Biarritz master conditions and Connacht
Biarritz 17 Connacht 0:In a difficult week for both Connacht and Biarritz, the French side will be the happier after last evening’s Heineken Cup Pool 3 fixture.
Biarritz responded to last weekend’s defeat to Connacht and the sacking of their two coaches with a solid performance that earned them the victory last evening, while Connacht, with new CEO Tom Sears at loggerheads with Leinster over Mike McCarthy’s defection, simply failed to deal with the miserable conditions at Parc des Sports Aguilera.
With waterlogged sections being swept to the sidelines prior to kick-off, the match was in doubt until the starting whistle.
The mudbath that followed was always going to play into the hands of a bruising home pack.
There was little to set the 7,000 crowd alight, bar a first- half try from Iain Balshaw, while the second half remained scoreless until replacement Seremaia Burotu scrambled over the line at the death.
While Eric Elwood stuck with his youngsters for a second week, Biarritz had made five changes, bringing in the experienced centre partnership which set up the opening try, and Imanol Harinordoquy, restored to the backrow, led his pack superbly in the conditions.
A poor start for Connacht, early fisticuffs, and two rapid fire penalties enabled scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili to put the first points on the board within three minutes when Connacht were pinged for not rolling away at the breakdown.
As Biarrtiz racked up their fourth penalty, keeping Connacht pinned inside their own half, wing Takudzwa Ngwenuya butchered the opportunity of an opening try in the right corner, ruled on by TMO, after Connacht had stymied the pack’s attempts to bully their way over the line.
Still, however, the Biarritz onslaught continued as Connacht struggled to get out of their half in the wretched conditions. When the visitors did have the ball in hand, they could not make headway.
When they coughed up possession inside their own half, Biarritz capitalised, and in the end it was a missed tackle in midfield from Peyrelongue’s pass to Damien Traille providing Biarritz with the space for Iain Balshaw to break through for the opening try after 30 minutes.
Yachvili added the conversion to give the home side a deserved 10-0 lead, but minutes later he failed to stretch the lead with a 35m penalty effort before the half-time whistle.
It did not get any better after the restart. Biarritz, knowing they needed five points to keep their hopes alive, continued to spurn kicks at goal for territory, as Connacht repelled them.
Biarritz lost Benoit August to the bin for stamping and Connacht started to gain a foothold in the game – the scrum once again the provider.
Finally Connacht were rewarded when Dan Parks was given his first opportunity to put some points on the board, but his 49th-minute effort was wide, and with it went the change to open the scoring.
A lengthy break in play for an injury to Danie Poolman spelled the beginning of a lacklustre final 15 minutes.
Although Connacht continued to battle up front, winning vital ball to halt Biarritz, the weather simply stopped them from playing rugby. Neither did they make any headway with their kicking game.
Never getting in position to score a try that could have given them a vital losing bonus point, and coughing up too much ball in possession, Connacht, like many’s the Irish team before them, failed to exit the Basque country with a win.
At the death the home side stumbled over the line with replacement Seremaia Burotu grabbing a try, and Yachvili nailed the touchline conversion to give his side a flattering, but deserved victory.
An Irish province has never managed to win on the Basque coast, and thus that record continued last evening.