Connacht secure bonus-point win over Benetton at the Sportsground

Italian side were reduced to 14 when Kiwi secondrow Scott Scrafton was sent off

Connacht 38 Benetton 19

Connacht gave themselves a much needed fillip ahead of European fare with only their second bonus-point win at the Galway Sportsground this season.

A win built on forward ascendancy, Connacht are now closing in on the top half of the URC table, where the points differential between fifth-placed Edinburgh and 11th placed Connacht is just four.

Against the Italian visitors they found their scoring flair to set up a 17-7 half-time lead, and eventually finished with five tries, but Connacht’s director of rugby Andy Friend is still looking for a full 80-minute performance.


“We fell into the trap of probably getting comfortable, thinking we are two or three scores up, and so we just play this loose rugby - and we can’t,” he said. “Every time we go back to being us and a good version of us - when we are doing the things we need to do - we are a hard team to stop, but when we are carrying loosely and turn a ball over, or don’t choose to work hard on the inside as a defensive unit, then they will cut you apart. So, there were too many lapses in defence in the second half and certain things around the attack in the second half, which were frustrating.”

A solid forward platform provided first-half tries from Niall Murray and Paul Boyle - the first within three minutes when the lock took a superb flat pass from outhalf Jack Carty and galloped in from halfway. Carty, who had a flawless night from the tee, added the extras.

However, the visitors reaped the reward for a period of territorial control, in which they made three clean breaks and produced an 18th minute try from left wing Marcus Watson, outhalf Jason Umaga converting.

That score seemed to rouse Connacht who added impetus to their attack, and when Finlay Bealham made his presence felt, Connacht’s reward was a penalty and another scoring opportunity to drive to the line. Dowling’s take provided Oliver and Bundee Aki with the opening to attack before man of the match Boyle claimed the touchdown, Carty again converting, for a 14-7 lead after 23 minutes.

The home side, in the ascendancy, added a Carty penalty and within minutes of the restart they delivered on possession, going through the phases before Bealham claimed a try under the posts. Carty’s conversion put his side into a strong 24-7 lead.

Benetton, however, seized control again. Replacement prop Thomas Gallo looked certain to score, but for super work from Boyle. Eventually, however, after pinning Connacht on their line, centre Marco Zanon added a second try, closing the gap to 24-14.

Critically Friend’s side scored next, taking advantage of a red card to Italian lock Scott Scrafton. From a penalty to touch Aki came close before replacement outhalf Caolan Blade touched down. Benetton never relented and were rewarded with a deserved 78th minute try, but Connacht did have the last say when replacement hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin added gloss to the scoreline with an 80th minute score.

Connacht: J Porch, D Kilgallen, T Farrell, B Aki, M Hansen, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, O Dowling, N Murray, C Prendergast, C Oliver, O Boyle. Replacements: D Tierney-Martin, P Dooley, J Aungier for Heffernan, Buckley and Bealham (all 51m), G Thornbury for Murray (54), C Blade for Marmion and T Daly for Farrell (both 60m), J Butler for Oliver and T O’Halloran for Kilgallon (both 63m).

Benetton: R Smith, M Watson, T Menoncello, M Zanon, E Padovani, J Umaga, D Devenage, I Nemer, G Nicotera, F Alongi, N Cannone, S Scrafton, M Zuliani, G Pettinelli, M Lamaro. Replacements: I Mendy for Smith (19m), N Tetaz for Alongi (33m), T Gallo for Nemer (40m), A Garbisi for Duvenage (63m), J Riera for Zanon (65m), T Gallo for Nemer (71), L Frangini for Nicotera, M Lazzaroni for Cannone and A Izekor for Pettinelli (all 74). Red Card: S Scrafton 65m.

Referee: Marius Van Der Westhizen (SARU).