Missed penalty costly
Forget French flair - think instead uncompromising pack power and the relentless pressure from Beziers which finally took its toll on Connacht in the European Shield opener in Galway Sportsground on Saturday.
Having led 14-3 at half-time, Connacht could not withstand a second-half battering from the French forwards, conceding a try and two penalties to give Beziers a 16-14 lead. That said, Connacht could have snatched victory with an 80th minute penalty, but on this occasion the normally reliable boot of Eric Elwood failed.
Understandably, Connacht coach Steph Nel regards Saturday's match as an opportunity lost, particularly with two tough matches away against Neath and Montferrand.
"Despite playing below par I am disappointed we didn't take our chances. We had them on the rack and we didn't finish them off." On the day the Beziers pack was outstanding, and playing to that strength with clinical repetition, they eventually triumphed.
Connacht, overcoming a shakey start, went into a 6-0 lead through two Allwood penalties before Bezier fullback Richard Dourthe replied in the 20th minute. The home side, despite frailties in the scrum, maintained the upper hand with Allwood adding his third penalty after 23 minutes. The breakthrough came six minutes later when number eight Colm Rigney stole a Beziers line-out and Allwood wrongfooted the French cover for centre Tim Allnutt to race through from halfway before finding hooker Manus Uijs. He scored in the left corner but Allwood's conversion came back off the crossbar.
Having failed to breach Connacht's outstanding defence, Beziers introduced their 15-times capped French flanker Richard Castel. His leadership on the pitch proved pivotal and when Connacht once again conceded possession through their scrum, it was Castel and South African prop Leonard Liebenberg who set up Australian, Anthony Hill, for a try which Dourthe converted.
However, the turning point came two minutes later when Rigney and Uijs had created Connacht's sole second-half scoring chance. But with the French cover stretched, Allwood dropped the ball and Beziers retook the initiative from then on.
Dourthe added two more penalties to put his side into the lead for the first time after 64 minutes, and Connacht's only other chance to score came and went with Elwood's missed 80th minute penalty.
Scoring sequence: 11 mins: Allwood penalty 3-0; 16 mins: Allwood pen 6-0' 20 mins: Dourthe pen 6-3 23 mins: Allwood penalty 9-3 29 mins: Uijs try 14-3. half-time: 14-3 45 mins: Hill try. Dourthe con. 14-10 60 mins: Dourthe pen 14-13 64 mins: Dourthe pen 14-16.
Connacht: W Munn; P Duignan, M Smyth, T Allnut, N Carolan; E Allwood, B Shelbourne; D McFarland, M Uijs, J Screene, R Frost, D Browne, J Charlie (Capt), C Rigney, J O'Connor. Replacements: M Cahill for Screene (49 mins), G Schoeman for Rigney (49 mins), J McVeigh for Uijs (52 mins), J Ferris for Shelbourne (59 mins), M Swift for O'Connor (62 mins).
Beziers: R Dourthe; M Mailhe, J P Vaird, J M Aue, M Noel; J F Dubois, F Sans; L Liebengerb, G Svelidze, A Heathe, S Hall, (Capt) T Privat, M Dieude, A Hill, F Martinez. Replacements: R Castel for Dieude (44 mins), N McIlroy for Liebenberg (51 mins), L Labit for Sans (61 mins).
Referee: J Hogg (Scotland).