By John O’Sullivan
A last gasp Bundee Aki try saw Connacht defeat Benetton Treviso and set a club record for consecutive league away wins with five.
Despite tries from props Finlay Bealham and Paddy McAllister, the away team trailed 17-14 with only a minute remaining against the resolute Italians. Reneging on the opportunity to kick a penalty at goal and claim a draw, Connacht were rewarded for their bravery when Aki touched down at the tail of a powerful rolling maul to seal the win.
Conor Fitzgerald added four points to the tally, converting Bealham and McAllister’s tries, as the away team eked out a deserved win.
Connacht began the game with an attacking mindset and they looked to play with pace and precision at every given opportunity.
With a penalty advantage, Kieran Marmion’s clever grubber kick behind found Tom Daly and the centre powered into space and was stopped just short of the line by the hosts’ scramble defence.
Connacht elected to take a scrum when the advantage didn’t yield an immediate score and the play was brought back. Paul Boyle picked from the back of the set-piece and was denied close to the line, but the visitors reloaded and applied more phases of pressure and Bealham eventually made it count when he surged over the line from close range.
Fitzgerald made no mistake in adding the extras and the Westerners found themselves in a deserved 7-0 lead nearing the 20-minute mark.
The visitors, with Marmion central to their attacking forays, poured forward in search of more tries but it was Benetton -- who had a man advantage after Shane Delahunt’s yellow card -- who struck next. After a series in the Westerners 22, Davide Ruggeri -- the blindside flanker -- bundled his way over the line for the Italians’ opening score, which was converted by Edoardo Padovani.
With the wind in their sails, Benetton made it two tries when Leonardo Sarto’s searing run saw the Italian international winger speed up the flank and touch down for a score of individual brilliance which Padovani converted to put the hosts in the lead for the first time; 14-7.
The hosts held the lead for the final minutes of the half and the half time score read: Benetton Rugby 14-7 Connacht.
The Westerners, still down a man, started the second half with attacking intent and they registered their second try barely seconds after the beginning of the half. After a number of strong carries close to the line after a break Boyle established Connacht field position, McAllister powered his way over for a try which Fitzgerald converted the level the sides at 14-14.
With the Benetton defence strong, Connacht were unable to regularly establish territory in the hosts half and the home team grew stronger in attack as the half progressed. After applying pressure to the Westerners’ defence with five minutes remaining, the hosts were awarded a penalty. Stepping up, Padovani made no mistake in firing the Italians into a 17-14 lead with scarcely five minutes remaining at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo.
Aki then won Connacht a penalty immediately after the game restarted the away team elected to kick to the corner for the line out. The line out was stolen, but the away team’s excellent breakdown work saw them awarded another penalty not long after. This time, the set-piece worked a treat and Aki put the finishing touches on a powerful rolling maul for the game-winning score.
15: Tiernan O’Halloran
14: Peter Sullivan
13: Tom Daly
12: Bundee Aki
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Paul Boyle
7: Jarrad Butler ©
6: Eoghan Masterson
5: Gavin Thornbury
4: Oisin Dowling
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Paddy McAllister
Replacements: Denis Buckley for McAllister, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Caolin Blade for Marmion, John Porch for Sullivan, Niall Murray for Thornbury, Sean Masterson for Masterson.