With the clock in the red, French Top 14 side Montpellier held on to a six point lead as Connacht drove at their line in search of their fifth try in this enthralling Champions Cup game. The hosts had to fight all the way in this exciting encounter as the sides went in level at the break, after Connacht clawed back a 21 points to 0 deficit after 30 minutes.
With Connacht winning the corresponding game in the Sportsground back in November, this one was always going to go down to the wire. In that round one clash, Montpellier got on the scoresheet in the first three minutes and the script looked like repeating itself when Levan Chilachava raced onto a pass and touched down by that three minute mark this time around. This prompted a reaction as Connacht settled into the game and gave as good as they got, with captain Jarrad Butler and Bundee Aki in particular putting in some huge tackles early on.
Just as Connacht were growing into this game though Montpellier hit them with two converted tries in three minutes, both from winger Gabriel N’gandebe. To Connacht’s credit though, instead of dropping their heads as the second try went in on 28 minutes, they dug deep and started to play some of the most attacking, open rugby they have produced all season.
In the 35th minute Matt Healy got a ball out wide and had plenty to do before touching down. Straight from the kick off, Connacht were flying down the opposite wing and John Porch touched down with his finger tips from what seemed like an impossible angle. Carty’s successful conversion from the touchline put Connacht within a converted try. The away side then struck parity on the stroke of half time when Kieran Marmion was released, and he raced in under the posts.
Amazingly on the 44 minute mark, Connacht had secured a bonus point try when Kyle Godwin beat two defenders after taking a pass on the Montpellier 22. Montpellier were quick to respond with their fourth, which they converted after 52 minutes to nudge back into the lead. Connacht went toe to toe with the powerful French outfit and going into the final quarter they regained the lead through a Jack Carty penalty. Crucially though this was to be Connacht’s final score and when Montpellier got in for their fifth try of the day with three minutes remaining, a Connacht victory looked unlikely.
Connacht did what they did all day though and kept battling. John Porch bravely claimed the restart and the high tackle on him resulted in a Connacht penalty and a launch pad for a final effort at the Montpellier. Unfortunately, though the home side held on and won out on a 35 points to 29 scoreline.
So this result marks the end of Connacht’s Champions Cup season but their six outings in the competition showed that they are certainly not out of place in the top tier of European rugby. The challenge now turns back to the Pro14 and the visit of Cardiff to the Sportsground on the 15th of February – a must win fixture against their conference rivals (Get tickets here).
Connacht Scorers –
Tries: Matt Healy, John Porch, Kieran Marmion and Kyle Godwin
Penalties: Jack Carty (1)
Conversions: Jack Carty (3 from 4)
Connacht: T O’Halloran, J Porch, K Godwin, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, P McAllister, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy, J Maksymiw, G Thornbury, E Masterson, C Faianga’a, J Butler (c).
Replacements: J Murphy, D Buckley for McAllister (49), E McKeon for Materson (53), C Blade for Marmion (54), T Daly for O’Halloran (57m) N Murray for Maksymiw (58m), C Kenny for Robertson-McCoy( 63), J Murphy for Heffernan (68), Robertson-McCoy for Heffernan and C Fitzgerald for Carty (70).