Five-star Connacht rack up fifth win on the spin at Perpignan

Paddy Jackson manages a solitary penalty as Friend’s side secure bonus point in France

Sean O’Brien crosses for Connacht’s third try against Perpignan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Sean O’Brien crosses for Connacht’s third try against Perpignan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Perpignan 21 Connacht 36

Paddy Jackson did not enjoy the most successful return to action for Perpignan as his side continued their long run of defeats when falling to Connacht in the European Challenge Cup on Friday evening.

Back in action for the Catalan club after missing two previous European games against Sale and Connacht in Galway, the former Ireland outhalf could not steer his club to a victory and end their miserable run of 15 defeats in both European and the Top 14 competitions.

In contrast Connacht’s bonus point win in Pool Three keeps them in the hunt for a quarter-final, and coach Andy Friend will be delighted with his side’s five tries which ensure Connacht have extended their run of wins to five for only the third time in their history.

Jackson was central to the early action, propelling Perpignan with a superb touchfinder from a penalty to touch which resulted in the opening score. Although Connacht repelled Perpignan’s forward drive, Jackson took control of a loose pass out wide before fullback Julien Farnoux raced through. Although missing the conversion, he was on target minutes later with a penalty in front of the posts as the Catalan outfit had all the possession and momentum.

Connacht, however, then took charge and although young outhalf Conor Fitzgerald’s missed a 16th minute chance to put points on the board, the visitors regained the initiative with a penalty to touch. They made it count as the pack mauled forward with captain Dave Heffernan touching down, and Fitzgerald adding the conversion.

Paddy Jackson misses a conversion during Perpignan’s defeat to Connacht. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Paddy Jackson misses a conversion during Perpignan’s defeat to Connacht. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Indiscipline from the home side ensured Connacht maintained territorial control, and from another penalty to the line, Gavin Thornbury set the pack marching forward with Heffernan finishing the charge - Fitzgerald again striking his conversion low and over the bar for a 14-8 lead after 25 minutes.

The home side continued to implode with left wing Tima Faingaanuku yellow carded for a late challenge on Cian Kelleher, and when Connacht turned defence into attack after Robin Copeland fly-hacked a loose ball, Matt Healy and Copeland made ground for Sean O’Brien to score. The penalties continued to mount against the home side, 9-5 in favour of Andy Friend’s men at the break, and McKeon added another penalty for a 22-8 lead.

The game, however, changed complexion after the break when the home side took charge, claiming two tries in quick succession - the first when flanker Eru Shahn charged over from a forward drive, and when Connacht were caught on the hop out wide, Faingaanuku exploited the stretched defence.

Jackson missed both conversions, prompting boos from the vociferous home crowd, and the 5,000 home supporters were even more incensed after centre Adrea Cocagi was red carded for tackling without arms. However, Tom Ecochard gave them good reason to cheer when he landed a penalty three minutes later, reducing to the deficit to a single point, 21-22.

David Heffernan scores Connacht second try against Perpignan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
David Heffernan scores Connacht second try against Perpignan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht, with little possession in the second half, finally added to their tally and ensured they extended their run of wins to five-in-a-row. Matt Healy battled his way through defenders and finished off after a Jack Carty break to bag the bonus point, and when Cian Kelleher strode in from the 22, with Carty adding both conversions, the visitors were comfortable winners.

Yellow card: T Faiangaanuku 28m. Red card: A Cocagi (56m).

Scoring sequence: 8m Try J Farnoux 5-0; 12m Jackson penalty 8-0; 20m D Heffernan try, McKeon con 8-7; 25m D Heffernan try, McKeon con 8-14; 34m S O’Brien try 8-19; 40+2 minutes McKeon pen 8-22.HT 8-22.41m M Leiataua try 13-22; 46m T Fainga’anuku try 18-22; 59m T Ecochard pen 21-22; 67m Healy try, Carty con 21-29; 71m Kelleher try, Carty con 21-36.

Perpignan: J Farnoux; E Sau, A Cocagi, A Taumoeoeau, T Faignaanuku; P Jackson, T Ecochard (capt); Q Walcker, M Leiataua, Y Boutemmani; T Labouteley, Y Vivalda; E Shahn, P Reynaud, K Chateau. Replacements: A Brazo for Reynaud (41m), Reynaud for Shahn (52m),E Selponi for Jackson (59m), N Lemaire for Boutemmani (59m), J Van Heerden for Reynaud (64m), J Bousquet for Farnoux (68m), C Deligny for Leiataua and K Tougne for Walcker (71m), S Degmache for Ecochard (73m).

Connacht: D Leader; C Kelleher, K Joyce, D Horwitz, M Healy; C Fitzgerald, J Mitchell; P McCabe, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy; J Cannon, G Thornbury; S O’Brien, J Connolly, R Copeland. Replacements: E Masterson for O’Brien (53m), T McCartney for Heffernan (56m), C Carey for Robertson-McCoy, J Marksymiw for Thornbury, and J Carty for McKeon (both 59m), C Blade for Mitchell (62m), M Burke for McCabe (68m), K Godwin for Horwitz (68m).

Referee: I Tempest (England).

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