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.
Kieran Marmion switched the play intelligently and they stretched the French side periodically but the final pass lacked accuracy. Biarritz were ponderous in possession and they were jittery too and lucky to survive just before half-time when two sloppy passes inside their own 22 nearly ended in calamity for the visitors.
But Parks kicked a brace of penalties inside the first 10 minutes following the resumption.
It was no more than the home side warranted on the quality of their patterns as they varied the point of attack cleverly, sweeping the ball wider in pursuit of less cluttered corridors. Matches of this ilk are invariably defined by a couple of key moments.
When Parks missed a kickable penalty on 61 minutes the ghosts of the past gallantry hovered over the Sportsground; Connacht have known too much pain in losing tight battles but if there were any mental scars they didn’t show here – quite the opposite.
Biarritz embarked on a three -minute onslaught of the Connacht line. The home side buckled but there was no breach, eventually forcing a penalty to relieve the pressure.
Parks dropped his second goal, the Connacht scrum forced another penalty, which the outhalf posted to the delight of the home supporters.
The French side rallied in injury time with a try from replacement Imanol Harinordoquy but Yachvili couldn’t add the conversion which would have secured a bonus point.
Biarritz’s performance didn’t warrant it. This was Connacht’s night.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins:Yachvili penalty, 0-3; 5:Vainikolo try, Parks conversion, 7-3; 19:Yachvili penalty, 7-6; 23:Parks drop goal, 10-6; 38:Yachvili penalty, 10-9. Half-time:10-9. 45:Parks penalty, 13-9; 51:Parks penalty, 16-9; 72:Parks drop goal, 19-9; 77:Parks penalty, 22-9; 81:Harinordoquy try, 22-14.CONNACHT:R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, D Poolman, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks (capt), K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, R Loughney, M Kearney, M McCarthy, A Browne, W Faloon, E McKeon. Replacements:J O’Connor for Faloon 38-40 mins; D Buckley for Wilkinson 59 mins; P O’Donohue for Marmion 59 mins; O’Connor for Browne 70 mins; , E Reynecke for Harris-Wright 77 mins; D Qualter for Kearney 77 mins; M Nikora 77 mins; JP Cooney for Loughney 78 mins; M Jarvis for Henshaw 78 mins.
BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE:I Balshaw; T Ngwenya, M Bosch, C Gimenez, A Brew; M Berquist, D Yachvili (capt); F Barcella, B August, F Gomez Kodela, E Lund, T Dubarry, W Lauret, B Guyot, R Lakafia. Replacements:S Burotu for Bosch half-time; JP Barraque for Berquist 45 mins; , I Harinordoquy for Guyot 45 mins; P Taele for Dubarry 48 mins; T Synaeghel for Gomez Kodela 59-74 mins; L Blaauw for Barcella 63 mins; J-Philippe Genevois for August 70 mins.
Referee: Greg Garner(England).