Benetton claim Connacht’s scalp to maintain their recent momentum

Error-strewn display from Friend’s side who had replacement Papali’i sent off

Benetton 20 Connacht 12

Connacht left Treviso chastened after a first defeat at the venue since 2016 as Kieran Crowley's Benetton made it four Rainbow Cup wins on the trot.

In returning to the top of the table, Benetton now have all the momentum before Italy host the tournament final, while Connacht's season ends with a Sportsground fixture against the Ospreys with only pride at stake.

Understandably frustrated, Connacht's Andy Friend Connacht simply made too many errors.

“It has been a long old season, but we wanted to be better than that and we have been better. I’ll put it down to sport. Sometimes things fall your way, sometimes they make the right decisions, and sometimes they don’t.”

It was also a tough night for Denis Buckley in his 200th game – forced off within seconds with a knee injury after producing the perfect jackal.

“We knew the set piece was going to be tough, so to lose him after 32 seconds throws a bit of a curve ball at you. But my biggest disappointment was for Denis – only the third man in Connacht to get to 200 games and to come off after 32 seconds was hugely unjust for him.”

Connacht seemed to adjust at first – two successive penalties quickly followed and their maul delivered a second-minute try for Shane Delahunt with Conor Fitzgerald adding the extras.

However, from the restart Benetton replied when Italian international Ignacio Brex cut open the defence to score in the corner. As Andy Friend's men found themselves on the wrong side of the penalty count, the Treviso side added two penalties to establish a 11-7 lead at the break.

Connacht started the second half with a try – No 8 Paul Boyle scoring from a maul for a one-point lead but it proved to be their last score.

The pendulum swung on penalties as Connacht struggled at scrum time. Three successful kicks from outhalf Paolo Garbisi followed during which time Connacht failed to deliver close to the line, while they also lost Finlay Bealham to a yellow card.

Worse followed when replacement Abraham Papali’i was handed a red card for a shoulder-on-head tackle.

Benetton, without a win in the regular league, now have momentum and everything to play for, says Friend.

“They had a lot of things that did not go their way in the Pro 14 league. They didn’t get a win there, but there were times they should have, luck didn’t go their way.

“But they stayed together, fought hard, and are now sitting four from four, and it was announced during the week the final will be here, so they have everything to play for.”

Scoring sequence: 2m Delahunt try, T Daly con 0-7; 5m Ignacio try 5-7; 25m Garbisi pen 8-7; 32m Garbisi pen 11-7; HT 11-7; 42m Boyle try 11-12; 47m Garbisi pen 14-12; 61m Garbisi pen 17-12; 74m Garbisi pen 20-12.

BENETTON: J Hayward, E Padovani, I Brex, M Zanon, M Ioane, P Garbisi, D Duvenage (C), T Gallo, C Els, M Riccioni, N Cannone, F Ruzza, S Negri, M Lamaro, T Halafihi. Replacements: G Lucchesi for Els, M Barbini for Duvenage and I Herbst for Ruzza (59), I Nemer for Gallo (70).

CONNACHT: J Porch, P Sullivan, B Aki, T Daly, A Wootton, C Fitzgerald, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham, N Murray, U Dillane, C Prendergast, J Butler (C), P Boyle. Replacements: P McAllister for Buckley (0), D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (HT), D Heffernan for Delahunt, S Arnold for Porch and O Dowling for Murray (58m), A Papali'i for Prendergast and C Blade for Marmion (63), J Carty for Fitzgerald (68). Yellow card: Finlay Bealham (61m); Red card: Abraham Papali'i (74m).

Referee: Ginaluca Gnecchi (FIR).