Connacht were defeated 37-31 by Stade Francais in a hugely entertaining Heineken Champions Cup game in Paris today.
Despite securing a try and losing bonus point, thanks to five pointers from Alex Wootton, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell and Jarrad Butler – with Jack Carty adding four conversions and a penalty – the Westerners, who had already qualified for the last sixteen prior to kick-off, lost out to the home team.
The hosts, meanwhile, knew they needed a bonus-point win to potentially qualify for the next round and they kept their end of the bargain up.
Connacht looked to be aggressive from the very first whistle and they played with width and tempo. Their ambition was rewarded after six minutes when Sammy Arnold’s accurate cross-field kick – with an advantage accruing – found Wootton and the winger showed a great step to dart into the defensive gap and strength to dot down the ball. Carty added the extras and the away team were deservedly ahead, 7-0
Stade Francais knew that a bonus-point win – plus results going their way elsewhere – would give them a chance to qualify for the last 16 and they continued to pile on the pressure and it reaped rewards when Nicolas Sanchez added a penalty and then, only two minutes later, Adrien Lapegue crossed for a try. Sanchez converted and the home team lead for the first time at 10-7 in what was an entertaining opening twenty minutes in Paris.
The away team were using their accurate line out as a launchpad for attacks and, after turning the screw for a few phases after the set-piece with Cian Prendergast carrying hard, they earned a penalty that Carty slotted to tie the score up at 10-10.
Stade Francais thought they had scored a second try when Leo Barre went over in the corner, but – upon a TMO check – the try was correctly disallowed when Tolu Latu was yellow-carded for a dangerous clear-out on Shane Delahunt in the build-up.
With the man advantage, Connacht went for the jugular and their pressure yielded a score close to halftime. Once again, a safely secured line out gave the Westerners a platform, and, from the back of the maul, Blade showed bravery and strength to power over the line from close range. Carty kicked the extras and the away team went into the interval leading 17-10.
If Connacht ended the first half well, then Stade started the second period on the front foot and they had a try barely a minute in Laumape – the former All Black – went over in the corner. The conversion was wide, so the Westerners held onto their lead 17-15.
The Westerners’ dusted themselves off and looked to work their way back into the game and they had their third try of the afternoon not long into the second half. Latu had received a second yellow for the hosts for dissent and, sniffing blood, the away team looked to move the ball wide. Arnold’s beautiful offload found Farrell and the centre showed pace to canter over in the corner. Carty once again nailed the conversion and Connacht found themselves nine points ahead at 24-15.
To their credit, Stade kept fighting with fourteen men and they registered the next try when Kylan Hamdaoui crossed for an unconverted try that meant the Westerners still lead at 24-20.
Continuing the tit for tat nature of tries, it was Connacht’s turn next to go under the posts. A beautiful line from Butler saw him dart into space. The back row then combined with Conor Oliver and the openside unselfishly returned a pass to Butler to go in unopposed under the sticks. Carty made no mistake from the tee and the away team wrapped up their try bonus point and lead 31-20 after an hour.
An enthralling fixture had its next big moment when Ryan Chapuis, the back row, went over for a try in the corner. Sanchez kicked the conversion and Connacht’s lead was reduced to four points. The Westerners’ also lost Oliver to a yellow card in what was set up to be a tense finishing ten minutes.
With the numbers even, the Parisians added another try when Lapegue crossed for his second try and the hosts took the lead at 34-31.
With their wind in their sails and an even number of players on the field, the hosts slotted a late penalty through Sanchez to give them the bonus point win and six-point margin of victory they needed to potentially qualify for the latter rounds.
15: Tiernan O’Halloran
14: Alex Wootton
13: Tom Farrell
12: Sammy Arnold
11: Mack Hansen
10: Jack Carty
9: Caolin Blade
8: Jarrad Butler
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Niall Murray
4: Oisin Dowling
3: Greg McGrath
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Jordan Duggan
16: Dave Heffernan for Delahunt
17: Charlie Ward
18: Sam Illo for Greg McGrath
19: Leva Fifita for Oisin Dowling
20: Paul Boyle for Prendergast
21: Colm Reilly for Blade
22: Conor Fitzgerald
23: Diarmuid Kilgallen for Tiernan O’Halloran