again and went through the phases inside the Connacht 22. But hard work in defence forced a turnover and Connacht introduced some fresh legs to good effect.
Replacement scrum half Caolin Blade made a typical sniping run through the Perpignan defence and was held up just short of the line. Moments later, Kyle Godwin made his mark when he backed himself on the outside and powered over for Connacht’s third try with four minutes remaining on the clock.
Connacht had one more attack when they went in search of the fourth try but it wasn’t to be and the game finished out with a twelve point victory for the home side.
CONNACHT: 15. Darragh Leader, 14. Cian Kelleher, 13. Kieran Joyce, 12. Bundee Aki (Kyle Godwin 67′), 11. Matt Healy, 10. David Horwitz (Conor Fitzgerald 58′), 9. James Mitchell (Caolin Blade 70′); 1. Peter McCabe, 2. Dave Heffernan (captain), 3. Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson McCoy 60′), 4. Joe Maksymiw (Gavin Thornbury 60′), 5. Quinn Roux, 6. Eoghan Masterson (Paul Boyle 68′), 7. Colby Fainga’a, 8. James Connolly.
PERPIGNAN: 15. Jonathan Bousquet (captain), 14. Tima Fainga’anuku, 13. Pierre Lucas (Afusipa Taumoepeau 56′), 12. Paul Marty (Julien Farnoux 62′), 11. Eroni Sau, 10. Enzo Selponi, 9. Sadek Degmache; 1. Quentin Walcker (Kevin Tougne 56′), 2. Raphael Carbou (Manu Leiataua 41′), 3. Nicolas Lemaire (Sylvain Charlet 60′), 4. Yoann Vivalda, 5. Berend Botha (Alban Roussel 56′), 6. Johan Van Heerden, 7. Pierre Reynaud, 8. Michael Faleafa (Edoardo Iachizzi 60′).
Referee: Karl Dickson [RFU].