Connacht Rugby booked their quarter final place in the European Challenge Cup with a 30 – 20 bonus point win over La Rochelle in France tonight.

Kieran Marmion, Eoin McKeon, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy all crossed the whitewash while outhalf Jack Carty kicked 10 points with the boot.

Connacht trailed 20 – 11 at the break but fought their way back through resolute defence and sparks of attacking brilliance to score three unanswered tries after the break.

The visitors made a flying start through Marmion’s second minute try. The Ireland international ran up in support on the inside of a brilliant pass from Healy to dart in from 30 metres to touch down. Carty missed the conversion and it was a tight first half from there. Outhalf Carty and his opposite number Jean-Pascal Barraque traded penalties before two tries from the French side meant Connacht trailed 20-11 at the break.

A 32nd minute penalty try for the hosts and back row Albain Meron’s effort, which was converted by Barraque just before the interval, gave Pat Lam’s team an uphill struggle in the second half. But an outstanding turnaround after the break was ignited by McKeon.

From a 5m lineout, the 23-year-old flanker crashed over on 46 minutes, but Carty could not make the conversion. And it was not until the 74th minute that the Irish side grabbed a dramatic victory through replacement wing Adeolokun’s superb, solo try – his first in a Connacht shirt.  With possession just inside the La Rochelle half, the former Trinity player evaded three would-be tacklers before accelerating away to claim the winning try under the posts. Carty added the extras to give Connacht the lead with five minutes remaining on the clock.

And it was Healy who had the pace and eye to run in another try just two minutes later to clinch maximum points for his side. He kicked ahead twice before winning the race over the line. Carty made it a 10-point win with the final conversion and the province booked an April quarter final date away to Gloucester at Kingsholm Stadium.

Final score: La Rochelle 20 – 30 Connacht

LA ROCHELLE: Alofa; Cestaro, Bouldoire, Roudil, Cler; Barraque, Berger; Pelo, Forbes, Borrust; Cedaro, Tanguy; Guyot, Djebaili, Meron.

Replacements: Audy for Berger (41 mins), Fortassin for Bouldoire (55 mins), Vulivuli for Alofa (66 mins), Vaslin for Pelo (68 mins). Not used: Kaulashvilli, Atonio, Kieft, Goujon.

CONNACHT: Muliaina; Leader, Poolman, Finn, Healy; Carty, Marmion; Loughney, McCartney, White; Roux, Browne; McKeon, Faloon, Naoupu.

Replacements: Muldoon for Faloon (14 mins), JP Cooney for Loughney (41 mins), Blade for Marmion (51 mins), Qualter for Browne (64 mins), Bealham for White (66 mins) Heffernan for McKeon (69 mins), Adeolokun for Muliaina (74 mins).
Not used: Nikora.
Sin Bin: White (26 mins) (Bealham for Muldoon 28 – 36 mins)

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland).

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