West's a wake after humiliation
From a position of expectation, Connacht suffered their most humiliating and biggest European loss against Welsh side Neath in the Courage Gnoll on Saturday.
Having beaten Leinster two weeks earlier and then having missed a penalty to clinch victory over Beziers last week, there was an expectation that a win over Neath was well within Connacht's remit. Yet, surprisingly, they never got to grips with the greasy conditions, displayed a distinct lack of leadership and guile and failed to register a single score.
Their hopes were not helped by the loss of outhalf Eric Elwood, who was clearly carrying an injury until he retired at half-time, while his counterpart, James Brown, could not put a foot wrong, orchestrating a masterful Neath display.
The Welsh side had done their homework, and notched up 20 points in as many minutes and Connacht were never able to recover.
"They broke us in the first 20 minutes and we are a side that needs to start well," said coach Steph Nel. "It happened against Ulster and it has happened again now. The players are too soft. They will just have to toughen up. It's as simple as that."
Nel now has a tough week ahead in trying to lift the players before they face pool favourites Monteferrand, who had crushed Nice by 55-17 in their opener. However, Beziers' surprising victory over the French side at the weekend should provide some cheer for Connacht, as will the return of captain Mark McConnell after his seven-week suspension.
Connacht's turnover rate was as high as 15 in that first half as the Welsh All Blacks relished the opportunity to record their first European victory in front of a passionate 3,000 crowd. Brown ensured Connacht were on the back foot from his first garryowen, putting them in front with a penalty after just a minute. The Man of the Match was on target with two dropped goals and three conversions in the first half.
Flanker Richard Francis notched the first try at a lineout end drive, while left wing Gareth Morris had little to do after an incessant assault had the Connacht cover all at sea. Number eight Nathan Bonner Evans made it number three after yet another turnover and, by half-time, they commanded a 30-0 lead.
Although Connacht did restrict the home side to 15 points in the second half, and a number of substitutions, particularly scrumhalf James Ferris, added some sense of urgency to an otherwise lethargic display, they never looked like making any headway.
Neath added tries through Hooper, Steve Jones and centre Dave Tiueti, in the third minute of injury time, to complete the rout.
Scoring sequence: 1 min: Brown pen 3-0; 7: Francis try, Brown con 10-0; 14: Brown drop goal 13-0; 17: try Morris, con Brown 20-0; 27: drop goal Brown 23-0; 35: Bonner Evans try, Brown con 30-0. 51: Brown pen 33-0; 57: S Jones try 38 -0; 83: Tiueti try, Brown con 45-0.
Neath: S Stephens; D Williams, G John, D Tiueti, G Morris; J Brown, P Horgan; D Jones, S Jones, A Millward, S Martin, G Llewellyn (capt), R Francis, N Bonner Evans, B Sinkinson. Replacements: T Davies for John (31 mins); A Matthews for S Jones (52); R Phillips for Bonner Evans (67), P Jones for D Jones (71), A Booth for P Horgan (73), R Edwards for S Martin (74), A Jones for Millward (74).
Connacht: W Munn; P Duignan, M Smyth, T Allnutt, D Yapp; E Elwood, B Shelbourne; J Screene, M Uijs, M Cahill, R Frost, D Browne, J Charlie (capt), G Choeman, I Dillon. Replacements: R Lee for Elwood (h-t); J Ferris for Shelbourne (45 mins); J McVeigh for Uijs (45); C Rigney for Charlie (47), J O'Connor for Choeman (60); D McFarland for Screene (62). Referee: G de Sardis (Italy).