By John O’Sullivan
Connacht were defeated 20-12 by Benetton Rugby in a physical GuinnessPRO14 Rainbow Cup affair at Stadio Comunale di Monigo tonight.
Despite scoring more tries than the hosts, thanks to Shane Delahunt and Paul Boyle dotting down, one of which Tom Daly converted, the Westerners couldn’t eke out the win.
The hosts scored a try of their own -- through centre Juan Ignacio Brex -- and the boot of Paolo Garbisi slotted five penalties to give the Italians the win, their fourth victory in succession.
It was a momentous occasion for Denis Buckley, meanwhile, who made his 200th appearance for the province at the same stadium in which he made his debut in 2011.
With a dry track, both teams were intent to attack early on and it was Connacht who struck first blood. A powerful rolling maul surged its way towards the line and it was Delahunt who put the finishing touches on the move by diving over the line. Daly slotted the extras and the away team lead 7-0 inside the opening five minutes.
To their credit, Benetton responded well and Brex -- the former Argentinian age-grade centre -- ran an arching line and collected a pass to run in a try. Garbisi was wide with his conversion attempt, but the home team -- who knew a win would keep them in touch for a final berth -- would have been content to be on the scoreboard.
The game became more physical and broken after the exciting open ten minutes and it was the Italians who scored next with Garbisi -- the Italian international fly half -- twice kicking penalties to give the home team the lead at the break at 11-7.
Connacht immediately set about wrestling the momentum back in their favour and they were rewarded for their attitude when a second rolling maul bore try-scoring fruit. This time it was Boyle -- who was transferred the ball by Delahunt -- who touched down and the away team lead by the narrowest of margins, 12-11.
It would be the Westerners last score, however, as the excellent Garbisi brought the Italian team back into the lead with a three pointer from the kicking tee and he added two more penalties late on -- when Connacht were reduced to fourteen men after replacement Abraham Papali’i was sent off -- to seal the win for the hosts.
Connacht will entertain the Ospreys next weekend with a 6 pm kick-off on Friday evening.
15: John Porch
14: Peter Sullivan
13: Bundee Aki
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Paul Boyle
7: Jarrad Butler
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Niall Murray
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Denis Buckley
Dave Heffernan for Delahunt Paddy McAllister for Buckley Dominic Robertson McCoy for Bealham, Oising Dowling for Murray, Abraham Papali’i for Prendergast, Caolin Blade for Marmion, Jack Carty for Fitzgerald, Sammy Arnold for Porch.