Champions Cup: Connacht 5 Bordeaux 41
Connacht, back in the upper tier of European fare, failed to live with their French opponents, suffering a rout at the Galway Sportsground on Friday evening.
Both outfits entered this cup opener sitting mid-table in their respective leagues, and with the Top14′s leading try scorer Damian Penaud up against World Rugby player of the year nominee Bundee Aki, there were high hopes this game at the Sportsground would provide and opening night classic.
It was anything but for the home side in an error-strewn performance. Despite the weather having played its part as the heavy rain and strong breeze abated, Connacht simply could not make much headway against a French outfit that totally dominated this game from start to finish.
Although the home side enjoyed early possession and two successive penalties, they were unable to penetrate an aggressive French defence when Dave Heffernan found Caolin Blade, who was held up over the line.
Thereafter the visitors took control, grabbing possession from a counterattack, and they made it look easy as they burst through the from their own half, centres Pablo Uberti and Ben Tapuai making inroads before fullback Romain Buros claimed the opening try after six minutes with Maxime Lucu converting.
Connacht produced a second opportunity minutes later, another penalty to touch providing the opportunity, but their lineout execution let them down as Bordeaux grabbed possession and delivered their first counterattack.
Confident with ball in hand, the visitors relished taking on their opponents. Having spurned an initial chance thanks to Cian Prendergast, eventually number eight Tevita Tatafu broke through two tackles before finding fullback Roman Buros, who enjoyed an easy run in.
It did not take the home side long to gain territorial control again, and back in their opponents 22, the Connacht scrum delivered an important penalty, once again opting for touch. Five metres out, Connacht’s Darragh Murray secured the lineout, and from a drive to the line, flanker Seamus Hurley-Langton broke to score in the right corner. Although Hanrahan was unable to covert from the touchline, it provided a glimmer of hope for Connacht.
It was soon extinquished. A superb effort from the pack, led by Hurley-Langton and Prendergast, forced a turnover, before winning a scrum penalty to relieve pressure in their own territory, but as the frantic pace continued, Connacht struggled, resulting in Hansen forced to withdraw, replaced by John Porch.
Within minutes the visitors had grabbed the initiative and never let go. As Connacht failed to make their tackles stick, fullback Buros was again on hand, delivering to number eight Tatafu as dangerman Penaud was on hand to finish. Although Lucu missed the conversion, the French outfit lead by 12-5 after 20 minutes.
As Connacht struggled in attack, falling foul at the breakdown and unable to protect possession, Bordeaux continued to dominate most of the exchanges.
A penalty in 31st minute from a five metre scrum provided another scoring platform, but the home side was unable to make it count, and although they came close again from a penalty to touch, with Prendergast, Heffernan and Hurley-Langton making yards, Andrew Smith was unable to hold onto possession and the opportunity was lost.
Before the break the visitors, on top in every facet, carved another opportunity, but on this occasion a superb defensive lineout from Darragh Murray forced the visitors to knock-on, providing some relief for the home side, who were unable to make any headway against the well-organised and physical French team.
Connacht’s struggle continued in the second half, conceding a third try within three minutes of the restart, extending the lead to 5-19. And it didn’t get any better when Peter Willkins’ outfit failed to capitalise on a rare scoring opportunity from a penalty to touch. On this occasion the maul worked its way forward, but it was an animated Bordeaux side that secured possession following a Connacht knock-on.
Although Connacht tried to stand their ground territorially, they could not make headway against the visitors who held sway in every facet of the game, and when Connacht failed to take advantage of another five-metre scrum, Jansen was unable to hold onto the ball, ensuring the brief domination of territory yielded nothing.
Within minutes the visitors had bagged their fourth try and the second for Buros. In the driving seat, Connacht had no answer to Bordeaux’s strength and pace as they continued to deliver. In the end they added a penalty, a penalty try, and Uberti completed the rout with a sixth try on a difficult night for Connacht on their return to Champions Cup rugby.
Scoring sequence: 6m try Buros, Lucu con 0-7; 15m try S Hurley Langton 5-7; 24m Penaud try 5-12 HT 5-12 ; 42m Uberti try, Lucu con 5-19; 54m Buros try 5-24; 61m pen Lucu 5-27; 66m Penalty try 5-34; 78m Uberti try, Abadie con 5-41. FT 5-41.
Connacht: M Hansen; B Ralston, C Fordem B Aki, A Smith; JJ Hanrahan, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; D Murray, J Joyce; C Prendergast, S Hurley-Langton, S Jansen.
Replacements: J Porch for Hansen (23m), P Dooley for Buckley and Aungier for Bealham (40m), C Oliver for Jansen (59), T McElroy for Heffernan, N Murray for D Murtagh, D Hawkeshaw for Forde (all 62), M McDonald for Blade (65).
Bordeaux-Begles: R Buros; D Penaud, N Deportere, B Tapuai, P Uberti; M Jalibert, M Lucu; U Boniface, C Maynadier, S Falatea; G Petti, T Jolmes; P Bochaton, P Samu, T Tatafu.
Replacements: M Lamoth for Maynadier (47), B Vergnes-Taillefer for Samu (47), B Tameifuna for Boniface (51), C Sadie for Falatea (62), A Miquel for Petti (62) P Abadie for Lucu (67), A Riccard for Bochaton and N Ducuing for Jalibert (71).