Connacht claim another big scalp
Connacht 22 Biarritz 14:Fortune occasionally favours the brave, a quality that Connacht epitomised in buckets last night before a passionate and raucous crowd of 6,583 at the Sportsground. Last year they beat Harlequins in the Heineken Cup. Last night they added another famous scalp.
The fractured nature of the home side’s display won’t matter one whit.
Connacht gave their supporters a white-knuckle ride, carelessly conceding a raft of penalties that kept a poor and largely pedestrian Biarritz Olympique side in the game. But they found the answer to their travails in a monumental performance from their pack.
“My initial reaction was sheer delight,” said Connacht coach, Eric Elwood. “I felt that something special was going to happen. It was a nice night. We had a shaky first half but I had the feeling if we took our opportunities and moved them around the park we could win.”
Mike McCarthy was a colossus but he received tremendous support from his colleagues up front, particularly Willie Faloon, Jason Harris Wright and Andrew Browne. Connacht’s set piece was excellent, especially their scrum, whose dominance in the second half provided a lucrative return points wise. Dan Parks’ composure and accuracy, contributing 17 points with a brace of drop goals, three penalties and a conversion, shunted his side over the winning line.
Connacht’s start could barely have been less auspicious, Biarritz captain and scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili landed a the 23 metre kick to give the visitors a 3-0 lead. The French club dominated territory and possession in the early stages but they were undone by their own hands, literally, on five minutes.
Moving the ball wide on the halfway line, centre Marcelo Bosch threw a careless pass to his midfield partner Charles Gimenez, the ball was spilled and snapped up by Dave McSharry. He managed to get his hands free through the tackle to release Fetu’u Vainikolo and Connacht’s Tongan wing accelerated untouched the 45 metres to the try line. Dan Parks posted the conversion.
The home side conceded eight penalties in the first half and all but two were offences at rucks as referee Greg Garner punished them frequently.
Yachvili tagged on two more penalties – he also missed a brace – as the Connacht hung on to a 10-9 interval lead. Over -exuberant number eight Eoin McKeon received a yellow card for taking a player out from a Garryowen.
There were one or two other minor cavils in the opening 40 minutes in that Park’s punting was either a little too short or too long but the Connacht captain did post a neat drop goal.
The home side did discover a great fluency as the half wore on and there was plenty to admire in the strong running of their centres, McSharry and Poolman, fullback Robbie Henshaw and wing Tiernan O’Halloran.